Writing on a Budget: Video and Misc. Apps

If you write on a budget, you end up doing your own ads. This includes video promotion as well.

Videos are no longer just for book trailers. Tik Tok and YouTube are social media powerhouses because people like to watch videos, and so much so, that Instagram is no longer a “picture” app but a video one (or so they claim. Most people I follow on Instagram prefer pics).

Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

If you write, you are going to end up creating a video at some point to advertise your book, or create a tutorial, or put your smiling face up for fans to see. While short clips can be filmed on your camera and uploaded to your social media of choice, book trailers, tutorials and such need a bit more editing love and care than that.

And, like photo apps, there are a variety of free or cheaper programs you can use.

I do not own a MacOS or iOS product, so apps like iMovie won’t be covered here. I’m also not going to cover phone apps. I personally believe that, for book trailers, tutorials and such, you need more computing power and monitor space than you get on a phone. On-the-go is fine for a quick Tik Tok video, not so much for a nicely edited book trailer.

Video Editing Apps

Canva

Canva makes another appearance. Not only can you create regular photo ads with Canva, you can create book trailers as well.

Canva provides all the tools you need to create awesome videos, including stock footage. There is a slight learning curve, and sometimes it’s difficult to get words to show up well against a moving background. Keep at it, though, and you’ll make awesome book trailers!

This YouTube video by Daniel Schiffer is an interesting look into what one can do with the free video features.

Overall, Canva is a gentle intro to video editing. The downside is that many others are using it to create content as well, so you might produce something that looks similar to another creator’s content. Of course, a lot of people use Instagram’s filters, and produce fairly unique content, so while it’s something to keep in mind, it’s not a dealbreaker.

OpenShot

My husband uses OpenShot. It’s free for Windows, Mac and Linux, and is an easier program to learn than some other apps out there, though it does have its frustrations and limitations. He uses it to create short music video clips, then transfers them to Da Vinci Resolve for filters.

If you’re a beginner interested in making book trailers, this isn’t a bad product to try.

VSDC

VSDC offers a video suite that includes screen recording and video capture software. It is an easier-to-learn freemium app. The video editor pro version is only $19.99, so if you try it out and find you like it, but need chroma key, masking and other features, it’s on the cheaper end of the spectrum.

Da Vinci Resolve

Da Vinci Resolve is for Windows, Mac and Linux, and has a ton of free features for video editing. Yes, you get more effects if you pay for the pro version, but if you are making simple tutorial videos, free will beyond suffice.

Did I mention, Da Vinci Resolve is free? It’s one of the industry-standard apps for editing video, and it is awesome. You get a lot for free. If you’re interested in a more advanced product for creating a professional tutorial or author introduction video, definitely look into Resolve.

For someone on a budget, the pro version is spendy, and probably out of reach at $295, but that’s a one-time payment for a lifetime of use. In this, Resolve is WAY cheaper than Adobe’s subscription-based model.

When Creative Cloud apps crash-dived into snail-on-ice slow in 2021, I tried Resolve and was very impressed. Yes, there is a learning curve, but there are many, many videos and tutorials out there for you to watch/read. It’s easier to pick up, if you have previous experience with video apps. If you are planning to create a series of tutorials or use more video in your advertising, Resolve is worth a look.

3D and Misc Apps

There are other free and inexpensive apps out there that can help you in your video creation. While they are not video editing apps, they can provide an interesting addition to your video toolset.

Blender

Ambady Sasi from Pixabay This pic made me smile 🙂

Blender is an all-in-one completely free 3D app for Windows, Mac and Linux. And it is awesome. More and more studios are using it, and if you plan to dabble in 3D, see if it’s right for you, there is no better program to start with.

I’m serious about that; Maya’s like $1700 a year. Studios pay that–and luckily, you don’t have to! You get quality without the price tag.

Blender does it all, from modeling to adding texture/material to lighting to animation and rendering it all. If you are a little hesitant about 3D, check out Blender Guru’s donut tutorial. He teaches you what features do, and how they work with each other. He’s easy to understand, which puts uncertain newbies at ease (yeah, I watched the whole thing a couple of times. There are other videos out there that fall into the “I did this donut in two seconds unlike Blender Guru” category, but they aren’t interested in teaching. They’re interested in being trolls).

Blender has a ton of fan support. There are numerous add-ons, pre-made models and 3D objects for you to use. You can check out sites like BlenderKit, SketchFab, TurboSquid and the like (but make certain your choices are free to use. Many creators sell their models, textures and add-ons, and you don’t want to use one for commercial use that isn’t intended for commercial use).

Now, the caveat: 3D is tough on your computer. There’s no getting around that. Make certain your specs can manage it. Even on a brand-new lappy, if it’s cheap, it probably can’t handle 3D. Even if it technically can, be aware, without graphics card capabilities, renders take forever. It’s a downside to 3D, but new technologies are on the horizon and will hopefully make it easier to work with.

Flowscape

I use Flowscape all the time, for stills and video. It can be downloaded directly from itch.io or through Steam, and is available for Windows and Mac.

Painting I made for a Wellspring World article on caravans. Yes, Flowscape is great for worldbuilding, too!

PixelForest had the idea of a game that painted with a 3D brush. The program has pre-made models (though you can import others if you wish) that you select, then spread across the landscape. You can create beautiful settings with a few clicks.

Why do I mention Flowscape? It’s easy to use, cheap (I bought it for $10 on itch.io, and added a tip. PixelForest’s the single developer, so all support is appreciated), and you can create some amazing landscapes with it. That’s important, because you can transform a dirt square into 1) a cool map for your book, 2) a setting for a book ad, 3) a setting for a book trailer, and then 4) use the camera to shoot a video of your wondrous landscape (I actually use OBS Studio for this, which is also a free program!).

To Sum It All Up…

Video is an important part of any author’s marketing and branding. If you’re uncertain about using video, that’s OK! Slowly work your way into it. You don’t have to produce the best book trailer your first time working with video.

Don’t know where to start? I would suggest finding a couple of pictures on the free stock photo sites that represent your book, then use them as backgrounds while you animate text over them. That’s like making a story in Instagram, only you have more options.

You may find out you like it better than you think.

My next post is going to be on art programs the writer/artist on a budget can use to create illustrations for their work. See you then!

*Cover image by Jan Alexander from Pixabay

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Shiobe Rising: The Wellspring Dragons Book 1Trouble in Tindrel: The Wellspring Dragons Book 2 and The Glass Volcano: The Wellspring Dragons Book 3 are available in Kindle format. Lapis of Nicodem, a serialized dark fantasy, is available for free at World Anvil. Follow me, Kwyn Marie, on Facebook and Instagram. Check out my author website, and the Wellspring Dragons book site as well as the Lapis of Nicodem book site. And if you like what you see, buy me a KoFi!

Writing on a Budget: Graphics

Authors use graphics for numerous things: ads, videos, illustrations, book covers, Amazon A+ content, logos, their website, and more. Of course, industry-standard software has industry-standard pricing, which puts apps like Photoshop way out of an indie or beginner’s budget.

Unfortunately, writers on a budget usually can’t afford to pay for someone else to create book covers, ads and other marketing content. They need to do it themselves, which can prove a daunting task. Not only might they not feel artistically-inclined, but creative options are often expensive.

Let’s dive into more affordable options for writers on a budget.

For the Non-artistic Writer

Photo by Designecologist from Pexels

First, I’m going to cover a couple of apps that anyone can use, including writers who aren’t comfortable with creating their own graphics content. It’s a daunting prospect, to make covers, ads, videos, when you don’t have a good sense of what is effective. Canva and Pixlr take the guesswork out of it with the use of templates.

Canva

Canva is an all-purpose app and a fav among authors because the free version has a lot to offer. You can create your own social media ads, book covers and videos by using templates and stock images. If you purchase the pro version, you get access to more templates and images, but the free version is great–and you can upload your own images if you want. The downside? Everyone else is using it, too, so it’s difficult to create something completely unique.

Despite that, Canva is great for writers on a budget because FREE. If you are uneasy about creating graphics content, this program is for you. Choose a template, stick a stock photo in, add text, you’re good to go!

It’s a web app, so you do need internet access to use it.

Pixlr

Pixlr is a photo editing app with templates one can use to create ads specifically for social media, YouTube thumbnails and the like. It’s designed to be simple to use by non-professionals. Upload your photos and start the fun!

Its background removal is not too shabby, and the filters create a myriad of interesting looks. If you don’t have your own image to manipulate, it uses a stock photo site (the ones I messed around with were from Unsplash). Use the text tool to add words, and you have an ad. You can also add sound, and work with video.

Again, Pixlr is web-based, so you need an internet connection to use it.

Other Options

Other options include, but are not limited to, apps like VistaCreate (previously Crello), Visme and Adobe Spark. VistaCreate strikes me as an app directed towards small businesses, and while it is easy to use, it may not be what an author needs. Adobe Spark and Visme cost money, and on limited budgets, $10 a month for Spark and $15 a month for Visme is a bit much, especially when there are free options available.

Photo Apps

If you are more comfortable working with images, there are several programs out there for the budget-mindful writer. As with the writing apps, since I don’t own a Mac or an iOS device, I have no experience with Apple-specific programs like Sketch and Procreate.

Photo Sites

Before you use a photo app, you need photos! It’s easier now than ever to access free images for ads, collages, covers and videos. Be aware, though, that not every picture is one you can use for your creative designs. Photographers and artists own the copyright to their images, and they must give permission for you to use them. Sites like Pixabay and Pexels say, upfront, that the images are free to use, and while they ask that you link back to the creator, attribution is not necessary.

Also be aware, that when you read “Royalty-free”, that doesn’t necessarily mean the image is free. Oftentimes royalty-free means you pay for an image (usually between $50-$500, depending on the resolution), but you don’t have to give the photographer part of every sale brought in by their artwork. That’s the royalty-free part. Adobe Stock, iStock, Getty Images and other services work this way, and cater to graphic design professionals and businesses. While they may provide a free image here and there, most of them are far out of reach of small budgets.

Oh, and do you know where NEVER to go to get media content? Google. That’s right. You need permission from the creators to use content, and downloading random pics you find in a Google search doesn’t provide that.

Pixabay

Image by jplenio from Pixabay

Pixabay is my go-to site (with Pexels coming in second, which really doesn’t matter much because Canva bought both of them and so they share images). They have a large selection of photos and art you can use in a variety of ways (and video and audio, too). If you make an account with them, you can download hi-res versions of images.

Not every pic is free to use on Pixabay, but it’s very uncommon to encounter one that isn’t. When you go to download the image, the pop-up will tell you whether the author will allow you to use it or not. I’ve only encountered one photograph in…jeebus, ten years? that’s asked that the image not be used for private or commercial use, so it doesn’t happen often.

And yes, you can alter images downloaded from Pixabay. In fact, it’s encouraged.

Pexels

Pexels is the place I go if I can’t find something on Pixabay. I like Pexels well enough, but I prefer Pixabay’s search (and, as stated previously, it kinda doesn’t matter much anymore, since the sites share pics). I get the impression people tend to think of Pexels as having better photos, but I see it as equal to Pixabay.

I suggest, when using the program, if you see something that you like, immediately download it. Trying to retrace steps, or search for the author’s name or media title, is rarely successful. Pexels search is fine for general searches (bonfire) but narrow ones never produce results. Sometimes you can use Google to find an image by typing ‘Pexels’ then the title/author in the search bar. Sometimes.

Unsplash

Unsplash is concerned with the quality of the photos, so you won’t find a ginormous amount of images to sift through here. Sometimes having less is more.

Unsplash was purchased by Getty Images in 2021. I guess they wanted to get in on the “free” action because free photo sites are very popular. We’ll see if they keep it that way.

If you don’t find what you’re looking for on these three sites, look around; pictures posted under Creative Commons licenses can often be used. But remember, no Google. It’s best to stick to “our media is free” stock photo sites.

Completely Free Graphics Apps

Now that you have a photo, you need a program to spiffy it up! Let’s start off with the completely free programs.

FYI, there are a couple of different types of image programs. Basically, there are two types; ones that are raster-based (Photoshop, which works with pixels) and vector-based (Illustrator, which works with lines and nodes). Vectors can create higher-res images and are good for artwork and text, but they can’t manipulate photos like a raster program.

GIMP

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is completely free and for Windows, Mac and Linux. It is a Photoshop replacement, and nearly everything you can do in that app, you can do in GIMP. There is a learning curve, especially if you have little to no experience with graphics software in general, but they have documentation and tutorials to help you along. And, if you want a Photoshop-style interface, you can get ad-ons to create a more familiar atmosphere.

You can crop photos, apply filters, add text, and much more. It is a powerful program created by people who believe software should be free.

I used GIMP for several years, until I upgraded to a 4K screen on my laptop. Yeah, their interface became small and unusable. A shame, but it is what it is. The most recent update I have (2.10.28) is a little better in that regard, but it’s something you should be aware of.

Inkscape

Purple trees and snow, created with Inkscape

I used Inkscape to design graphics for ads when I worked as a librarian. I found it a bit easier to use than GIMP, but again, there is a learning curve.

Inkscape is a free SVG program for Windows, Mac and Linux. Consider it an Illustrator replacement. You can easily manipulate text and shapes, and apply some pretty nice effects to spruce things up. Getting a photo up to snuff in GIMP, then bringing it over to Inkscape to add text, is a decent way to make an ad, if you want more control over the results than what a program like Canva provides.

FYI, if you’ve used graphics software before, getting up to speed in GIMP and Inkscape won’t be a problem. Otherwise, things will feel foreign and frustration can set in because you have no idea what anything does. While it’s rewarding to sit down and learn, not everyone has the time, or inclination, to do so.

Photopea

Photopea is a free, browser-based photo editing software that works with both raster and vector images. It even loads GIMP files. It’s easy to use, with an interface very familiar to anyone who has previously used imaging software. It has templates you can use for social media posts and ads. The goal of its creator is to make a sophisticated photo editor professionals want to use. It’s worth checking out!

Not-so-free but Cheap(er) Software

While there are freemium apps like Gravit Designer and Sumo Paint, these programs save their best stuff for the paid sub version (in Gravit’s case, that’s $99 for a year. And, frankly, when I was trying to view its website to see what it had to offer, I kept getting pop-ups I could not close, demanding I sign up. So I didn’t bother to use it, just clicked away).

Let’s look at a couple of these options.

Affinity Photo

Messing around with Affinity using Flowscape pic

I really like the Affinity suite (Photo, Designer and Publisher). I started using the apps after Photoshop 2021 began to work slower than a snail on ice (only a SLIGHT exaggeration). Affinity Photo is nearly up to Photoshop standards; it color grades, uses overlays and blending options, replaces skies, masks subjects, has a wide variety of brushes, and does it all without the price tag.

Affinity Photo is for Windows, Mac and iPad, and is a one-time cost of $54.99 as of this writing. That’s pricy, but the company often runs sales (probably to catch all the dissatisfied Adobe customers who have pulled out all their hair in frustration). I was able to pick up the program for $25 (as well as the other two apps for the same price. That’s a suite of graphics and publishing software for $75.) When you realize that the stand-alone Photoshop app is a monthly sub of $29.99, it makes Affinity a huge bargain. ‘Buy it once, it’s your’s forever’ is worth saving up for, especially if you plan on creating your own covers and media content for the foreseeable future.

While there is a learning curve, there are plenty of tutorials online for interested parties. It’s not a bad idea to learn the suite, since professionals who are looking for alternatives to Adobe are adopting these programs, giving Affinity even more reasons to produce great content.

Photoshop Elements

If you want something with Adobe’s name attached, Elements is the least expensive option. At a one-time purchase of $99, it’s far cheaper than a sub for Photoshop or Creative Cloud, but it is also a pared-down version of its older sibling. It does a lot of the same things, but if you want, for instance, to use a pen tool that curves, you’ll need to find a different program.

The last time I used Elements, it was a decent program, and unless it’s been plagued with bugs similar to the Creative Cloud apps, it will be a fine purchase if you have the cash. Considering there are cheaper–and just as good–alternatives out there, it’s really not worth paying just for the name.

Time to Wrap Up

I’ll cover video as well as apps like Artbreeder and FlowScape in another post, ’cause this one’s long!

We’re lucky that there are options available to writers on a budget who need graphics software but can’t afford professional prices. There are many, many more options available than I have listed, and it’s worth the time to check out other apps and read reviews. Each person has a different way of working, so each one will have a different software appeal to them. And just because it’s cheap, doesn’t mean it’s terrible software–and just because it’s spendy, doesn’t mean it’s great.

I say this because the problems I had with Photoshop during 2021 put me behind schedule on illustrating book three in my Wellspring Dragons series. Combined with other factors, I ended up releasing it three months after I originally planned. So yeah, just because software comes with a name and a price tag to match, doesn’t mean it’s worth it. Sometimes, Budget is Better!

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Shiobe Rising: The Wellspring Dragons Book 1Trouble in Tindrel: The Wellspring Dragons Book 2 and The Glass Volcano: The Wellspring Dragons Book 3 are available in Kindle format. Lapis of Nicodem, a serialized dark fantasy, is available for free at World Anvil. Follow me, Kwyn Marie, on Facebook and Instagram. Check out my author website, and the Wellspring Dragons book site as well as the Lapis of Nicodem book site. And if you like what you see, buy me a KoFi!

Writing on a Budget: Writing Apps

The bane of indies, is it not? A lot of us don’t have a ready stream of cash we can dish out for apps and ads, especially early in our careers. We struggle to do everything–write, edit, design, market.

Fortunately, it’s easier now than ever to create and publish our own books. If we don’t have the funds for a Fiver designer, that’s fine! We can do it all on our own.

Is it easy to do everything? Nope. It’s an investment in time and effort, often for little immediate return. Learning new things can be rewarding, though! And skills developed through the process can help with future writing goals.

Lucky us, there are several apps we can use that will help us create, despite limited budgets. This post focuses on writing and editing software; in separate posts, I’ll cover design software for things like book covers and ads, and formating/publishing software.

Writing Software

Vlada Karpovich from Pexels

When I started writing, I hand-wrote my docs or used my mother’s very old typewriter, because I was eleven and computers were expensive AF. Things have progressed to the point that some apps are free, cloud-based, and accessed from your phone. Quite the change, in a couple of decades. I’m listing a few apps below for writers on a budget.

One caveat: I don’t own a Mac. I’m not a fan of the price tag attached to Apple devices; I use Windows (primarily because I game; otherwise, I’d probably be a Linux user) and Android. So my personal experience with software specifically designed for a Mac is nil (and Vellum is waaay out of reach for a writer on a budget anyway). Therefore, you’ll need to go elsewhere for info on Apple Pages or Vellum.

Another caveat: I’m a dark fantasy writer, and so this post is directed towards fiction writers. Of course, the software listed works for both fic and non-fic. 😊

Google Docs

Google Docs is a free writing app that a lot of authors use. Since MS Word became a pay-to-use app instead of something that just came with Windows, people have been searching for another free writing software. Google Docs came around at the right time to take advantage.

Yes, you can write an entire novel in Google Docs. It has a straightforward interface that is familiar to anyone who has used Word. You can jump in and begin to write, or take the time to plan and create a table of contents for chapters. Automatic saves to the cloud make certain you don’t have to worry about losing a day’s worth of work if the internet connection goes down and you forgot to save. It provides an easy way to share your document with others.

You can export as a PDF or epub, which are the standard formats for ebooks. Kindle Direct Publishing no longer uses Mobipocket for fiction ebooks, but epubs, so that ability is important.

You can use Google Docs on Windows, Android, and Apple products, though you need 3rd party add-ons to access it with Linux.

Libre Office

Libre Office forked from Open Office ten years ago, and it’s been full-steam ahead ever since. It’s a full-fledged office suite and is available in 119 languages and on every platform. Everything you can do in MS Word you can do in Libre Office–and it has the ability to export to PDF and epub. It doesn’t have native cloud access, so you need a cloud-based service like Microsoft OneDrive or Dropbox, and save the docs there.

If you’re familiar with MS Word, it shouldn’t take long to get up to speed with Libre Office.

Scrivener 3

Scrivener is a must-have for some authors. It lets you keep notes, research and writing all in one handy place. It’s specifically designed for novel writing, too. It’s a one-time price of $49, so may not be an option for writers on a very limited budget, but it’s far cheaper than a Microsoft Office yearly sub.

I many respects, I consider Scrivener an Apple app; Scrivener 3 has been around for years for MacOS and iOS, but only available for Windows starting this September (2021)–and which still lacks features found in the Mac version. There is no Android version, so if an Android tablet or phone is the primary way you work on your writing, you need to find another app.

How does Scrivener work? Ha! That’s the problem with the program. It has a high learning curve. You will need to watch YouTube videos or read articles about features and how to navigate within the program to produce the best manuscript possible. Once you have it down, though, Scrivener is an indispensable writing tool by authors, for authors.

Other Services

Kaboompics from Pexels

There are other ways to write your book. Reedsy has a free writing tool that you access from a browser. It lets you write, typeset your work, and export it as an epub. You need to create an account with them, but if you need a free way to write (or a free way to upload your doc and produce an epub), you can check them out. Reedsy boasts that it provides distraction-free writing, which is the selling point of another app, FocusWriter. If you spend a bit too much time looking at Twitter, FocusWriter provides an environment that lets you get down to writing by hiding other apps. It comes in Linux and Windows versions–sorry Macs 😢

There are other browser-based writing apps, where all your content is stored on their site (Novlr), but I’m not a fan of these. Monthly fees put them out of range of small budgets, and if you want a hard drive backup, you need to find another option.

What do I use?

Glad you asked! I have thousands of pages written in MS Word, the product of years and years of work, and stored in Dropbox. It’s simpler to use Word as my primary writing tool because I have so many documents in the format, though I despise it with a passion. I really, really should find another writing app, and while I’ve tried out several alternatives, I haven’t decided on one yet. I may never switch; I use Jutoh to format my manuscripts, and it easily imports .docx files (discussing publishing software is or another post!).

I also use World Anvil’s Manuscripts. It’s a Master+ Guild Feature, and at $58 a year sub, it’s pricy for those on a budget. (Disclosure: I’m a Sage, which is their professional tier. I LOVE WORLD ANVIL and wallow in the fact I can have a world site and host extraneous content like short stories in the same place).

Manuscripts, World Anvil screenshot by me

Manuscripts is another no-distraction writing experience. It has limited formatting; this is by design. Frankly, if you are looking to create an ebook, limited is better. The fancy stuff you see in print editions doesn’t work well for ebooks in their current incarnation (and screaming at the industry is not going to change this. I know. I’ve tried. I STILL can’t believe e-readers can’t handle .png transparency in an epub. Really? What year are we in?). If you want more extensive formatting, you can use the Export to HTML button, then copy and paste it into your program of choice, including Word, LibreOffice, Pages, Google Docs, etc., and continue from there.

Manuscripts is a two-for; you can use it to write, but also publish your manuscript on World Anvil. I run my Lapis of Nicodem serial there. World Anvil has 1.5 million users (and growing!), so there isn’t a lack of people taking a peek at my work. I’ve gotten more exposure there than through paid ads on Amazon for my Wellspring Dragons series. If I wanted to, I could even use it to monetize my serial (I don’t, but if I wanted to grant exclusive access to content from Patreon or KoFi, I could).

Next Stop: Editing

Katelyn from Pexels

This, more than anything, is the bane of indie writing. I say this because it is the primary way for trolls to tear down an author and pretend they’re doing it for the writer’s, and readers’, own good. Too many authors use it as a hammer to bludgeon other authors, nit-picking things they think are wrong (not necessarily true) and making asses of themselves, apparently in the hopes of driving a potential rival from the scene.

Yeah, I’m not a big fan of people who think spellcheck/grammar editing is the end-all be-all of writing. It isn’t. Good editing means nothing if the story is crap, and bragging of correct spelling will never make a boring tale exciting. Editing comes from a set of rules literary people developed to make writing easier to read–and those standards don’t necessarily agree with each other (We have MLA and APA and the Chicago Style and on and on). They don’t necessarily agree with how people actually speak and communicate, either. It leads to things like the fight about where to place commas. There isn’t a universal one-way to use them. There never will be. I run ProWritingAid and Grammarly, and they don’t agree about where commas go, which means the people who wrote them don’t agree where commas go. As long as a reader understands the sentence, why insist on your way or the highway?

Yes, I have seen writers leave writing because of harassment over editing–especially writers on a small budget who can’t afford a human editor. What a great way to keep the industry clean of all the unwanted voices, eh? Prey on people who already have confidence issues due to lack of resources, and drive home that they aren’t wanted in the vaunted halls of publishing. If you notice, the trolls never offer advice on how to solve the problems they believe destroy a story, they just bitch and moan and shred. Worthless, the lot of them (yep, looking at you Goodreads, a service that helped made it acceptable to openly denigrate authors for laughs).

That being said, editing is important. It’s how you get your manuscript ready for readers. If your work has every other word misspelled, readers will reconsider your investment and interest in what you produce, and not pick up another thing you write. What do you do, if you don’t have the funds for a human editor? Check the list below!

Oh! and the list relates to spelling, grammar and the like. Software is not going to highlight your plot holes for you. If you need developmental editing or fact-checking, you’re going to need to find a human for that.

Beta Readers

I had not heard of beta readers until I became an indie; beta copies, sure, but not readers. They are readers you ask to preview your manuscript, usually for a free copy in return. While there are services that can hook authors up with beta readers, be aware that they are also used by scam artists to steal your work (a member of the Facebook groups I’m in had a trilogy recently stolen through the beta readers service she used; the scammers put her work up on Amazon, without even bothering to change her name). Many authors use their social media accounts to ask for beta readers from known fans.

Betas can do things like point out plot holes, highlight parts that are confusing, and the like. For a free copy of the book, not a bad deal, if you can get them to write up what they thought and send it to you (people may agree to be beta readers for you, but a return of info is not guaranteed).

Grammarly

The free version of Grammarly provides a grammar, spelling and punctuation check. You can integrate it with Word, Google Docs, Chrome, and many other programs. I found that I need to run it in Word, then copy and paste the doc into its web-based version, because the integrated version in Word and the version living in the cloud catch different spelling errors (why???).

If you want more, like sentence re-write help, the paid version is a yearly subscription starting at $12 a month (but, if you’re like many writers, you only pay for a one-month sub to edit your work, then don’t renew. In that case, you’re paying much more).

ProWritingAid

ProWritingAid has the reputation of being the writer’s editing program. The free version is web-based and, in addition to grammar and spellcheck, offers rewrite suggestions and a few reports about issues like passive voice and adverb use. They have far more reports for the paid version, which goes on sale every so often (like November, when celebrating NaNoWriMo).

If you want integration with programs like Word, you need the premium version.

I run the free version of Grammarly and the paid version of ProWritingAid in Word. Having two ways instead of one looking for spelling errors is nice. For writers on a budget, it’s annoying to copy and past small snippets into Grammarly and ProWritingAid’s free web app, but it will help catch pesky errors you might not have noticed otherwise.

Hemmingway Editor

The Hemmingway app is $19.99, a steal when it comes to editing software. It’s not a spellcheck program, but highlights things like long sentences, passive voice, and adverbs. It’s another distraction-free writing app, if you wish to use it in that way, and will export text to Word, a PDF, or a WordPress blog. Considering the price of premium Grammarly, ProWritingAid and AutoCrit, if you need more than a spell check, it’s not a bad program to get.

Autocrit

I use Autocrit to double up on what ProWritingAid reports have. Again, the programs can catch different errors because they look at manuscripts slightly differently.

Autocrit’s free version is pretty nice. It runs reports for things like passive voice, adverbs, repetition. There is no integrated version; all use is in the browser-based app. There are limits to the amount of text it can adequately scan at one time (same goes for Grammarly and ProWritingAid), so you’ll be uploading chapters instead of an entire work. That being said, there is no lifetime word limit, which is nice.

You can type your book directly into Autocrit if you like. I prefer a dedicated writing software, myself.

Read Out Loud

OK, so this isn’t software, but you’ll be amazed at how many mistakes you catch when you read your work out loud. Divide your manuscript into small chunks (10 to 15 minutes) and then take a break. You don’t want to go on autopilot while you’re speaking, after all. If you do, you might say what should be written, and not what actually is.

Basically…

Ivan Samkov from Pexels

There are free versions of most of the popular spellcheck/grammar apps. Use them all, combined with beta readers. It can get a bit tedious, but if you are working within the constraints of a very small budget, this is a good way to edit your work without the input of an editor you can’t afford.

And realize, editors are using the same programs, and running your work through all of them. Software may not compete with humans when it comes to noting consistency in a character’s eye color, but it finds spelling and grammar errors, uses of passive voice and the like, far faster than any person can.

All editing is time-consuming and frustrating. We’re lucky we have free versions of software that can make it simpler for us indies.

And Another Thing…

Many apps have discounts for authors who participate in events like NaNoWriMo. Those discounts might make them affordable enough for budget-tight writers to purchase. NaNoWriMo offers can really help a writer. I was able to get Sage-level at World Anvil due to NaNoWriMo participation. ProWritingAid is half-off its lifetime sub, Kahana is free. There are a ton more discounts for various apps and services.

There are also Black Friday sales and such. If you look around, and sometimes wait, software that is initially out-of-reach might fit into your budget.

It isn’t easy being an indie author on a tight or non-existent budget (that was me, for years and years). It isn’t easy navigating the critics who are looking for an excuse to tear you apart. But we indies have important things to say, too.

My next Writing on a Budget post will focus on graphics apps for cover designs and ads, and if that doesn’t run too long, I’ll include book design apps as well.

Plans for 2021

Time to look to the future (though, y’all have to admit, no one anticipated 2020 going down in that fashion). I have plans!

I will continue to release a bi-weekly chapter for my Lapis of Nicodem serial at World Anvil. It’s a dark fantasy where the lead character, Lapis, has spent the last eight years training to get revenge on the rebel traitor who helped murder her family, but might not be able to accomplish her promise. It’s turned out far darker than I originally planned, and it was dark to begin with.

I am editing the third book in The Wellspring Dragons series, The Glass Volcano. I plan to release it Summer 2021. If I’m really ambitious, I might try to release the 4th book sometime later in the year (it, too, is in the editing stage, though I need to draw pics for both of them and that takes me a long time).

I’ll continue adding to the world wikis for both LoN and Wellspring. This includes writing articles and completing artwork to go with them.

I want to create more music for both the LoN and Wellspring worlds. It adds to the feel of them. I’m no great composer, but hopefully I improve as time goes on.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I would like to start producing “How-to” videos, focusing on World Anvil, maybe say something about Artbreeder and how I make art using Adobe products (though, after yet another slow-ass update for Photoshop, I might have to ditch that until a stable version is released. My desktop is an Alienware Aurora R9. It’s not a slow machine. A couple-second lag when drawing a line is annoying and ten to fifteen seconds to preview a change is ludicrous. I had to go back three updates to get to a point my laptop could function with the program).

Things I would like to do:

  • I’ve written for my whole life. I may not have published until 2020, but I’ve written story after story, starting when I was 11. I have a lot of work that’s ready for editing. I might work on one of these other stories and get it ready for publication. How many stories should one work on at once? Heh, no idea.
  • Get better at landscapes. I want them to look like the watercolor-y images that are part of the load screens in Elder Scrolls online. Not necessarily photo-realistic, but concept-like.
  • Maybe draw a manga. My drawing is slow, so this probably won’t happen.
  • Get better at marketing. How will I do that? Maybe do the new Amazon add set-up after I get my third book out there.
  • Create paperback versions of my Wellspring series.
  • Maybe start merchandising.

That’s a lot for one year. It’s pretty centered on creating, but the truth is, I don’t want to ruin that part of me by focusing on marketing so much I end up hating it all. I find absolutely no joy in advertising, and social media is mainly me interacting with people who don’t care about my work. It’s kinda a drag.

And on that Happy Note, hoping everyone has a wondrous year.

NaNoWriMo: An Update

So far, I have written around 23,000 words in November, which includes sparse writing days around the US election. Nervousness can infect creativity and bring it to a standstill, but I persevered. I have finished, but am beefing up, the next chapter in Lapis of Nicodem (LoN) serial, while working on chapters 15, 16 and 17 of The Glass Volcano.

Since creativity took a bit of a dive, I ended up creating wallpapers for LoN, and building a Kofi WIP gallery for The Glass Volcano. I finished a song that I intended to be the theme song for my character Sikode, but it’s far too . . . nice, to be that. It sounds more soft, romantic, so it’s probably going to represent the romance between Sikode and Shiobe. My husband, whose music project is Modulo Torsion, said he rarely manages a song that he purposefully wants to sound a certain way. He’ll want a harsh song, and it will turn out softer. He’ll want something fast, and all the drums sound awkward. He suggested I just create, and then see where that song might fit into my Wellspring world. I can’t say I’m a grand songwriter, so that’s probably what I’ll do. I want to be a stompy industrial dance creator, but what I end up with is more along the classical and folky lines of my cello and whistles and recorders. I do like the theme I came up with, so I probably will expand on that.

How’s your #NaNoWriMo going? Hope you are enjoying it as much as me!

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Shiobe Rising: The Wellspring Dragons Book 1 and Trouble in Tindrel: The Wellspring Dragons Book 2 are available on Kindle and EPUB formats. Lapis of Nicodem, a serialized dark fantasy, is available for free at World Anvil. Follow me, Kwyn Marie, on Facebook and Instagram. Check out my author website, and the Wellspring Dragons book site as well as the Lapis of Nicodem book site. And if you like what you see, buy me a KoFi!