Programs for Indie Publishers


Creativity is messy

One of the best aspects of indie publishing is that Do-It-Yourself is feasible. All you need is a computer and some decent programs–many of them free–and you can put together a professionally packaged book.


Many indie publishers start and end with MS Word. I suspect this has to do with comfort. They use Word, they know it (or think they do), and Amazon, Smashwords and Draft2Digital accept Word files. I also suspect fear plays a part. No matter how easy or intuitive a program is, there is still a learning curve. Easier to stay with the devil you know than to leap into the unknown. My hope is that the list of programs I use will encourage DIY indie publishers to wander into deeper waters and increase the quality of their book production.

This following programs and tools are what I use on an almost daily basis. It’s by no means a complete list of all the programs and apps that are available. A Google search for “programs for publishing” will turn up hundreds–thousands!–of programs an indie might find useful.

A word about computers. Currently I use two. A Lenovo Z70 laptop and a Mac. (I’m in the process of finding a new desktop PC, too.) I use the laptop for ebook production and the Mac for print and covers. The reason is: Adobe. I will not allow any Adobe products on my laptop. They are big and grabby and eat RAM like peanuts, especially InDesign. Adobe CC seems to behave better on the Mac, crashing less often. Plus, I have a 29″ screen that makes using Photoshop a real pleasure.

On to the list.

DROPBOX. Dropbox is a cloud storage service. You can sign up for the basic service and it’s free. If you need more storage space, you can go with a business plan that starts at $9.99 a month. Most indies don’t need the extra space. It’s a great way to back up your files. You can synch between devices. There are apps available so you can access Dropbox from your tablet or phone. You can share files and folders. It’s an easy way to share files that are too big for email attachments. I’ve been using Dropbox for years. It’s had a few hiccups, but very few. The only ongoing problem I’ve experienced is that the Kindle Previewer doesn’t like it. So to load a file into the Previewer I have to remember to drag it out of Dropbox and onto my desktop first.

MS WORD.  Used to be just about every PC came pre-loaded with MS Word. Everybody used it. Those days are over. Now you have to purchase it.


  • Personal correspondence and writing
  • Initial file clean-up
  • Basic ebook formats for Smashwords (fiction only)


  • Everybody uses it (for now)
  • It’ll open a huge number of file types and it will generate a large number of file types.
  • Word docs are accepted by Amazon, Smashwords and Draft2Digital


  • Most people have no idea how to use Word properly
  • Clunky, bloated and overly-complicated
  • Makes awful ebooks

NOTEPAD (PC) and NOTES (Mac). These text programs come pre-loaded on most PCs or Macs. When I’m working on a book I keep a file open where I can make notes to myself. Nothing special, but very very handy.

NOTEPAD++. This is my text editor of choice. (In the Mac I use Text Wrangler)


  • Create ebooks in html with cascading style sheets
  • Text restoration
  • File cleanup


  • Free
  • Easy to use
  • No bloat since there is nothing running in the background to add a bunch of junk to a file
  • Powerful search function with multiple levels
  • Can encode files for different purposes, including UTF-8 for ebooks


  • Learning curve (moderate)
  • Must get used to the display which is nothing like a word processor

SIGIL. EPUB editor. I have it on both computers. If you want to step up your ebook quality, Sigil is an excellent tool for creating ebooks. And yes, with some modifications to your file, you can create ebooks for Amazon Kindle, too. Paul Salvette of bbebooks offers a very good tutorial.


  • Troubleshooting epub files


  • Free
  • Mostly stable
  • Offers inline epub validation
  • Can be used in WYSIWYG mode or in html mode


  • Learning curve (moderate)

KINDLE PREVIEWER. Quick and easy way to preview your ebook files before you upload them to Amazon. If you want to see how your ebooks look with Amazon’s enhanced typesetting features you can download the Kindle Previewer 3.

CALIBRE. Quick and easy way to preview an epub file. Has an epub editor (which I don’t use and haven’t looked at it in over a year, so cannot say how good it is). Despite its many fans, Calibre is NOT the tool to use to create commercial ebooks. It causes disabled user preference controls on Kindle devices and apparently there are conflicts with Kindle enhanced typesetting.

MOBIPOCKET CREATOR. Will convert a Word or html file into a prc file that can be converted into a mobi file in the Kindle Previewer or loaded directly onto a Kindle device. Quick and simple. Good way to check how the formatting on a Word file will perform on a Kindle. I use it to do a quick and dirty conversion of Word files I want to read on my e-ink Kindle.

EPUB VALIDATOR. The idpf validator is the standard for making sure your epub files are free of errors and up to snuff. I use this tool in conjunction with Sigil. If I get an error message, I can find and fix it quickly in Sigil, then transfer the fix back to my html files.

UNMANIFESTED EPUB FILE CHECK. Apple iBooks is picky about unmanifested files within an epub package. Running your epub file through this checker will help ensure your ebook will make it onto the Apple site.

IRIS OCR. I do a lot of text restoration, recovering the text from printed books and turning it into a workable document. I have used and researched a lot of OCR programs. Quality ranges from “oh my god you have to be kidding” to excellent. IRIS is excellent. If you have an HP scanner, you can download IRIS OCR software along with the HP drivers. You can also purchase software that allows for side-by-side document editing (necessary if you’re scanning and restoring graphic/image heavy or complicated layouts in non-fiction books).

INDESIGN. For print on demand layouts. (Despite what many of its fans say, it’s NOT a good program for making ebooks. I can usually tell an ID generated ebook because it looks gorgeous and the user preference controls are disabled. There are apparently conflicts with Kindle enhanced typesetting, too.)


  • For POD it’s easier to use than Word.
  • Print is what it was made for and print is what it does best. Makes beautiful books.
  • Adobe help sucks, but google “how do I…InDesign” and you’ll find answers all over the place.
  • Trouble-free export into POD ready pdf files.


  • Expensive! I don’t think you can buy the program new from Adobe. Instead, you have to set up a subscription. If you cancel your subscription, your .indd files are rendered useless.
  • Steep learning curve.
  • RAM grabby and has a tendency to crash.

PAINT.NET. A powerful paint program that is easy to use. Fun, too. And free! Good for resizing images and creating simple graphics. Offers many plug-ins that make it possible to create ebook covers. It does a good job of modifying and manipulating photos.

PHOTOSHOP. The more I use Photoshop, the more I learn about it, the more I like it. I use it to make covers and to clean up damaged images. Unlike ID, I’ve had no problems with it either slowing my computer to a sluggish crawl or crashing. Like ID, it’s not being offered for sale by Adobe, but is on a subscription plan.


There you go. My favorite book production programs. What about yours?






21 thoughts on “Programs for Indie Publishers

  1. I still use Fireworks for my art program that I bought in 1995. You have to run it in Administrative Mode on Windows to make it work, but it’s good for basic resizing and cleanup. Otherwise, I downloaded PhotoShop ps2 when Adobe made it available for nothing.

    For OCR, I found that Microsoft OneNote (on my Office 2007 disk) does a good job.

    I discovered recently the joy of keeping a Notepad file open on my desktop for quick notetaking. I have my GTD to-do file.txt tucked into my Start folder so it loads automatically.

    I still use the old Freedom software that you buy once and keep, rather than their $@#@ subscription parasite program.

    • I hear ya. Once I started keeping a note program open all the time I wondered how I ever lived without it. I still scribble notes on almost every available surface, but the important stuff gets noted and saved and I don’t have to sort through Post-It notes anymore. Heh.

  2. Thanks for this list!

    I use now to make covers for ebooks and POD. There are templates online available for Createspace layouts for books of different sizes (don’t even think about using the Createspace-supplied templates – they suck). There’s also a ‘quick and dirty’ ebook available for getting started with for ebooks covers (doesn’t help with POD, though). The HUGE drawback for using for POD is the text tool, which kinda sucks. There are a couple of plug-ins but I’ve usually resorted (for backcover text and blurbs) to using Adobe and importing the text into my file.

    Would love to do the tutorial on Notepad++ – have read Paul’s book on ebook formatting but my skillz are just not up to snuff to do it yet.

    • I’m curious, why do you think the Createspace templates suck? I use them all the time and haven’t had any problem with them.

      But I do agree with you with’s text function being less than stellar. It’s okay for memes, but frustrating for anything else.

      Email me for some tips on using Notepad++. Once you figure out the logic behind what it does, it’s pretty easy to use.

      • I got the templates to work but I also had to fiddle with them quite a bit and the spine was not ‘quite’ right (could have been the ‘margin of error’ thing). The measures that they list on the template are also not correct (at least the one I was using). The online resource ones (they’re also free!) are much better IMO.

        Okay, when I get the chance to attempt Notepad++ next time (it is a bit of learning curve), I’ll email you with my questions (I’ll try not to be a pest either). Doesn’t mean I don’t want you to create my ebooks – your work is too gorgeous to give up. But it makes financial sense to me for the smaller projects to try and do it myself.

      • I have noticed that sometimes the CS templates seem oddly sized. I will check out the site you linked to. I’ve tried making my own templates and end up screwing up the math every time. Heh.

        Short stories are a great way to learn how to use Notepad++..

  3. Just did a quick peruse of photoshop – first time ever going there 🙂 … of the four options available, which one’s the most useful for creating book covers?

    • I’ve been using Photoshop for less than two years and the only version I’ve tried is through the Adobe CC subscription. I use it for making book covers. If you want an alternative to Photoshop, a lot of people speak highly of GIMP. It’s a free program that supposedly acts very much like Photoshop and is capable of doing just about everything PS does. Any headaches it creates are probably more than offset by the price. Heh.

  4. If you’re liking Photoshop, but hate subscribing—you should look at Affinity Photo, a very-near equivalent that you get to buy once for less than $100. Affinity also makes Designer, an Adobe Illustrator competition, and has been promising an InDesign equivalent soon. Mac only for now, but coming to Windows.

    I, too, hate subscribing to software.

    • Definitely need to check this out. I’ll be really curious if they come out with something that competes with InDesign. For what I do ID is way overcomplicated. I’d love it if a developer came out with program geared for self-publishers, focused on print on demand.


  5. (I don’t write) – I find people like to write on Word so I C&P into Notepad (make sure wordwrap is turned off) to strip formatting then copy it into Sigil (needs fixing but all the paragraphs are marked up). For images I use GIMP, free downloadable image program. This method works best for very simple e-books where InDesign would be overkill.

  6. Hello Jaye:
    I’m converting a printed book to an ePub3 on a Mac with Eclipse, Vim, GIMP, ImageOptim. I was given a horrible text scan – especially page breaks and fractions. Many fractions because book has recipes. I save everything in Git – like a Web site.

    Writing my second ePub novel with Scrivener. Scrivener increases productivity because notes / research are organized and available. ePub compile options are not intuitive, but it works.

    Best wishes,

    • Hi Mitchell,

      I’ve come up with a protocol for text restoration that to an outsider might seem pretty clunky, but it’s actually highly efficient. Once the book is scanned and converted through OCR (I prefer conversion into rtf rather than doc), I use a word processor to restore the paragraphs. Then I move the entire file into a text editor and complete the restoration there. (80% is accomplished with Find/Replace). That way I don’t have to worry about formatting issues or program bloat and just work with pure text. I can do in hours in a text editor what would take days in word processor.

      Scrivener is a delightful program. Just be careful about your ebook formatting. Scrivener can cause some of the same problems as do Word and InDesign by generating code that disables user preferences.

      • Hi Jaye,
        I looked for the link Ebook Formatting Services under the header, but it appears to be gone. Does that mean you’re unavailable? If so, is that temporary? I was hoping to get an estimate on two novels (120-150k each, and one novella, 17k, for copy editing and formatting).

        If you aren’t currently available, is there anyone you would recommend?

        Thank you,

  7. Hi Jaye

    Thanks for your blog, always interesting to read your posts.

    About your question which programs do we use:

    I am a programer(Lolcode, glass, brainfuck, xhtml, ..), therefore i prefer to use highly technical complex programs, mostly unknow to the ordinary mind:

    i use notepad/wordpad from Microsoft to code. For the visuals i use the onboard Paint from Microsoft. For relly complex tasks i use the Calculator from Microsoft in “SCIENCE” mode. But i have to warn you the learning curve is quite steep, not recommended for users without at least one degree in science.

    Thanks for your time and stories and to spice them from time to time with your great kind of humour Jaye

    • Thank you for the chuckle. It’s how I like to start my mornings.

      Thanks, too, for driving home the point that complicated programs do NOT produce better products. There are people who are deeply invested in bells, whistles and complicated processes for no other reason than that complicated = expensive.

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