ASK MIMI #5: Software Tools for Authors?

Hello there, everyone!

Well, I definitely missed the weekly column mark over the holidays. But between cramming in a book launch, writing a new book, taking a few screenwriter seminars, and SLOWWWWLY studying for the LSAT, this working mom has bitten off more than she can chew.

Nothing new for us ladies. Am I right?

But I enjoy getting your questions and having a break from fiction. I think it’s healthy to connect with people who aren’t imaginary. Snort!

Let’s get onto the fun. Your questions! Today’s comes from Jennifer Bryson out of Huntington, WV, with a writing-related question:

Dear Mimi,
What are the best programs you have found to use for doing research and writing books?

Dear Jennifer,
Interesting question! I’ll start with a tiny factoid about my time in business school. One of the classic case studies given to all MBA students at the time was about the Japanese system of Kaizen, first used by Toyota and then adopted worldwide by almost every manufacturer, including those outside of the auto industry.

In a nutshell, Kaizen is about continuous improvement. And without going into yawn-worthy detail, the basic principle is “Work smarter, not harder,” but takes it to a whole new level.

If you want to dive a little deeper, here’s a brief overview:

Why do I mention this?

I think working for several large manufacturers engrained this philosophy into my work ethic, which I carried over into my writing business.

Authors/writers tend to see themselves as creators, which is true, but at the end of the day, they’re also running a business. We’re selling a product. We do marketing, we hire contractors, we do accounting, we negotiate contracts, and we perform cost analysis on advertising.

My view is that managing a business/company means first analyzing your core competencies (aka your competitive advantages) so that you spend more time doing those one or two things you do best.

For everything else, you MUST, MUST find a way to minimize the time spent. Why? Because either it’s non-added-value work or because there’s someone out there who can do it better and faster (because it’s their competitive advantage).

“Non-added value” in the writing business means it must be done, but the customer (reader) isn’t willing to pay more for it. For example, my readers don’t give hoot if I pay my taxes on time. They’re not going to pay more for my books because the IRS is happy with me. Still, the work must get done. Another quick example would be creating a cover. Sure, I could make my own covers, but do I really want to spend 3-4 days working up ideas and then perfecting a graphic? Nope. It’s much more efficient to farm out that work to someone who can do it in a few hours and produce something far superior.

But for things in this category of “not a core competency” or “non-added-value work” where I can’t farm it out, then I lean on software!

My personal guilty pleasure is doing book trailers. It’s incredibly fun and a different medium for storytelling, so I use PROMO.COM. It’s important for me not to pirate, and all of their stock video footage and music are licensed.

Every once in a while, when I need to roll out a graphic, I use Pic Monkey and Pizzap. But I only do simple stuff (it’s not time well spent for me). For research, I won’t lie, 90% of my time is spent just Googling stuff. For example, when I researched the ancient Minoans (for the King series), I ended up reading a lot of articles from various academic sites. I do buy books, too, but for little things I need to add texture to a story, it’s a lot of skimming.

Of course, none of that stuff is truly related to your question. I honestly use ONLY Word and Excel to write the actual story. It’s what I’m used to. Scrivener is very popular software for those who want to get deep into their outlines.

Grammarly is also popular for those who want to edit and wordsmith as they go.

Me? Well, I’m not poopooing anyone’s writing process. Everyone’s got to do what works best for them. But I find worrying about grammar and punctuation impedes the creative process.

I want full right-brain engagement when I write because that is my core competency. Being creative and storytelling is what my readers pay for. When I’m too busy worrying about commas, it takes me out of the story. So I farm out all that left-brain stuff to my copyeditor/proofreader—who’s core competency is punctuation and grammar. I have to have my books copyedited and proofed anyways, so why should I spend weeks of time to do a job she’s awesome at? That in turn frees up more of my time to write.

As for outlining, I’m a pantser (I like to write on the fly—by the seat of my pants) but do some outlining. I found it more efficient to invest in 8 large dry-erase boards and some notebooks. In the blink of an eye, I can visually see all my plotting elements. I’m surrounded by them. I can also erase and rewrite them as I go.

Excel comes in handy for tracking things throughout a series because it’s easy to search keywords for quick reference.

So I guess I’m a bit low tech compared to others, probably! Hope this answers your question!

All my best,


Each week I’ll pick one question, or a few, from readers and aspiring authors about:

   – sex, relationships, & family

   – the writing process & business (trad. and indie)

   – unicorns, Big Foot, the Chupacabra, & traveling mermen

   – the Universe and random crap

   – all of the things I am not an expert in, but have an opinion on! (That pretty much covers everything above.)

SUBMIT YOUR QUESTIONS HERE: (Specify if you want to be anonymous or if I can use your first name. Include your hometown or state/country.)

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