Free Software for Indie Authors

To do any job well you need to use appropriate tools… and self-publishing is no different. While there are many software applications that can assist you during the process of writing and publishing your manuscript some of the applications are expensive, costing hundreds of dollars each.

So what if you are operating on a tight budget… or you would simply like to keep your operating costs low? Here is a list of free software for indie authors.

OpenOffice Writer

If you want to use a word processor similar to Microsoft Word – but without the cost – try the free OpenOffice Writer. You can read and save files in multiple formats including OpenOffice’s format as well as Word format. You can also covert your document into fully-featured PDFs with security, clickable Tables of Contents etc. For PC & Mac.


This is a free novel-writing application that you can use to write your next story. It’s “a word processor which breaks your novel into chapters and scenes, helping you keep track of your work while leaving your mind free to create.” For PC.


This is another novel-writing application for creative writers, novelists and authors. For PC.


For blogging, it is hard to beat WordPress. Either your web host will offer it with an easy install option or you can download it free and install it yourself.


This software will allow you to convert documents into PDF format. The free version will meet many writers’ needs. For PC.

Mobipocket Creator

To convert your document into Mobi format, which is readable on the Amazon Kindle, you can use MobiPocket Creator. You can convert from PDF, Word and text files. For PC.


When it comes to converting between ebook formats you really must consider using Calibre. For PC & Mac.


Do you want to make your own ebook cover images but you don’t want to pay for an expensive image editing package? Check out Gimp. For PC & Mac.


If you are working with electronic document s it won’t be long before you need to transfer files via FTP to or from a server. FileZilla will help you do this. For PC & Mac.


Do you need a way to bundle files or unzip them? This is a free zipping/unzipping utility similar to WinZip. For PC.

If you know of any other free software for indie authors…
…please let us know in the comments section below.

About the Author: Gary McLaren

Gary McLaren is the author of 'The Indie Author's Guide to Publishing Ebooks'. He also manages several web sites for professional writers including Publish Your Own Ebooks and Worldwide Freelance.


  1. Notepad++ is a great text editor that is handy during the conversion from your word processing document to an eBook.

  2. Ditto what Paul said about Notepad++. I use it for everything from code to writing. Great program.

  3. Yes, Notepad++ is great, although the newer versions have removed a lot of useful HTML functions (you can restore them, but it’s complicated). I’d personally recommend using version 5.8.7.

    Kindle Previewer is a must-have for Kindle conversion.

    If you use Firefox, Fire FTP is very useful, as it’s an FTP client built into the browser.

    I believe Libre Office (a fork of Open Office) now has the edge over Open Office, although they’re mostly identical.

  4. For all writers but specifically screenwriters there is free software available at that beats anything else I’ve ever seen. Celtx works with production companies in pre and post production and as a service they offer full-featured scriptwriter software and templates, yours for the download. They’ve added a few paid services (Carboniteesque file protection, etc) over the years but those are completely optional. Beats “Final Draft”.

  5. I do ebook conversions professionally and I can’t support Calibre enough. If you are trying to convert an ebook that is the first place you should look! Open office is a great tool as well.

  6. I’ve used Gimp, but Photobucket is almost easier. It’s just a website with all the photo editing tools, and then it allows you to save your photos online and to create a hyperlink for each photo (for easier sharing or for use on your blog). I’ve tried WordPress, but I started blogging with Blogger and still prefer it to WordPress. There are some things about WordPress that just annoy or puzzle me.

  7. Evernote: For storing research notes.

    Hootsuite and TweetDeck: Both allow you to view multiple lists and send timed tweets.

    Mozy: Online backup.

  8. As Paul Brookes mentioned, OpenOffice Writer “forked” when Oracle acquired it from Sun and told the developers to go away. They did, and started the Document Foundation which launched Libre Office. The two suites are still very similar for now, but LibreOffice has been busting bugs, and is the vibrant version that’s got community support and will grow and improve. If you’re still using OO I suggest upgradeing to LibreOffice.

    For ebook conversion, Calibre is good, but I’m about to dive into Sigil to see if it gives me more control. The other free software for print formatting I want to tackle is LaTex.

    I pitched Windows in favour of GNU/Linux, so Notepad isn’t an option; my plain text editor is geddit. This also means that yWriter can’t work for me either, since it requires either a Windows or Mac operating system.

    I was a photoshop guru so having to learn GIMP is *really* difficult, but I keep on plugging. I want to give Inkscape a look too.

    I prefer WordPress even if it does do obnoxious things sometimes; what is most fabulous is that I was able to download the home version and start my own web server, where I can serialize my novel I am learning to self publish.

    There is lots of free software out there!

  9. I am publishing my first book and I want people to be able to buy and download it directly from my website. How would I go about doing that?

    • Hi Nigel you would need to convert your ebook into the appropriate formats yourself. I suggest PDF, but definitely also Kindle and ePub format if it is the type of ebook they might want to read on an e-reader. There is more on these formats here and I explain exactly how to get your document into each of these formats in “The Indie Author’s Guide to Publishing Ebooks” available in late November.

    • Nigel, I think you’re looking for how to set up eCommerce on your site. If you have a wee bit of coding skill, you can create a website in WordPress and then either use PayPal’s eCommerce templates for a very simple interface that works (best if you have less than 10 products), or if your host server allows it, install OpenCart, an open source, free eCommerce app that’s quite robust, allows lots of plugin extensibility, and is MUCH easier to understand and use than ZenCart (I know, I’ve used both). OpenCart also just looks a lot better and improves your user experience, which is really important in eCommerce and retaining your customers. Good luck!

  10. LaTeX will give you perfect formatting if you know how to use it. It’s very daunting for the non-techy though. Don’t let that scare you away from trying it though. If you find a simple way of converting LaTeX documents to SVG please post here. Based on my week of ereader ownership, ebooks do a poor job at writing equations. LaTeX writes equations perfectly but I can’t get them in an easily readable ebook format.

    Inkscape is a very well done program that can make SVG images which can be used in ebooks. For those that don’t know, SVG stands for Scalable Vector Graphic. In short, you make it once and you can decide how big you want it later without losing quality. If you increase the size of JPG, BMP, GIF, and most other formats they will look blurry and blocky.

  11. Doug Dandridge says:

    I had a lot of trouble learning GIMP. As I have the equivalent of a PhD and am of above average IQ, I hate to admit it, but GIMP kicked my old butt. Then I downloaded Paint.NET. The program only took a couple of nights to learn, and in three nights I had two very good looking book covers that my friends were raving about. I highly recommend it.

  12. “I do ebook conversions professionally and I can’t support Calibre enough.”

    OMG, stop that right now. Have you ever double-checked your ebook’s code after Calibre’s conversion? It’s a mess! It’s totally unprofessional to rely on Calibre for conversions in my opinion, the generated code is really bad. For instance, a high-end EPUB file (high-end = advanced CSS) converted with Calibre = a .mobi file with 200+ HTML errors and multiple warnings ! Same file converted with KindleGen = 3 HTML errors which have been corrected automatically, no warning. As a matter of fact, Calibre’s conversion to EPUB is not any better. It’s just a different type of mess. Really.

    It’s high time to forget Calibre in ebook’s workflow, go with EPUB (using Sigil and an unformatted text file or Writer2epub or Atlantis, etc.) and convert it to .mobi. But please, please don’t use Calibre if you are a pro. It is acceptable to readers, not professionals. Using Calibre to convert ebooks = very poor quality code. Pressbooks, which is based on WordPress, “writes” HTML code a million times better than Calibre….

  13. I absolutely love Focus Write for distraction-free writing. It’s simple, works well and FREE! Available in different platforms too (Windows and Mac).

    • +1 for Focus Writer. Every time I start a new novel I donate more to that guy. Not just distraction free, but keeps stats on your word count (daily goal tracking, timed writing sprints).

  14. Excellent list, Gary. I really like WordPress. Very easy to use, terrific for blogs. Can’t beat this free resource.

  15. Hi Gary, The very best software an (indie) author can invest in, in my opinion, is Scrivener []. It helps enormously in organising material, from first to final draft and then when you are finished, just press ‘Compile’ and it will format your material — for kindle, epub, pdf…. whatever format you want. It has changed my writing life — costs £45 but worth 1000 times that. It’s the only software I ever recommend and I recommend it to all members of The Alliance of Independent Authors and writers everywhere (especially indies).

  16. Very useful list, so thanks. It’s always useful when others contribute with their views and experience. I had a quick look at Gimp – also recommended by someone else, and it does look challenging. But I’ll try it anyway.

  17. Mick Bright says:

    Great information here!

    However, I am/propose to be, a “one-off” writer, not interested in money (I don’t have much so that helps). So – any advice/help in writing/producing/publishing would be appreciated. I have the “Quick Reference Card” v.g. – and am using OOo and paint.NET, both v.g. So far, I have 30 pp + illus. done of a deceased, local pioneer which will only interest a relatively small population.

    Mick Bright

    • Mike, welcome! You’re off to a good start – getting the thing written is the part that so many people never complete. An interesting consideration may be whether you should sell it through large retailers (e.g. Amazon) or through a web site/blog of your own which has helpful information for the same target audience. Sometimes the latter approach can work well with smaller niches like this. Just a thought.

  18. Dropbox, for free online backup of documents, even large ones, and the ability to easily work on different devices when you’re on the move.

    Never tried OpenOffice. Is it really an alternative to Microsoft Office?

    • Gary McLaren says:

      Hi Karen, I’ve just recently started using Dropbox too. Yes, OpenOffice is a good alternative. You can save to DOC format from OpenOffice if you need to but one thing I really like is that it converts well directly to PDF.

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