Which Software Is Best for Authors – Part 2

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Last week, I talked about writing and planning software for indie authors. But indies wear a lot of hats, so we need more than just a good writing and plotting package. Here’s a list of some graphics programs to look at – as well as some other assorted programs that can be useful for indies.

1.  Photoshop – It’s the gold standard for photo manipulation and cover design.

  • Pros: Tons of filters and effects.
  • Cons: The cost. Plus graphic design programs are written in a language English majors have probably never been taught to speak. There’s a serious learning curve. Get a book or take a class. I mean it.
  • Best for: Any kind of graphics formatting, but especially book covers.

2. GIMP – The poor person’s Photoshop.

  • Pros: It does pretty much everything Photoshop does, except for free.
  • Cons: If you know Photoshop, you’ll have to unlearn it a bit to use GIMP – the tools aren’t always called the same thing and they may be in different locations. Also, GIMP is open-source software, which means lots of programmers have their fingers in the pie, and so sometimes stuff doesn’t work as advertised.
  • Best for: Anything Photoshop can do.

3.  Paint Shop Pro – Another alternative to Photoshop.

  • Pros: Does pretty much the same thing Photoshop does, except cheaper.
  • Cons: The terminology is less dense.
  • Best for: Anything Photoshop can do.

4.  Microsoft Paint – Welcome back to the world of 1980s pixelated graphics.

  • Pros: Free with your PC.
  • Cons: Too many to list. Don’t even try to make a paperback cover in this program – there’s no way to convert anything to 300 dpi, which is the standard for dead-tree printing.
  • Best for: Letting the kids play on the computer.

5.  InDesign – Way more formatting bells and whistles than an indie author is likely to need.

  • Pros: Great for creating a brochure or a catalog. Allows you to create style sheets, templates, etc.
  • Cons: Melinda Clayton’s in-house experts call InDesign “super-complicated, super-buggy, and super-boring. Word is much easier and if all you’re doing is formatting a novel, there’s no need to add all the complications InDesign has.”
  • Best for: Brochures, catalogs, and other complex design projects.

6. Microsoft Publisher – I know it says “publisher” right there in the name, but it’s not what you’re thinking.

  • Pros: It’s great for formatting photo-heavy books. K.S. Brooks uses it for her Mr. Pish books and book covers.
  • Cons: Do not think you can use this program to publish your novel. MS Publisher is meant to be used for creating newsletters and other desktop publishing projects. It will not do the kind of formatting you need for a novel.
  • Best for: Your family’s holiday letter.

7.  Microsoft Excel – Useful for keeping track of the indie author’s business side.

  • Pros: It’s also ubiquitous. And it’s great for tracking things like earnings, results from sales campaigns, etc.
  • Cons: Cost.
  • Best for: The business side of indie authordom.

8.  Microsoft PowerPoint – The best-known name in presentation software.

  • Pros: Relatively easy to use. Easy to put graphics exactly where you want them (unlike in Word).
  • Cons: Cost. Plus its uses are not directly related to publishing. But if you’re doing a presentation on how to self-publish, say, PowerPoint is your program of choice.
  • Best for: Developing presentations for things like how-to-publish classes.

Again, I’m sure I’ve forgotten several programs. One that comes to mind immediately is Adobe Acrobat, which is another pricey, gold-standard program that has recently gone to a subscription model. And Acrobat is hardly the only program out there for converting a Word file to a PDF. Numerous freeware programs exist on the web, some of which work better than others. I almost think we could do a whole post on that subject alone. What do you think? And again, let me know in the comments if I’ve forgotten a favorite of yours entirely.

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

26 thoughts on “Which Software Is Best for Authors – Part 2”

  1. I concur on most of these. My main problem with Gimp is that the dashboard is so small I can’t read the instructions. I wonder if there’s any way of blowing it up for a desktop computer?
    The solution for many of the conversion progblems is to go Mac. Their Preview program is a poor man’s Adobe Acrobat, and is great for changing file formats from PNG or .tiff to PDF or .jpg.
    I still do a lot of simple graphics on my old MacBook, which runs the old Appleworks. Their Draw and Paint formats are great. I laid out my major house renovations in Draw, and the building inspector said they were great! Unfortunately, as usual, they don’t translate into anything modern.

  2. I’m like Melissa I love Corel Paintshop Pro. It is a great program. I just created my first book cover and am very impressed by the program and actually the cover turned out pretty darn good, too. 🙂 I tried Gimp a few times, so I didn’t give it much of a chance but I couldn’t really get it, so I gave up but I have seen people do a lot of neat stuff with that program. Thank you for the list.

  3. This will sound strange but I’ve actually done one cover using Corel Draw. It’s specifically designed for creating vector graphics, but it also allows me to create pixel-perfect layouts. Plus I’ve used it for years so it’s like a comfortable old shoe. 😀

    1. Thank you! I knew there was one I was missing. My google-fu tells me that CorelDraw still exists, and that Corel also currently owns Paint Shop Pro, WinZip, and WordPerfect. 🙂

  4. Paint.net is Photoshop for those of us without gobs of time and/or money (or perhaps just the mindset — Photoshop is about as anti-intuitive a program as I’ve ever seen, and I *have* taken a class in how to use it) to throw at Photoshop. It’s logical and does pretty much everything I need it to do, and it’s free.

  5. I, too, like Paint.net for a variety of graphics work. I find it lightweight but powerful, especially when you add in the available plugins. And it’s free.

    For interior layout prior to print, including graphics and a variety of text layouts, I like Scribus. Not for writing, mind you (I use a very old version of MS-Word), but strictly for interior layout. It can handle small newsletters to books. Very good export to pdf functions, bleeds, custom styles and templates, kerning, image and text compression options, etc. Lots of features, too. The learning curve is a little steep, and it’s lacking in a glitzy interface. But it does the job. Oh, and it’s free, too!

    To keep things manageable, and to avoid slowing down my computer, I like to create a single pdf for each chapter or section. Then I use PDFtk to join them all together into one seamless pdf for submission to my printer or for online transmission. Again, not fancy, but effective. Yep, it is also free.

    I may as well throw one more into the mix:
    I like Sigil for epub creation. It does have a WYSIWYG interface, but also a really robust “code” view that serious epub designers will be comfortable with (and anyone with a bit of HTML/CSS know-how). It is powerful and comes with several on-board testing and validation checks to help you make sure that your epub layout is correct and your code is good. I’ve had better luck validating Sigil epubs (with epubcheck) than those I’ve created using Calibre or other programs. Finally, at the risk of sounding repetitious…Sigil is also free!!

  6. I look a class in Photoshop years ago and know the program fairly well. Unfortunately, the old, limited edition version that came with my touch pad developed glitches. It doesn’t work at all on my new computer and I can’t afford to buy the full version. It’s nice to know there are some choices out there.

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