My Indie Author Toolkit

Image shows a 3D hardcover version of #20DaysToLA with a phone showing the cover as well
Sample 3D cover

Here are the free tools I use most often as a self-published author.

3D Book Cover Creator: This tool easily turns your e-book cover into a 3D hardcover or paperback image. There are also composite options that include e-readers and phones. Pick an option, upload your cover, and boom. A free 3D cover (see sample to the right).

Amazon Book Description Generator: Sadly, this tool doesn’t write the description for you. What it does is translate your description into HTML that KDP will render correctly. Paste your blurb into the window, doctor it up with blank lines or bold and italic type as you wish, and then copy the HTML it generates into KDP. No more finding out that all the line breaks have been stripped from your blurb and it’s now one big, ugly block of text. I have a programming degree, and I still use this tool. It’s just easier.

Fontspring Matcherator: This tool helps you find a font that matches one you’ve seen elsewhere and locate a free or inexpensive version of it. Upload a screen capture or other image with the font in it, and the tool will suggest several matching fonts and give you links to where you can download them. Please remember that there are two versions of “free”—for personal use or commercial use. If the font is only free for personal use, you can’t put it on your cover without paying the licensing fee.

Twitter Card Validator: First, what’s a card? Basically, it’s metadata for a link. You’ve probably noticed that when you paste a URL into Twitter or FB, it sometimes appears as a plain link and other times has an image and summary. Why? Because some websites—like Amazon—have defined “cards” for their links. On Facebook, cards work pretty reliably, but Twitter has always been a bit wonky, so you’ll paste an Amazon link hoping it comes out right, then end up deleting the tweet when it’s just a naked link. BTW, that’s not your fault. It’s Twitter being wonky. The Twitter Card Validator will let you see how the link is going to look before you commit to tweeting it out. There’s also an FB card validator. You don’t need it for Amazon links, but you can use it to test cards for your own site or other links.

GIMP: Most authors who aren’t graphic designers use Canva or Bookbrush to create promotional materials or cheap covers, and honestly, that’s probably a smart choice, but if you want an unlimited ability to mess around, GIMP will give you all the functionality of PhotoShop for 0% of the price and about the same amount of aggravation. Since I’m not a graphic designer, PhotoShop has always been a bit of a mystery to me, and GIMP isn’t any better, but I’ve slowly learned to do a lot with it.

Draft to Digital: Sometimes you need to distribute your book in epub or mobi format—for beta readers or ARC readers or maybe for a giveaway or to proof it on an e-reader. No need to pay for a formatter when you can use D2D to get a nicely formatted ebook. Yes, D2D is a publisher, but you don’t have to publish with them. Simply start the process, proceed to the point where you can download the epub and mobi files, and then don’t release the book. D2D has templates that allow you to apply some pizazz, including initial drop caps and scene separators. I use it for ARCs and to send review copies to blogs. Make sure to save your project after downloading the files so you can easily modify it in the future. As a plus, if you ever decide to go wide, you’ll have some of your metadata already loaded into D2D to give you a head start.

PublishXpress: This is a less fancy but quicker way to convert to mobi and epub. The formatting will be very basic, but the cover can be embedded, and you only have to enter a title and author (and optionally upload a cover) to use it. D2D makes you go through the whole process of choosing categories and entering a blurb, plus a cover is required. I use PublishXpress when I’m in a hurry and the formatting isn’t important. I might also use it to generate an epub I can load into Sigil (see below), The only negative thing about PublishXpress is that it’s occasionally down for days at a time, so I have a backup solution. Mobi converter and ePub converter. These two converters, found on the same website, won’t embed your cover, and they have to be run individually, so PublishXpress works better and is more convenient (when it’s working—hey, free is free).

Sample gif made with ezGIF

ezGIF: This website allows you to upload multiple images and turn them into one gif. You can control which order the images appear in and how fast they transition, as well as apply some basic effects. This is useful for making ads or other promotional materials (see right).

Sigil: Sigil is a free epub editor/creator that works on Windows machines. Much like GIMP, Sigil is, frankly, painful to use. There’s no intuitiveness going on here and very little help available (by contrast, you can usually find feature tutorial videos for GIMP, and there are full courses on Udemy that are often on sale for $10.) If I had a Mac, I would definitely look into buying Vellum, but the Windows-based options are thin and all pretty awful.

Sigil does work once you figure out how to use it. The easiest option I’ve found, as referenced above, is to use a free converter to make the original epub, then open it in Sigil and tweak what needs to be tweaked. For example, D2D refuses to allow blank lines in its epubs. It’s easy to take a D2D epub, load it into Sigil, add some blank lines where needed, and save the result.

EngageForm: I love this tool you can use to create those “which character is your best book boyfriend” quizzes and other fun, interactive content, and readers love taking the quizzes. If you upgrade to the paid account (which is too expensive for my taste), you can collect email addresses from respondents and provide them with an exit link, but all the other features work with a free account . It’s good for surveys too. This is one of the best forms of procrasti-work I’ve ever found. Check out my quizzes to see some examples.

Sample gif made with Motionleap

Motionleap: this is an iOS-only app I use on my iPad. It takes a single image and animates it using various effects—like floating clouds, twinkling stars, or flying butterflies. The free version only allows you to make a QuickTime movie. If you want a gif you have to convert it with some other tool, but buying the pro version is pretty cheap.

My one caveat, and the reason I don’t use it more often, is that the gifs it creates are BIG, so sharing them can be awkward and slow. You can use ezGIF to reduce the size of the gif. The sample above was created with Motionleap and then downsized and compressed with ezGIF so that it’s now about 1.5M which is reasonable.

Am I missing a tool? Drop a comment and let me know what you use that I haven’t found yet.

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