You can certainly write a book with a stack of paper and a pen. But you can't run a successful author business that way!
In this article, I list the most important tools and services I use to run my multi-six-figure, one-person-author business.
It might look like a long list, but remember, tools are leverage. They enable you to do more with less. I've also been running my business full-time for over a decade, so I've added things over the years, changed tools and services, and adapted along the way. No doubt I will keep changing things as new options emerge.
Some of the links are affiliate links for products and services I use and recommend and for which I receive a percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. But of course, you don't have to use my links!
Writing and editing
Scrivener — for writing first draft fiction and non-fiction, keeping notes, organizing, and restructuring. Tutorial here for fiction and non-fiction.
ProWritingAid — for self-editing. Tutorial here.
The Blue Garret — Kristen Tate is my (human) editor. Interview with Kristen on editing here.
Sudowrite — for expanding sensory detail like a thesaurus on steroids and co-writing assistant. Tutorial here.
ChatGPT — for character ideas, plot ideas, brainstorming, and world-building. I'm on the paid plan so I've been using the GPT4 model which is a step change to GPT3. More on futurist topics here.
Publishing and Distribution
Vellum — ebook formatting. Tutorial here. Vellum is Mac only, but you can also use Atticus for Mac or PC.
JD Smith Design — Jane does my book cover design and interior print design and formatting
Amadeus Pro — audiobook recording and editing. You can also use free software Audacity. I have a home audio booth. You can find lots more detail on audiobooks in my book, Audio for Authors.
Hindenberg Narrator — for audiobook mastering to ACX and Findaway standards
Ebook publishing — Amazon KDP, Kobo Writing Life, Apple Books, Draft2Digital, PublishDrive
Audiobook publishing — FindawayVoices, ACX (for Audible, non-exclusive)
Print publishing — Amazon KDP Print (for Amazon only), Ingram Spark for wide distribution, bookstores, libraries etc.
Direct sales — Shopify, Bookfunnel for ebooks and audio, Bookvault.app for print, Kickstarter for crowdfunding.
Teachable — For my courses for authors
Premium hosting — WPEngine. Details on WordPress themes and more details here.
Midjourney — for creating images for the blog, podcast, social media, custom ornamental breaks, book cover images, and more.
Canva — for designing and formatting images for the blog, podcast, and social media
Zoom — for recording interviews
Home studio booth — for recording the intro and solo episodes
Descript — for audio editing through text
Amadeus Pro — You can also use Audacity. I have a home audio booth. You can find lots more detail on audiobooks in my book, Audio for Authors.
Otter.ai — for AI transcription. I also have a VA, Rebecca, who formats the transcript for the podcast show notes. I have tried lots of different transcription services and will be experimenting with more as AI voice gets better for different accents.
Blubrry — for podcast hosting, distribution and reporting
YouTube.com/thecreativepenn — I mainly do audio-only for the podcast on YouTube, but occasionally make videos
Patreon.com/thecreativepenn — Patrons support the podcast and get an extra monthly Q&A
BuyMeACoffee.com/thecreativepenn — For ‘tips' when people appreciate what they learn from my free resources
Keyword and category research and analysis: Publisher Rocket, K-lytics for genre-specific reports
Paid email list service: Written Word Media (mainly FreeBooksy, BargainBooksy, etc)
Amazon Ads: Outsourced through Reedsy. For non-fiction books and Pilgrimage only, as I have tried multiple times, but never got Amazon Ads to be profitable for my fiction as J.F. Penn.
Social media: Twitter @thecreativepenn, Instagram @jfpennauthor, Facebook @jfpennauthor, Facebook @thecreativepenn
Facebook Ads — I have outsourced these before, but I am currently back to running myself to my Shopify store. For training on ads, check out Mark Dawson's Ads for Authors course.
Buffer — social media scheduling
Business admin tools
Google Workspace — for email, as well as Google Docs, Sheets, Forms,
Other applications — Excel, MS Word, Numbers, , Pages, and Keynote for various functions
Dropbox — for file storage and organization
ConvertKit — for email marketing
Things — To Do list and organization tool
XERO — bookkeeping, accounting, invoicing (I also have a bookkeeping service and an accountant).
For banking and payments, I have multiple business bank accounts, plus PayPal and Wise. For the latter, I have multiple currency accounts for payments in different currencies, which is great for Amazon as you can set different bank accounts per country store.
Shayla McBride says
Staggeringly complete! A great resource if I, a luddite, could only figure out where to start. Sounds like all of this is essential BUT what is most essential to selling and distribution? And how do you tie in your social media with sales and delivery?
You are a big inspiration to me but my artist’s brain has terrible trouble with the practicalities that make a monetary award.
Many many thanks for your continuing inspiration.
Joanna Penn says
I would start where you need to in order to achieve the next step e.g. if you want to publish a book, then you need formatting, cover design, and then publishing services. Find the tools as you need them, not before.
Anna Kupka says
Thanks, Joanna! Another one to mention might be Bookbrush, especially for box sets.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks 🙂 I don’t use it myself, but I have heard it’s useful for others.
I love your lists and have a few of these as well as your books a result. Newsletters aren’t really covered though…especially for newbies trying to grow one before debut release… Historical fiction (outlanderish without the sci-fi) is a hard genre to find promos for…any suggestions?
Joanna Penn says
Thanks, Ally. I did mention ConvertKit which I use for my email list.
Try this for help with growing your list – https://blog.reedsy.com/author-email-list/
Joanna, thank you for sharing your tools list!
I find Midjourney a very fascinating tool. What am I doing with it besides creating images for my blog? I use it as inspiration for creating new characters: I describe what details of the character and setting, where he is. Midjourney creates several versions of what I described. But along with that, it adds some new details that I can additionally use to describe the new character. I also use Studybay’s plagiarism checker from time to time when I need to check the originality of the text.
Thank you Joanna! This is super useful. The tool(s) I’m looking for right now are ones that can help me find original sources for brief quotations that I’m referencing in my creative non-fiction book and generate citations for end notes. Could you share insights on which ones you use and/or have heard are popular with other authors?
Joanna Penn says
I find quotes by reading books about the various topics. There are ‘quote’ websites online, and you can use Google or Bing for that, but personally, I prefer to find them in books themselves.