From spelling, grammar and prose to finding publishers and making maps, there’s a ripe bunch of resources out thered, all esigned to make the writer’s life that little bit easier. Over the years I’ve tried a fair few and some are more useful than others. Below you’ll find a list of the ones I’ve found most helpful.
For the avoidance of doubt, I haven’t been asked or paid to endorse any of these tools. They’re merely things I’ve encountered and found useful.
Are you, like me, shite at drawing? I can form a lovely image in my mind and as soon as I try to transfer it to the page it ends up a shambolic mess. The same goes for my cartography skills. Luckily, help is at hand.
Quite a few mapmaking tools are available to use for free online and perhaps the best of them is Inkarnate. You can pretty much make any kind of map you want, from deserts to swamps. It takes a little getting used to, but thirty minutes or so playing about will get you up to speed. There are plenty guides on Youtube too. Mapmakers like Inkarnate are a brilliant way to create attractive-looking maps at no cost but your time.
Quick review: a cost-effective tool capable of producing detailed, eye-catching maps.
I think the reason I sought out better spellchecking software was because of how crap Word spellcheck is. I hate nothing more than those silly green lines. No matter how much you click ignore it’ll flash up green again. Damn you to hell, green line.
Grammarly answered my call. I’ve been using it for 88 weeks straight now according to my weekly insights email—another nifty feature. Once per week you’ll get an email to let you know how voluminous you’ve been, how accurate you’ve been, and how many unique words you’ve used. It also tells you your most common mistakes. For me, it’s those pesky commas.
Weekly insights aside, this handy tool has a plug-in feature for desktop, Word and web browsers, so you’re covered on all fronts. Some of its suggestions are silly, but it captures the obvious areas and occasionally throws up a nice suggestion or two.
There’s a free version and a premium version. I’ve never tried premium but I’m often tempted by their whopping offers. I understand premium offers a broader range of suggestions on things like syntax and prose. There’s a free online tool that does this too, which we’ll come to below.
Quick review: infinitely better than MS Word ‘Spelling & Grammar’
Hemingway is similar to Grammarly but it’s online, with no downloads required, although they’ve just released a handy desktop app. You simply copy and paste your text into the form and it gets to work analysing it. It’ll flag potential problems to do with use of adverbs, adjectives and passive voice, any complex sentences, or whether any simpler alternatives exist. A cracking little tool, especially since it’s free!
Quick review: used in combination with Grammarly, you’ve got your grammar, spelling and prose covered.
Shunn’s Formatting Guide
Before it comes to sending out your shiny new stories off to publishers, it needs to be formatted in the right way. A lot of publishers, particularly those based in the US, will ask for your manuscript to be formatted in the Shunn style. Indeed, William Shunn’s formatting guidelines have proven so popular they’ve become something of the default. By that I mean, if a publisher does not state in their guidelines how they’d like your piece formatted, revert to Shunn.
Shunn’s short essays on both formatting manuscripts for short stories and novels are freely available over on his website www.shunn.net.
The URL for the short story guide is > https://www.shunn.net/format/story.html
And for novels > https://www.shunn.net/format/novel.html
You can find out a bit more on formatting here > https://richiebilling.com/manuscript-formatting-guide/
Quick review: if you don’t use Shunn, prepare for rejection.
Finding publishers and agents is tedious work, but one cracking tool that’s taken all that tedium away is Duotrope. Right off the bat, you do have to pay for this fella, but it’s like $3 a month and you get a 30 day free trial.
Duotrope is essentially a giant database of publishers, covering myriad genres, all lengths of story and at all levels, from non-payment to professional. It’s constantly updated so you’re only seeing publishing houses open to submissions. You can sort and filter by genre, sub-genre, story length, pay rate and much more. And you can search for literary agents too. It really is a revolutionary tool.
If you don’t want to pay, I’ve got a couple of free lists of publishers you might find useful:
Quick review: the future of finding homes for your stories.
This one I came across when working on the marketing for my latest book, A Fantasy Writers’ Handbook. I never knew it was possible to alter the blurb of your Amazon listing, and judging from the blurbs of many other writers, they don’t too. And it makes such a difference.
I opted to place a short review of the book in bold and italics at the top of the blurb. When you scroll down the page you’re immediately drawn to it. There’s lots you can do to make your blurb stand out, and all you have to do is simply copy and paste the code it generates. And it’s free!
Quick review: an essential tool if self-publishing.
Facebook, as opposed to other social media platforms
A controversial one here, perhaps. I’m not a fan of Facebook. They’re a shower of untrustworthy shysters. But Facebook is where writers and readers are. It’s proven my most effective means of promoting my work, dwarfing any other. If I were to stop using Facebook the traffic to my site would plummet.
Why is Facebook so effective? As I eluded to, it’s where people are. You’ll find scores of groups dedicated to writing, specific genres and promoting your books and work. In fact, you’ll find most of them in this list I compiled.
I’ve met loads of brilliant people on there too and now we all support each other’s work. So yes, Facebook has its downsides, but also its positives.
Quick review: a necessary evil.
This may sound a silly one but you’d be surprised the amount of times I see people use words in the wrong way, or spell words wrong. They’re the very basics of writing. It shouldn’t be happening. So bookmark this bad boy. You can’t go wrong with the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), one of if not the leading dictionary. And the online version is excellent. So too the app for your phone. Both free to use. It provides loads of example sentences as well as definitions and also has a thesaurus feature to help you find that elusive word.
Quick review: a no-brainer.
Website Building Guide
When I first began writing the prospect of having a website sickened me. That was doubt talking, and as I slowly learned to drown out that voice, I took the plunge and made one. Back then I wasn’t very knowledgeable, and I’m still by no means a coder, but I don’t think I’ve done a bad job.
My website has developed over time. What you make first time round isn’t going to be perfect. The trick is to always be on the lookout for new features to add, tweaks to make, and crucially, to listen and analyse what visitors are saying.
If you’re new to the website game, worry not. On this here site is a handy little guide to building a website, compiled by the web designer Robert Mening. Robert has spent painstaking hours testing and reviewing the top 10 website builders and with his findings has compiled a detailed guide setting out the pros and cons for each one. It’s a terrific resource and I’m grateful and delighted both that Rob asked me to share it here for your benefit. https://richiebilling.com/a-guide-to-building-a-website/
Quick review: the sooner you get a site the better and this guide will get you there in no time at all.
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