Nonfiction writers aren’t just writers. We’re researchers, diving deeply into our subject areas; we’re teachers, sharing—or trying to share—our expertise with the public. All that, and we need to turn out gorgeous prose, and learn how to navigate the publishing process. It can be a lot to get a handle on—unless you have the right tools.
Fortunately, we don’t have to write publish nonfiction with only pen and paper in hand. The information age has blessed us with an enormous tool kit to speed us along the publishing process. Whether you’re dipping into the first stages, elbow-deep in research, or just about ready to get your manuscript to press, there’s an app that will make your life easier. Here are five must-have tools to help you take your book from planned to published.
Say you’re starting a new nonfiction book, and your mind is bursting with ideas. You’ve been there, done that with outlining—it feels too constrictive—but you still want a way to plan out the structure of your book. Sounds like a job for mind mapping! A technique for imposing visual order on a chaotic starburst of ideas, a mind map lets you tease out connections between concepts without being bound by linearity.
You could mind map the old-fashioned way, applying markers to paper. Or you could find some software that lets you do it with greater elegance and speed—and fewer kindergarten flashbacks. When it comes to mind mapping apps, Coggle is one of the best, with a stylish interface and intuitive controls—all accessible right in your browser. Their free plan limits you to three private maps. But if you’re not interested in shilling out $5 a month for an upgraded plan, there are plenty of free alternatives, including Mind42 and FreeMind.
This isn’t that kind of writer’s block—although you might harbor some resentment toward this app for bringing out some less-than-pleasant memories. Setting aside a name that’s too clever by half, the Writer’s Blocks app lets you split your thoughts into, well, blocks, to be color-coded and rearranged as you like. It’s a high-tech take on the index cards you might have turned to in the past to take notes and keep yourself organized. Use it for planning your book, or go ahead and type out your entire manuscript in blocks—there’s no character limit to stop you!
A favorite of novelists and screenwriters, the Writer’s Blocks program is also great for organizing a nonfiction writer’s citations, appendices, and other forms of paratext. Unfortunately, at $149 for the latest version, it can’t be considered a budget buy, and it’s only available for Windows. The good news is, you can grab a 14-day free trial before committing, and both Mac and PC users can find an alternative in Scapple.
A favorite in academe, this open source reference manager definitely won’t break the bank. Of course, college professors aren’t the only people with references to manage. A nonfiction writer in the throes of the research stage is a perfect candidate to reap dividends from Zotero’s ability to organize sources.
If you’re working on a research-intensive project, Zotero lets you cite as you write and keep track of what you cite. By front-loading the work of corralling your references, you’ll get your manuscript fit to print that much faster.
You’ve probably heard of this one already, but no list of writing tools is complete without it. Created by the same company as Scapple, Scrivener is a cult favorite in the literary community. From grad students scrabbling away at their dissertations to bestselling authors tuning up their umpteenth books, it seems to be the preferred word processor for every subspecies of writer under the sun.
But Scrivener isn’t just Microsoft Word’s more genteel and literary cousin: it’s also an outlining tool, a scrapbook for sources, and a virtual corkboard for laying out your ideas. At $45, it isn’t cheap — but it is a tool you can use at every stage of the writing process.
You’ve mind mapped your way to the perfect structure, wrangled your sources, and finally turned out a book’s worth of beautiful prose. Now it’s time to figure out how just how you’ll get your painstakingly crafted work into readers’ hands—or on their screens. An ideal tool for the triumphant final stages of your writing process, the Reedsy Book Editor produces beautifully typeset pages, giving anything you plug into it a professional look.
A free online tool, it’s an elegant, lightweight alternative to pricey desktop publishing programs like Adobe InDesign. It’s also fast, capable of helping you typeset an 80,000-word manuscript in less than 10 minutes.
Tailor-made for self-publishing authors, the Reedsy Book Editor lets you export your work to EPUB, Mobi, or PDF, so it’s ready to distribute right away. It even supports images with captions and offers three levels of headers for structuring your content making it a user-friendly option for nonfiction authors. Of course, you don’t have to wait till your book is finished to make use of this particular tool. If you’d like a little foretaste of victory, you can do all your writing in the Editor getting a sense of how the finished product will look.
What’s your go-to tool for navigating the publishing process? Tell me in a comment below. (And if you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends.)
About the Author
Emmanuel Nataf is the founder and CEO of Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. Emmanuel dedicates most of his time to building Reedsy’s product and is interested in how technology can transform cultural industries.
Picture courtesy of Ion Chiosea | 123RF.com