Sometimes, using the right tool for the job makes all the difference. Whether you’re constructing a building, chopping a tree, or writing a book, you need the right tool.

If you’re still using Microsoft Word to write your book, I have good news: much better tools are available. The challenge is finding the right tool for you. Every writer is different, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

How do you know which tool to choose?

I asked Dave Chesson. He’s one of the top experts in software for authors. He runs, a website dedicated to teaching advanced ebook marketing, and he developed Publisher Rocket Software (Affiliate Link), which helps authors understand the book market.

Can’t I just use Microsoft Word to write my book?

Dave Chesson: Microsoft Word was created for general writing, not for any specific purpose. It functions as a jack of all trades but a master of none. I began exploring different writing software while working on my thesis in 2007. For such a large document, I needed features that Word simply couldn’t provide. The same is true for writing books today. In fact, books are often even more complex than my 123-page thesis on the Chinese economic situation with the U.S.

Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: Microsoft Word was created for crafting memos to send around the office on paper. Much of that memo functionality still seems to be front and center when no one really uses it for writing memos anymore.

Dave: Back in the day, Microsoft Word was somewhat free, but not entirely. You could go to the store and purchase the Office suite. Now, however, they are transitioning to a Software as a Service (SaaS) model, where they charge an annual fee. This shift makes the situation less ideal than it used to be when you could simply use the version of Word you owned and transfer it to new computers. Now, they are phasing out that model. As a result, I’m even less satisfied with Word now than I was 13 years ago when I started looking for alternatives.

Thomas: It wasn’t bad when it was $99, and you only had to buy a new version every five years. Now, it’s $150 per year, but they haven’t added many features that would justify that cost.

Many authors are switching to Scrivener.


What are your thoughts on Scrivener?

Dave: I’ve had the pleasure of working with many authors, including Ted Dekker. I’ve collaborated with him on various projects and marketing efforts. Through these experiences, I’ve observed different preferences among authors. Writing an article on the best book-writing software helped me understand author preferences even more. I tested numerous options, which allowed me to discuss their strengths and weaknesses.

Scrivener is both fantastic and a bit frustrating.

One great aspect is its one-time purchase cost. However, each time they release a new version, you usually have to pay for the update. However, they don’t update the software often. Another issue is that PC users get version 2.0, while Mac users get version 3.0. About three years ago, a new version was released for Mac, but nothing has been done for PC users since then, so PC users are frustrated about dealing with bugs that Mac users don’t face.

Learning Curve and Interface Issues

Additionally, Scrivener has a steep learning curve. There are around 300 courses available on how to use it effectively. One downside is that the interface is not very intuitive; the buttons are not placed where you’d expect them to be, which makes it difficult to navigate.

Designed with Authors in Mind

Despite these drawbacks, Scrivener was designed with authors in mind. It caters to how they think and organize their work. It offers excellent outlining capabilities and tools for managing character and setting cards, which helps authors keep important information readily accessible. Although it requires some effort to learn, I still prefer it over Word. For anyone considering Scrivener, I highly recommend taking the time to learn its features—you’ll get much more out of it.

Thomas: I completely agree. While it does take some time to learn Scrivener, it is worth the effort. Remember, you likely spent a significant amount of time learning how to use Microsoft Word. Word wasn’t very intuitive in its early versions. Among the authors I’ve worked with, Scrivener is the most popular. It’s like the Swiss Army knife for authors—versatile but more complicated. However, it is customizable.

If you haven’t tried Scrivener, one of its great features is the 30-day trial, which is based on 30 days of actual writing, not just 30 calendar days. If you write infrequently, you can use Scrivener for free for an extended period and get to know it well.


What are your thoughts on Plottr?

Dave: Plottr (Affiliate Link) was designed specifically for book outlining. While it’s not exactly book-writing software, it serves as excellent book-preparation software. It’s very intuitive and clean, and I really like the designers’ approach. It seems to be a relatively new company, continually making improvements and updates.

If you’re looking for plotting or outlining software, I can’t recommend Plottr enough. It’s personally my favorite. Although there are other options out there, I believe Plottr will become even better in the next six months. Those who start using it now will likely reap significant benefits.

Thomas: While Scrivener tries to do everything, Plottr does just one thing, but it does it well. If you want to track the timelines of each character of your book and where they are in the history of your story world, Plottr is beautiful, and it’s built and designed beautifully. Scrivener still has the look of Microsoft Word.

Dave: Many writers use Plottr and Scrivener together. You could use Plottr with Word, too. It all depends on what you prefer. But once you choose your tool, stick with it and dig deep into its features. If you know how to use it, you’ll get more out of it.


What are your thoughts on Ulysses?

Dave: I like to use Ulysses for blog posts because I appreciate some of its grading systems. It’s cleaner and helps with grammar and punctuation. However, I don’t prefer it for larger projects like books or theses. I don’t think Ulysses has clearly defined its purpose. It tries to do many things but doesn’t excel at any of them. My team uses it to ensure our blog posts look good and clean, but that’s about it.

Thomas: Is it more of a spellcheck tool than a true writing app?

Dave: I think so. Grammarly (Affiliate Link) and ProWritingAid (Affiliate Link) will integrate into what you’re using. Whereas, you have to actually write in Ulysses, so I’m not really a fan of writing somewhere else in order to get the benefit.

Thomas: It’s a lot of unnecessary copy and pasting, which adds time and complexity to your workflow.

When you use a tool that doesn’t integrate, you end up copying and pasting from one window to another. If I have my writing corrected in Grammarly (Affiliate Link), I must paste it into my email program (if it doesn’t integrate with Grammarly). If I make any last-minute changes in my email program, I inevitably introduce errors.


Dave: I’ve done a lot of research on all the grammar editors and played with many of them. A lot of people like to make snide remarks about people who use spelling and grammar tools, saying, “You should have learned that in high school.” But the truth is, they help. I actually have dyslexia, and sometimes I miss things. It’s embarrassing to make mistakes in an email or social media post. For a long time, I never thought of myself as a writer because it was so difficult for me. I can use Grammarly everywhere I write, and it helps to have that tool looking over my shoulder and checking for errors.

However, for book writing, I prefer ProWritingAid (Affiliate Link). It does a much better job analyzing my overall writing and gives me better reports. Both tools can help you improve your writing over time.

I’ve also discovered that using a grammar checker before submitting to an editor lowers the cost of the editor, not just because the grammar checker fixes errors but because the editor may charge you less. Usually, an editor will review a sample before they quote you a price. If your sample is full of errors, their price might be higher because they know it will take them more time. If your copy is clean, they’ll have to spend less time fixing it.

Thomas: Grammarly doesn’t just put a red squiggly line under misspelled words or poor grammar; it also explains the grammar rule. Grammarly will explain introductory clauses and passive voice.

I got good grades in college English, but I never really figured out commas. Commas were a mysterious thing somebody would always add after I wrote something. Grammarly slowly and consistently explained the rules of commas to me, and I’m finally figuring out how commas work.

I think Grammarly is better for nonfiction (books, emails, blog posts) while ProWritingAid is better for fiction.

Do you find that ProWritingAid is also better for longer nonfiction works?

Dave: ProWritingAid allows me to change the voice. I can tell it to lean more towards one type of writing than another. Grammarly has that feature, but it’s not as extensive.

We once did a test between the two to see which one caught more errors. Grammarly has been around for a lot longer than ProWritingAid. They have dramatically improved over the past year or two, and they’re constantly improving. I think they both integrate. They’re very similar. ProWritingAid offers a lifetime subscription, which I prefer over Grammarly’s annual subscription.

Thomas: I recommend using the paid version of Grammarly because the free version doesn’t actually check grammar. The free version has a slightly better spell checker than Word.


Dave: It does a couple of things well, but I’d almost rather use Word. The benefits weren’t worth the amount of time I’d have spent using it.  It tries to do a couple of things, but I don’t think it sticks the landing.

Thomas: YWriter seems to be a tool made by an author to help himself with his own writing rather than an actual business.

Dave: I haven’t seen a lot of updates or improvements, and that’s an important factor to me. Scrivener doesn’t update often, and that’s a shame because there’s so much more they could do.

I like ProWritingAid because they are constantly adding and improving. If you’re going to invest in software, I want to see the company constantly working to improve. I don’t want to have to switch from one writing software to another or one grammar checker to another. I want to invest in the one that will be even better five years from now. That’s what makes it worth my time to learn it and truly use it in my writing.

Thomas: You can tell which ones are using a waterfall-based project management method and which are using an agile method. The agile method means that software gets better over time through lots of quick updates, like Google Chrome. The waterfall method is Microsoft Explorer, which gets a big update every two years with almost no improvements in between.

Plotter and ProWritingAid are obviously following an agile model where they constantly make small tweaks. Small tweaks are also easier for users to swallow. Facebook has changed a million different things from the first time you used it, but you get used to the changes incrementally.

What are the big Scrivener competitors that we haven’t talked about?

Google Docs

Dave: Google Docs offers the significant advantage of easy collaboration, a feature missing from most writing software.

When using Word, you need to send a copy to your editor, who then makes changes in track changes and sends it back to you. This process requires careful version control to ensure you don’t lose the final version. Accidentally publishing the wrong version can be a major setback. Additionally, collaborating with another author can be problematic since you can’t see their changes in real time.

Google Docs excels in collaboration. You can write your document or upload it from your writing software, and editors can make real-time changes, which eliminates the problem of version control. This is particularly useful for advanced review copy (ARC) readers or beta readers, who can read and comment without altering your work. They can see updates in real time.

I wish for a more streamlined version of Scrivener with collaboration capabilities similar to Google Docs. Integrating these features with some of the best grammar and style checkers would be ideal.

Thomas: I used Google Docs to write my book primarily because of its collaboration feature. However, Google Docs can struggle with very long documents. I found it more effective to have each chapter in its own document. This approach works better for nonfiction, as fiction often requires more rearranging of scenes.

What I absolutely loved about writing my book in Google Docs was the interaction with my research team and beta readers. Someone would post a comment. Then, others would respond, sparking a whole debate about the best way to express an idea or the concepts in my book. As someone who enjoys engaging in the exchange of ideas, I found the collaboration incredibly fun. The result was a much stronger book that addressed various perspectives and criticisms.

Receiving feedback from dozens of people on my research team or from beta readers would have been impossible using Word documents sent back and forth. The process of emailing documents with deadlines would have been chaotic. Google Docs allowed everyone to see and respond to each other’s comments in real-time, making it the best tool for this kind of collaborative effort.

The downside is that Google Docs doesn’t integrate well with other writing tools. For example, transferring a Scrivener document to Google Docs involves copying and pasting, with no seamless integration.

Dave: Usually, authors will export the Scrivener document as a Word document and then upload the Word doc to Google Docs, which automatically converts it into a Google Doc. It’s an extra step and you can lose formatting.

Most self-published authors will use Scrivener, and then they’ll use Google Docs for editing and collaboration, and then they’ll use another software for formatting. Scrivener has formatting capability. You can technically format a book into Epub or Mobi or PDF, but it is a really hard process on Scrivener. I’ve not been a fan of its formatting capability.


Thomas: The one tool everyone seems to love is Vellum. Authors rave about Vellum.

You can use any of the tools we’ve mentioned and still use Vellum because it only does the very last step of typesetting–making the words look beautiful on the page.

Dave: One big problem is that Vellum only works on Mac. It does not work on a PC.

I’ve talked with the owners of Vellum, and they have zero intentions of ever creating a PC version. They’re very adamant about that. The owners worked for Pixar and designed it in a way that only supports Mac.

It’s also an expensive tool that does only one thing. But if you intend to format more than one book, it will pay for itself.

Thomas: Treat your time like it’s valuable, and be willing to spend money for some valuable tools. The ebook only version is $200, and the ebook plus paper version is $249. It’s a very popular software, and it offers a free trial. Calibre is free but it’s so hard to use. If you have a job or are short on time, you’re probably better off buying Vellum than spending your time learning Calibre.

Dave: People use Jutoh, Calibre, and Scrivener for formatting too. All of them are ridiculously hard. Vellum has created an easy what-you-see-is-what-you-get editor.

The way you see it on the screen is how it’s going to look on the iPad, Kindle, or the printed book. It’s very intuitive. You do not need to buy a course on how to use Vellum. You can jump right in, maybe watch a video or two, and next thing you know, your book looks awesome. They’ve really crushed that component.

Thomas: Few people realize that Epub and Mobi are both basically web pages. They used the languages that are used to make web pages and simplified them. So you can’t do as much in an ebook as you can do on a web page, but it’s the same kind of core coding technology behind the scenes. If you don’t enjoy hand-coding web pages, then you won’t enjoy the more complicated typesetting tools.

Publisher Rocket

Where does Publisher Rocket fit in in that process?

Dave: Publisher Rocket (Affiliate Link) is book marketing software that gives you an understanding of everything that’s going on inside of Amazon. It helps you understand trends in sales, how much money other authors are making, and how to select the right keywords and categories. Keywords help Amazon to figure out where and when to show your book to their customers.

If you’ve ever wondered why Amazon shows this book over that book or how you get your book in front of more Amazon shoppers, Publisher Rocket can help.

Amazon has over 11,000 categories, so finding and changing your categories so that you have a better chance of being a category bestseller can be very complicated.

We simplified the process for authors, and Publisher Rocket is the largest book marketing software. Publishers and bestselling authors are using it. I’ve worked with Ted Dekker and Orson Scott Card through the use of the software, and they brought me in as a consultant.

Thomas: Many authors misunderstand keywords. Keywords don’t describe your book. Publisher Rocket helps you find words customers type when they’re looking for a book like yours. You want your keywords to match what people are searching for when they’re looking for your book. If you use terms that describe your book but aren’t what people are typing, then your book won’t rank or show in Amazon’s search results.

Publisher Rocket gives you data on what terms people are searching for. Publisher Rocket will give you a word people search for that applies to your book, and if you use that word in the copy on your Amazon page or in your keyword field, your book will be shown in search results when people type that word.

It creates this wonderful loop where more people find your book, which means more people will buy your book, which means you’ll be getting more reviews, which makes more people comfortable buying your book.

Is there a trial period for Publisher Rocket?

Dave: Yeah, we have a 30-day money back guarantee, no questions asked. If an author really wants to jump on there and start playing around with it, they can. If it doesn’t do what it says it will do, you can get a refund.

You’re working on a new software tool for writers. Tell us about it.

Dave: I’m actually trying to build a software that allows authors to write, collaborate and format all in the same tool we’re calling Atticus.

Atticus will be

  • Formatting software (like Vellum) that works on Mac and PC
  • Writing software (like Scrivener) that’s intuitive and easier to use than Scrivener
  • Collaboration Features that make it easy to collaborate with other writers, editors, beta readers, and even formaters.

You’ll no longer have to export, upload, or download from one tool to another. Atticus will handle everything.

Thomas: Check out our episode on Everything Authors Need to Know About Writing in Atticus.


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