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  • Writer's pictureS. E. Shinault

Writing Resources on a Budget



Over the years, I've amassed a list of go-to resources and tools that I use to help my writing along. Like many writers, whether new or seasoned, I had to start my journey with very little money to cushion the financial impact of publishing. That's where hours of research and planning came into play, so I could gradually work my way up to creating a publishable book without breaking the bank. Whether I needed something for conceptualizing and planning an idea, editing a draft, or even just staying motivated to write the book itself, this list of cheap or free resources helped me time and again. Now I want to share it with you. I hope these tools will aid you on your own writing journey.


If you want to jump to one specific category, this index will take you there:



 

Conceptualizing


Here, I'll go over some of my favorite resources that might help you visualize that spark of an idea that popped in your head just as you were about to drift off to sleep. Or perhaps it came to you in the middle of your workday and refused to let go. These may help cement the idea in your brain, so you can actually develop it into something solid, and not just a concept to be lost in the ether of your mind.


 




While I'm certainly in the camp of believing that AI is no replacement for good, old-fashioned human imagination and skill, I do believe it's a useful tool for generating ideas, whether that's kick-starting your brain when you feel stuck, or allowing you a way to visualize characters and environments for your newly developing story. When I discovered Artbreeder, I got lost in it for hours, creating portraits for all the different characters in my novels, which truly helped to solidify how I imagined them in my head. I've always had a hard time visualizing certain details in my mind, which in turn makes those details a challenge to convey in my writing. Even if your writing style isn't super detail-oriented, this is still a fun and useful resource for bringing your characters to life. Check it out here!


 

Name Generators


Name generators are a fantastic tool for when you get stuck on naming characters or settings for your novels. They can often generate names that feel just right, and even if they don't, they can help get the gears turning. Below are links to a few of my favorites:


  • The Story Shack (Lots of categories. It also includes a flash-fiction challenge with prompts if you're feeling adventurous!)

  • Fantasy Name Generator (A good basic generator for fantasy themed names.)

  • Fantasy Name Generators (This one has a TON of excellent generators in varying categories, ranging from fantasy/sci-fi names, places, pop culture, and more. Fun for D&D campaigns too!)

  • Name Generator (Perfect for generating more realistic names.)

  • Sci-Fi Ideas (As the title suggests, it has a lot of sci-fi themed name generators, among others.)

  • Name-Combiner (This site allows you to combine two names and generate several new ones.)


 


If you love using acronyms in your stories as much as I do, then this could prove to be an invaluable tool. I've used it multiple times over the years to brainstorm catchy—yet sensible—acronyms for many of my sci-fi themed stories. Perfect for coming up with names for secret organizations, elite military teams, or that writing club you never worked up the courage to start!


Check out the Iconian Acronym Maker here!



 

Planning


Now we're getting somewhere! This next section will cover more resources that are useful in the planning stage of your novel(s).


 


Campfire is an incredible site that can help you through multiple stages of your writing process. I included it in the planning section for simplicity's sake, but it's one of the most versatile, beautiful, and easy-to-use tools I've found for my writing to date.


You can do all sorts of things, such as

  • Create Character Profiles, Arcs, and Relationship Webs

  • Detail Important Locations and Items

  • Create a Timeline for your Plot and even a Calendar for your World

  • Organize Magic Systems, Species, Languages, Religions, Etc.

  • Write Directly in the Program with the Manuscript Module

  • Download the Desktop Version for Offline Work

  • Use the Mobile App to Make Updates On-The-Go

  • And Much More!

The way Campfire works is you set up an account, create your first story, and then you're provided several base modules for free. As the site states, "Every module has a limit to the amount you can create with the free version." So, they give you the option to upgrade modules as you need them. Depending on your preference, you can purchase individual modules via a low monthly or annual subscription, or purchase each one for a lifetime fee, meaning you pay once and then own it forever. And don't worry, these prices are very reasonable.


Here are the ranges for the varying modules:

  • Monthly ranges from $0.25 to $1.50

  • Annual ranges from $2.50 to $15.00

  • Lifetime ranges from $7.50 to $45.00

Each module is priced based on what it offers. For example, the Manuscript Module is the most expensive because it's essentially a word processor that allows you to highlight and navigate the specific elements in your story, such as characters, places, items, and events.


Below I've included a couple of snapshots of my main dashboard and a character profile for my novel, "The Rending." This provides an idea of what the program looks like, but it only scratches the surface. I'm still learning about all the tools it has to offer myself!


Oh, and a huge bonus? You can customize the themes for each story you create in the program. Unnecessary for actual writing, of course, but super fun!






 

Writing


Now for what many consider to be the most challenging part—actually writing the thing. Here's something that may help you along.


 



Most have already heard of the infamous National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). But in case you haven't, here it is in a nutshell: Every November, writers from around the globe challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in 30 days.


As ludicrous as it sounds, this challenge has helped thousands of people get ideas onto the page, spurring them forward with daily word counts, badges to be earned, and milestones to be met. It's the ultimate way to hold yourself accountable as a writer! The novel I plan to publish later this year was written during NaNo 2017. And although the story looks quite a bit different from that initial rough draft, I'm forever grateful that a free program like this exists because it's encouraged me to churn out multiple manuscripts in a short amount of time.


If you don't already have an account but you think you're up for the challenge, there's still time to sign up before November. Check out the site here.


 

Editing


Here, I have a list of some of my favorite resources that I used for editing my novel.


 


Fiverr can be hit or miss as far as pricing goes, no matter what category you're browsing. Sometimes you have to dig deep to find something that fits your budget and your project. But, I included it here because it's where I discovered and worked with my first editor. Before Fiverr, I had been looking at some editing packages offered by various professional websites and companies, and they generally ranged between $2,000 to $3,000! (faints) As you can imagine, I was dispirited by the prospect of never being able to afford quality editing services. Then, my husband suggested I try looking on Fiverr. Though by that point I had little hope of finding anything, I gave it a shot, and was pleased to discover a wonderful developmental editor right off the bat. He worked closely with me over the course of several months, allowing me to make smaller installment payments. By the end of it, I paid $550 for him to edit and critique my entire manuscript (still a hefty chunk of money, but better than 3 grand). Because of his invaluable feedback, I made so many improvements, not just to the technical things like grammar and syntax, but to the story as a whole.


His prices have increased a little since I last worked with him, but I strongly recommend his services. He's friendly, a highly rated seller, and his feedback is always constructive and encouraging. He was a joy to work with. You can find his Fiverr profile here.


 


After my first round of edits was complete, I felt I still needed a second pair of eyes on my manuscript. The second editor I worked with was recommended to me by a fellow writer. I messaged him through his website, discussing my novel and my situation, and he was quick to respond with an estimate price. After a little more discussion, I decided to work with him. While the process was a little more solitary than with my previous editor, he still provided incredible feedback, focusing a lot more on sentence structure and word choice, while still offering helpful developmental advice. Again, because of his constructive criticism, I was able to improve my novel. He also provided a detailed reader report along with his editing services. As for the cost? In my case, I only paid $180 total, separated into two payments of $90. He's one of the most affordable editors I've found that still provides detailed, quality feedback.


 


Maybe editors like these are still out of your price range, or maybe you just need an analysis of your manuscript and don't have months to spare waiting for feedback. If that's the case, then Marlowe might be for you.


As I stated earlier, AI is no replacement for human work in any category. A real editor will provide much more in terms of quality feedback. But, if you're looking for a cheap and quick analysis of your novel, this tool could help you out.


A while back, I tested out the free, basic plan they offered. I was genuinely surprised by the report it gave me for The Rending. It was very detailed, and covered things like repetitive phrasing, readability, frequent use of adverbs and adjectives, passive voice, and more. Below is a screenshot of Dialogue vs. Narrative:


I haven't had the chance to run my manuscript through the program a second time, but I may do it again in the future just to see what's changed.


 

Formatting


If formatting your novel has you feeling like you've stepped onto an alien planet, then you're not alone. While traditionally published authors generally have this taken care of for them, self-published authors have to either learn how to format themselves or hire a professional to format their book. Both come at a cost, in their own right. So, here's what I decided to do instead:


 


Atticus is a program available both on the web and as a desktop app. It allows you to write or upload your novel, and then format it for e-readers and print. While I'm still learning the ins and outs, I've been very impressed with it so far. It offers a range of built-in themes that fit various genres, and it also gives you the option to create custom themes. Then you can preview how those themes appear on various devices like your phone, Kindle, iPad, and, of course, print.


It's a little more on the pricey side at $147, but that's a onetime payment and then you own it forever. That price also covers all future updates and features that will be added to the program!


 

Publishing


Perhaps the most nerve-wracking part of being an author is finally publishing that manuscript you worked so long and hard on. Below I detail how I'm personally choosing to publish my work. This doesn't really apply to authors planning to traditionally publish, but for anyone who's interested in self-publishing, this might be worth a look.


 


Draft2Digital is an aggregator, meaning they allow you to publish through their company and then they handle the distribution of your book to various other platforms. "Going wide" in other words. Because there would be so much to cover here, I recommend checking out Draft2Digital's website and FAQ to get all the information you need, but I'll try to sum up the important parts here:


  • No upfront charges or fees (They do take 10% of your books' retail price after publication, meaning they don’t get paid unless you get paid)

  • They can take care of layout, publishing, distribution, print-on-demand paperbacks, and more

  • They offer tools for promoting your book and for tracking sales/royalties

  • They distribute to a variety of popular sellers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Smashwords, and many more

This is the platform I'm planning to publish through, largely because it has no upfront costs. With all the other expenses I've had to deal with on the road to publishing, the lack of initial fees alone was what drew me to Draft2Digital.


 

Marketing


For many indie authors like myself, this never-ending phase is rife with challenges and can be intimidating as all get-out. Some people dread it, some enjoy it. Regardless of which camp you fall in, properly marketing your novel is an important part of the publishing process if you want to see your book sell. Below are some of my favorite affordable resources that have helped me with my marketing endeavors.


 



Despite the age-old adage, people definitely, definitely judge a book by its cover! A cover can make or break your book, as it's often the first thing readers see when they're hunting for a new novel to devour. Unfortunately, many indie authors, already being strapped for cash, don't have the option the shell out hundreds of dollars for a quality cover designed by someone who knows what they're doing (knowledge of typography, color psychology, photo-manipulation/illustration, etc.)


Many authors make the mistake of designing and using their own book covers. I don't recommend this, even if it saves money. Often times, it's painfully obvious when a cover was created by an author with no graphic design experience. Making a placeholder is fine (I do it all the time for fun), but when it comes time to publish, investing in a well-designed cover is key.


So, what's a broke author to do? Check out GetCovers, that's what!


This website was a lifesaver for me! I was in a similar situation with my book cover as I was with finding editing services. My desire for quality did not match up with my budget, and I was starting to lose hope that I could ever afford a well-designed cover for my novel. But when I heard about this website, everything changed.


GetCovers offers a wide range of services for incredibly affordable prices. They designed my author logo, which I use for my website and social media pages, and it only cost me $20 for two concepts. But, for the more important part, my premium cover design PLUS marketing images came out to only $88! It's important to note that I took advantage of a holiday promotion they ran round Halloween, so the price I paid was slightly discounted. But that's all the more reason to check out their site, as they often run holiday specials with discounted prices for their various services. Every time I've worked with them, they've been quick and friendly, and their work always speaks for itself. Their portfolio of designs is available for viewing on their website.


Also, check out their sister site for premade covers.


 


Though this designer is a little more on the spendy side, I'd be remiss if I didn't take the opportunity to promote a fellow writer, artist, and friend who is just getting started on the book cover front. Armed with plenty of graphic design knowledge, these designs won't disappoint.


Find more info on commissions and pricing here.


 



Canva is another excellent resource for marketing. It's an easy-to-use design tool offering endless possibilities, from creating beautiful social media posts, infographics, videos, and even book covers. (I still stand by what I said earlier about designing your own book covers. But … placeholder, anyone?)


It has free and paid options available. The free version offers plenty, while the paid version has extra features, like using "pro" images, creating a brand kit, and even scheduling posts to your social media. It costs $12.99 monthly, and they also offer an annual option with a slightly cheaper rate.


Below is an example of something I created in Canva to post on my social media pages:




 



Another important marketing step, both before and after publishing, is securing reviews for your novel. Book Sirens covers the before part.


Books Sirens is a platform designed for sending out ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) to a small audience before the book is officially published. This is a great option for generating pre-order sales for your novel—if you go that route—because it helps build up some buzz around your story. In the same way a movie or book trailer can make people curious, advanced reviews can do the same, while also lending you some credibility whether you're a new or established author. Not to mention, the people you send ARCs to can potentially become your first fans!


Book Sirens makes this process straightforward, and it's not crazy expensive either. To break it down, if you submit your book and they accept it onto their platform, you'll then be billed a one-time fee of $10, and from there, they'll bill you $2 per reader who downloads your book. (As a failsafe, if the same reader downloads your book multiple times, they only bill you for that reader once.) Even better, you can invite your own readers to join your ARC team, and you won't be charged for those readers who download the book via your invitation. According to Book Sirens, generally 75% of readers who download your book will read it and leave a review, on average.


While I haven't had the opportunity to test out this process myself, I plan to soon, once I've made the final adjustments to my own novel.


If you want to learn more, check out their website for more info.

 

Community


Even though this is the last thing on the list, it's still one of the most important. The best way to ensure that your book succeeds once it's out there in the wild is to build up a community around it, and around your persona as an author. I recommend doing this before you publish, but that's not to say you can't start building a community after publication, too. The goal is to communicate with readers in a personable way. This helps you look more approachable to them. And, if you don't have as much luck communicating with readers starting off, there are plenty of other authors, indie or otherwise, who are eager to support fellow writers because they understand the challenges that come with marketing your books—and yourself! Below are some of my personal suggestions for community building.


 



Scribophile is a large, award-winning online writing community. It has a points-based system that encourages you to leave feedback on other writers' work, and the more feedback you leave, the more points you earn. Then you can post your own work to receive feedback. You can join various groups, meet friends, and even find beta-readers. They also do a lot of workshops and have a writing academy, so it's a good place for learning more about the fundamentals of the craft.


 

Social Media


This is probably a no-brainer, but I do think there are some authors out there who don't take advantage of all that social media has to offer. Whether you prefer Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or even some more obscure social platforms, there's pretty much something for everyone. And best of all, it's generally free to set up an author/business page. You may have to pay for advertising down the line (if that's something you want to try) but if you're just looking to build a community and gather some loyal fans, then it's a good starting point. Most everyone has a social media account these days, making it easier than ever to expand your audience and connect with like-minded individuals.


Facebook in particular has been an invaluable tool for me, as it has helped me discover some other talented indie authors that not only make great content, but also understand the struggles that come along with writing and publishing. I've learned so much just by engaging with others.


 

That about sums it up...


I hope you found this list of tools helpful. What are some of your favorite writing resources? I'm sure there's a few that I failed to mention because I don't know about them yet. Feel free to touch on them in the comments!



P.S.

Want to see these resources, and a few others, all in one place? Check out my Pinterest board here.

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