Writing a book is hard. I’ve written seven books and at some point during each one I had the thought, “There has to be a tool, a piece of book writing software, that would make this easier.”
Bad news/good news: writing a book will always be hard, and the best piece of writing software in the world won’t write your book for you. But the good news is there is book writing software that can make the process a little easier.
In this post, we will cover the ten best pieces of software for writing a book and look at the pros and cons of each.
Worst Pieces of Software for Writing a Book
First, though, let’s cover software you should avoid, at least while you’re writing a book:
- Video Games. Especially World of Warcraft (always always always!) but also Solitaire, Sudoku, Angry Birds, and, for me right now, Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes.
- Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media Software. Do I really need to say more? Fortunately there’s a piece of book writing software for avoiding this very distracting software (see Freedom below).
- Other Productive Software Not Directly Associated With Your Writing. Yes, it’s good to reconcile your bank account on Quickbooks or make sure you’re up to date on your calendar app, but responsible, well-meaning work can easily be an excuse for a quick distraction that turns into a major distraction from writing your book.
Set aside time for your writing every day and then stay focused!
If you need a game, make writing your daily word count your game.
If you want more “likes” on social media, imagine how great getting five-star reviews on your book will be.
If you need to check your bank balance several times a day, think about what your bank balance will be when you stop checking it constantly, finish your book, and become a successful author.
The 10 Best Pieces of Book Writing Software
No piece of writing software will write your book for you, but these ten will help. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each.
1. Google Sheets (Spreadsheet)
If you’d told me when I was first trying to become a writer that one of my most-used tools in my book writing software toolkit would be a spreadsheet, I would have told you I didn’t major in English to have to use a spreadsheet.
But now, as I’m finishing my seventh book, I realize that I’m using spreadsheets almost daily.
Spreadsheets allow you to get a sense of the elements of your book at a glance, and when you’re working on a 300-page document, distilling it down to useable information becomes very necessary.
You might use spreadsheets for:
- Character tracking
- Scene lists
- A Foolscap/Beat sheet
Google Sheets is perfect for this because it’s free and you can quickly share your documents with your writing partners, editors, or beta readers to get feedback. Microsoft Excel is another great option, but for writers, I suggest Google Sheets.
Where to find it? Get started with Google Sheets here
2. Scrivener (Word Processor)
Scrivener is the premier book writing software. It is made by writers for writers. Scrivener’s “binder” view allows you to break up your book into chapters and sections and easily reorganize it. Project targets let you create word count goals and then track your progress daily. Its composition mode can help you stay focused by removing all the clutter. Plus, it allows you to format for publishing (e.g. on Amazon or Barnes & Noble).
There are some problems with Scrivener. Formatting is more complicated than it needs to be and collaborating isn’t easy, meaning it loses its effectiveness as soon as you bring on an editor. But it more than makes up for that by being so helpful in the early stages of the writing process.
In fact, we believe in Scrivener so much, we published a book about how creative writers can write more, faster using it. It’s called Scrivener Superpowers. If you’re using Scrivener or want to save yourself time as you learn how to use it for your creative writing, you can get Scrivener Superpowers here. The next edition comes out on Tuesday!
Cost: $45 for Mac, $40 for Windows
You can get a copy of Scrivener here, or learn more about how to use the software with one of these resources:
3. Freedom (Productivity App)
One question writers always ask me is, “How can I stay focused enough to finish what I write?”
I have too many thoughts on this for this article, but as far as writing software to encourage focus, I recommend Freedom.
Freedom allows you to block your biggest distractions online, including both websites and mobile apps, for a set period of time. So when you mindlessly escape your book to scroll through Facebook, you’ll find the site won’t load.
You can also schedule recurring sessions, so that at a scheduled time (e.g. Mondays from 6 am to 10 am), you won’t be able to access the sites on your blocklist, even if you try.
There are other apps like this that we’ve written about before, notably Self-Control for Mac and StayFocused for Windows. But Freedom goes further, allowing you to block sites on both your computer and your phone, and enabling recurring sessions.
You can learn more about how writers can get the most out of Freedom on our review here.
Cost: $29 / year for Pro version, which I use and recommend (Free trial available)
Where to find it: Get started with Freedom here
4. Google Docs (Word Processor)
While Scrivener is the best book writing software, once you get to editing and getting feedback, it begins to fall short.
That’s why Google Docs has become my second go-to piece of book writing software. It’s free, very easy to use, and requires no backups since everything is in the cloud.
Best of all are its collaboration abilities, which allow you to invite your editor to the document and then watch as he or she makes changes, tracked in suggestion mode, and leave comments on your story (see screenshot below).
Where to find it: Get started with Google Docs here
5. Vellum (Book Formatting/Word Processor)
If you want to turn your book into an eBook, it’s not that hard. Scrivener, Word, Pages, they all can make eBooks. But that doesn’t mean they’ll look good. In fact, it takes a lot of skill and effort to make an eBook look good on any of those word processors. That’s why I love Vellum so much.
Vellum makes beautiful eBooks.
Vellum picks up where Scrivener, Word, and Pages leave off, giving you a tool to make great looking eBooks every time.
The most important part of this is the previewer (see the image below), which lets you see how each formatting change or book edit you make will appear on Kindle, Fire, iPhone, Nook, and other eReaders.
It also has stripped-down, option-based formatting, which is perfect for designing eBooks.
I really love this app!
UPDATE: Vellum recently expanded into formatting for paperback books! I haven’t tried it yet but it looks awesome!
Cost: $199 for eBook generation, $249 for Paperback Formatting
Where to find it: Get started with Vellum here
6. Microsoft Word (Word Processor)
Again: no piece of book writing software is going to write your book for you. If you’re looking for the next “shiny new toy” to help you write your book, it might be an excuse to avoid doing the hard work of writing.
Most of us learned how to use computers by using Microsoft Word, or a program like it. Word gets the job done. Sure, Scrivener is a little better for books, but I wrote my first book on Word and it’s fine.
I wrote a long review of the pros and cons of using Word to write books—the main problem is that as your document grows, it becomes more and more difficult to work with, whereas with Scrivener, it becomes easier—but the point is, if Word is what you have, don’t let that stop you from finishing your book.
As Jeff Elkins said in his review of Word, “If you aren’t already putting in the hard work to be the kind of writer you want to be, it doesn’t matter what new writing software you invest in. It is not going to help.”
Cost: $69 / year from Amazon (includes Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, and other Microsoft software)
Where to find it: You can get Microsoft Word here
7. Ulysses (Word Processor)
When I’m writing for a long time, I like to get up and go for a walk. Sometimes, I wish I could continue writing while I walk. Other times, I come up with an idea while I’m walking, type it up on my phone, and then want to easily move what I wrote to my laptop without having to go through the hassle of emailing it back and forth to myself.
That’s where Ulysses comes in.
Ulysses is a word processor for Mac that allows you to sync between all your devices, so you have what you need wherever you are. Scrivener recently released their iOS app which allows you to do this as well, but the process is clunky and requires you to purchase both the desktop and iOS apps. Ulysses’ sync makes the process much more seamless.
Like Scrivener, it has a binder-like sidebar that allows you to move documents around. Ulysses is not designed specifically for books so it takes a little configuring to make it work for you, but once you have it set up the way you want it’s very intuitive.
And while I hate Markdown, I actually like the paired-down formatting options Ulysses gives. Overall, I’m not going to convert from Scrivener to Ulysses any time soon, but I think it’s a great option for most writers.
Where to find it: App store, or here (Mac only)
8. Microsoft Excel (Spreadsheets)
As Jeff Elkins says in his review of Microsoft Excel, it’s great, but “it’s a little like bringing a bazooka to a knife fight. You will need only a small fraction of its capability.”
If you have Excel and love it, great. Otherwise, use Google Sheets, especially if you’re sharing your sheet with a collaborator or editor.
Cost: $69 / year from Amazon (includes Word, Powerpoint, Outlook, and other Microsoft software)
Where to find it: You can get Microsoft Word here
9. Grammarly (Grammar/Spell Check)
“Can book writing software replace an editor?” asks Sue Weems in her review of Grammarly. “Nope. But it can help you improve your grammar and readability.”
If you struggle with grammar, sentence structure, spelling, or even writing style, Grammarly can help. It goes far beyond your built-in spell-check.
You should still learn grammar skills, but Grammarly can help you start to see the patterns and grow as a writer.
There’s a free version that’s very good. It can even be installed into your browser or Word processor, so you can check your grammar wherever you write. The paid version, $139 a year, gives you additional support on sentence structure, style, and vocabulary.
Learn more about how writers can get the most out of Grammarly here.
Cost: Free! (Premium version is $139 / year)
Where to find it: Get started with Grammarly here
10. Hemingway App (Grammar/Style Checker)
Most writers think their sentences are easier to read than they are. You think you’re coming across clearly, that your writing makes sense, but then someone reads it and comes away with something totally different.
Hemingway App helps with that.
Hemingway App is a free website that checks readability. You can copy and paste your writing into the website’s input box. Then it will grade your writing based on your used of adverbs, passive voice, and sentences as units.
Hemingway App is useful, but even the best book writing software can’t replace a good editor.
Where to find it: Try out Hemingway App here
The 7 Tools Every Writer Needs
Every professional has a set of tools at their disposal that not only makes their job possible, but makes them better at doing it. Writing is no different, and while the right software is important, it’s just one of the many tools you need as a writer.
That’s why we published a free 22-page eBook, 7 Tools to Help You Write a Novel. In this short guide, we’ll cover some of the basic tools that form the foundation of a writing life.
You can download it for free here. Enjoy!
The Most Essential Book Writing Software
Imagine it’s three thousand years ago. You’re sitting around a campfire with some of your family and friends, tired from the day’s work. You begin to tell a story. It’s one you’ve told before, told a hundred times. You can see faces around the fire, the children with their eyes wide, the men and women who have heard the story before but still enjoy it because it brings meaning to their lives.
Storytellers—writers—have existed since the beginning of humanity. They didn’t always have book writing software. They didn’t have the printing press or the internet. They didn’t always even have the alphabet to write their stories down.
Instead, storytellers had their imaginations, their voices, and a rapt audience.
You don’t need book writing software to write a great story. Book writing software can make the process a little faster or easier, but the truth is great stories will always exist, no matter what kind of software we have.
The only three things essential to writing a great book:
- Your imagination
- Your words
- A desire to tell your story
That’s all you need. Do you want to write your book? If you do, then do it. Write it. Nothing is stopping you except you. So go get writing.
What pieces of book writing software do you use? Let us know in the comments.
The world is full of powerful software to help you write your book. In the end, though, all these tools are just that—tools. The stories you imagine and your discipline to put the words on the page are far more important.
So for this practice, set aside all the fancy software. Eliminate all the bells and whistles and open up your computer’s native text editor (TextEdit for Mac or Notepad for Windows). Take fifteen minutes to write without any distractions. Continue your work in progress, or start a new story based on this prompt:
A student discovers one of their teachers is not what they appear to be.
When you’re done, share your writing practice in the comments. And if you share, be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!