App Review – FocusWriter

This month, I’m breaking from our regular software reviews to take a quick look at a free timed writing app.

My guidelines are simple.

  • Free
  • Downloadable
  • Can be used offline
  • Windows compatible

Indie Plot Twist App Review FocusWriter


FocusWriter is a simple, distraction-free writing environment. It utilizes a hide-away interface that you access by moving your mouse to the edges of the screen, allowing the program to have a familiar look and feel to it while still getting out of the way so that you can immerse yourself in your work. It’s available for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X, and has been translated into many different languages. From the Website

FocusWriter is a free, downloadable writing app designed to help writers write totally distraction free or, if you prefer, with just a few distractions.

It works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. There is a version for each platform, so if you choose to give it try, make sure you download the appropriate version.

I’m using FocusWriter with Windows 8.

If you prefer, you can also download a portable version.


A few of the more interesting features include

  • Text, basic Rich Text Formating, and basic open document file support
  • Timers
  • Daily goals
  • Customizable themes

Options including auto-save, live statistics, and spellcheck are also available.

Personal Notes

I tried two apps for doing off-line timed writings and this one is definitely easier and more fun to use than the other (which I’ll review in a few weeks).

The FocusWriter download file is a bit larger, so this is something consider if you’re working with limited hard drive or ROM capacity. But there are plenty of fun things with this, including the ability to change the appearance of the writing screen. It’s very easy to download and install.

If you need a totally portable writing app, you may need look no further than this. There are instructions for installing the app on a flash drive so it can be used on any computer anywhere. If you do this, I recommend a high-quality, fairly large-capacity flash drive. As I mentioned, the app itself isn’t very big—1,745 kb—but if you use it for a lot of writing and across multiple projects, you’ll need a flash drive with plenty of room to spare.

What I Like

This is neat app. I had no trouble downloading or installing it. It took a little exploration and experimentation to figure out how to set the timer, but once it was set, writing on the app was just like writing on LibreOffice (or any other word processor).

By default, no live stats show, so you can’t tell how many words you’ve written or how much time is left if you’re doing a timed writing. If you want to see those things, position your cursor at the bottom of the screen and a task bar appears. Word count shows on the left and the digital time on the right. Next to the time display is a little clock icon that shows in pie-chart form how much time is left.

What looks like the most helpful tool of all is a goal setting option. You can set word count goals or time goals by the day. Since I write whenever I can for however long I can—even if it’s just a few minutes—this is ideal for determining when I hit daily time and/or word count goals if I do all of my writing in the app.

The default appearance for FocusWriter is a piece of paper on a wood desk background. You’re writing appears in the area represented by the piece of paper. You can also choose a solid color background with no fancy appearance or a black background with green DOS style formatting.

FocusWriter Default Appearance

But you can also upload your own images and choose your own formatting. I’ve even set up several templates—one for timed writings (shown below) and one for each of the three novels I’m currently dabbling with. I chose a background image suitable to each and text colors and fonts suitable to the images.

The taskbar at the bottom is showing in this illustration.

FocusWriter Timed Writing

What I Don’t Like

So far, I’ve found only two things I wish were different.

While you can set daily goals and track those goals with FocusWriter, you cannot currently set individual goals for each project. As already mentioned, I have four projects set up in FocusWriter. If I set a daily goal of 30 minutes, every minute I work on that project counts against the goal whether I want it to or not.

Second, there is no pause function—at least not that I’ve found. If I step away from writing, I have to close the app or it continues to count time against whatever goal I’ve set.

Granted, neither of these wish-list items are a deal breaker. I’ve already found work arounds for them. And given that FocusWriter is free and very flexible, I’m satisfied with all the cool things I did get.


If you are looking for a totally free, totally downloadable app that works off-line and you want to do free writing, timed writings, or any other type of writing, give FocusWriter a try.

I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

You might even find your productivity spiking.

I have!

Software Review – LibreOffice

Indie Plot Twist Software Review LibreOfficeWhen Danielle and I sent out our year-end survey back in December, we asked you to tell us what you’d like to see this year. One of the things that was requested was reviews of word processing software with a special request to do software other than OpenOffice.

I like trying these kinds of things and I’m always interested in free stuff, so I thought I’d tackle this project.

The plan is to post a review the last Saturday of every month for which I have a review. It takes a couple of weeks at least to form a solid opinion of most software packages (though I did try one that took all of three days).

Today is the first of those posts.

I hope you’ll find it helpful.

Software Review LibreOffice


Software Review – LibreOffice

LibreOffice is a free word processing suite that’s based on the same core coding as the original Open Office. How LibreOffice and other “fork” software came into being is a complicated story of its own, but it can be summed up very easily.

When the company that first developed Open Office was sold, many people weren’t happy with the new owner. So they made use of the same basic code and developed software packages to meet their own needs and fit their own purposes. LibreOffice is one of the results. There are others and I hope to review those sometime in the future.


Why I Chose LibreOffice

I’ve been a user of Open Office for several years. While it’s in no way as versatile or feature-laden as Microsoft Word, it was more than adequate to my uses. I installed it on an older PC that didn’t have Word on it because I didn’t have the funds to buy Word at the time and because I really needed a computer I could use for writing. Open Office was the best choice at the time.

Open Office is still at the top of most lists of free alternatives to Microsoft Word.

LibreOffice is second on many of those lists. I already knew about Open Office, so when I started researching this series of articles, LibreOffice was the logical first choice.

A Few Basics

LibreOffice is a totally free word processing suite. It was designed and is continually being upgraded by developers and others around the world. Once you download the installation package, it’s yours to do with whatever you please. Even copy it and distribute it to others. If you’re of a more technical bent, you can even tinker with the code.

Like Open Office, LibreOffice is available for a number of platforms including Windows (XP to 10), Apple/Mac OSX, and Linux, to name just three. I tried it with Windows XP and Windows 8.

It contains all the components of Open Office and Word (writing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing, math, and a basic database.) The focus of this review is on writing, since that’s what most of us are interested in, but if you’d like to read more, you can read more technical reviews here and here.

Four Basic Questions

Can you create Microsoft Word compatible documents? Yes. All you need to do is select “Save As” when you save a document created in LibreOffice. Click on the box highlighted in blue at the bottom of the dialogue box (circled in red) and select the version of Word you want to use, then click save.

If you prefer not having to make that choice every time, you can change the default setting to .doc by changing the preferences.

Can you open documents created in Microsoft Word? Yes and quite easily.

Can you use Microsoft Word to open documents created in this software? I opened LibreOffice documents in Microsoft Word and in Open Office without difficulty as long as the documents were saved with the .doc extension (see the first question and answer).

How easy is this software to learn and use? If you’ve used OpenOffice in the past, you’ll take to LibreOffice like a duck to water. Drop down menus, toolbars, and other options are pretty much the same, which isn’t surprising since both processors use the same base code.

If you’ve used any version of Microsoft Word, you’ll also find LibreOffice pretty easy to learn and use.

And if you have no experience with either OpenOffice or Microsoft Word, it’s my opinion that you’ll still be able to learn LibreOffice quickly because of the very sensible way in which everything is arranged and labeled.

What I Like

Overall Appearance

I don’t usually pay much attention to how software looks. What matters to me is that  it works.

But LibreOffice appeals to my artistic side. I just plain enjoy the way it looks!

The buttons are designed more like website icons than word processing icons and they’re not only arranged in a logical fashion, some of them are downright pretty.

Paragraph Styles Shown As Well as Told

LibreOffice has all of the same standard paragraph styles as Open Office and they are presented in the same location, at the left end of the second toolbar from the top. But when you click on the drop down Style menu, what you see is startlingly different. The styles are not only listed, but shown as examples. The last time I looked, Open Office presented the style options as a plain text list. This is much nicer and gives you a much better idea of what each style looks like.


Adding words to the LibreOffice dictionary is a single-click process instead of the usual double-click I’ve been doing with Open Office.

Word Count

One thing I always wished for with Open Office was a word count in the footer tool bar. Guess what? There is one with LibreOffice!

What I Don’t Like

For no longer than I’ve been using LibreOffice (about two months), I haven’t found much to dislike.

I suppose I’ll eventually find something I don’t like, but LibreOffice is now my default word processor on both of the PCs I use and I’ve yet to encounter problems.


Learning my way around LibreOffice was fast, easy, and fun. It’s easy to use and the arrangement of icons, menus, and features made sense to me immediately. Part of that may have been due to the fact that I’ve been using Open Office for a few years, but I don’t think it would be difficult to use even if you’ve never used a word processing suite before.

If you’re looking for a full service option to Microsoft Word and don’t want to use Open Office, you may have to look no further than LibreOffice.

Even if you like Open Office but want to try something better, give LibreOffice a look. You may never go back to either MS Word or Open Office.


How to Create Ebook Files with Scrivener – And Why You Should!

2016-01-20 books ebooks ereader ipad kindle reading readerI’ve been quickly falling in love with Scrivener, a word processing software specifically for long-form projects like novels. But I originally bought it because I heard it could be used to create your own ebook files – meaning I didn’t have to depend solely on the conversion processes at retail sites like Amazon and Smashwords. If I had my own, private ebook files, I could do a number of things with them, such as send copies to book reviewers, use free copies as incentives to email list subscribers, maybe even sell books directly on my website.

2016-03-23 How to Create Ebook Files with Scrivener

So I bought Scrivener …

Then I basically let it sit and rot on my laptop. Truth be told, I couldn’t find the energy to learn yet another piece of technology. It seems like that’s all I’ve been doing since I became an indie author!

A couple of months ago, I finally sat down with a small project – a short story I wanted to give away on my author website – and looked up a tutorial on how to create ebook files with Scrivener.

I could not believe how easy it was. Here’s the tutorial:

So, why should you generate your own .mobi and .epub files?

Build Your Mailing List

2016-03-23 mail boxes, letters, mailing listLet’s say you want to give readers a free book in exchange for their subscription to your newsletter. (Building your email list is THE number one thing you should be doing to secure long-lived sales, by the way.) For the longest time, I was sending my subscribers over to Smashwords with one of their handy-dandy coupon codes.

There were a few problems with that, though. For starters, people have to create a profile with Smashwords before they can download their book. Extra steps involving a third party? Bleh! I consistently noticed a difference between the number of subscribers I was picking up and the number of people actually downloading my freebie.

Another problem lay in the terminology. A really good Facebook ad or popup will say, “Just tell me where to send your free book.” And then it’ll have a field for you to fill in your email address. They then get an auto-responder … which does not contain the ebook. It sends them to Smashwords with a coupon code. Well, la-de-da. You could have given them the link up-front and they wouldn’t have had to give you their email address!

It’s just smoother all around to be able to include the book itself as an attachment in an email. They give you their email address. You give them the book. Boom. Done.

Send Copies to Book Reviewers

2015-04-01 KindleHave you ever been offered a book in exchange for an honest review and been given a PDF? Great. Now you’ve got to read it on your computer – which just isn’t as cozy as curling up with your Kindle! You can always sideload or email the PDF to your ereader, but the formatting on a PDF is fixed – meaning the text won’t reflow and you can’t change the font size. The PDF page will be squished on your ereader, forcing you to squint. (Trust me, I’ve done this!)

Wouldn’t it be so much simpler to send .mobi and .epub files so your reviewer can comfortably enjoy your book on any reading device? Who knows, maybe a more comfortable reading experience will even result in a better review!

Sell Books Directly on Your Website

2016-03-23 coffee mug book ereader kindle tablet ebook pen paper journalI’m getting a little purist here, but I will not consider myself to be a truly “independent” author until I’m not entirely dependent on ebook retail platforms like Amazon to sell my books. It is possible to sell your books directly from your website. So in the case of an Amazon apocalypse, you’ll still be set to go! But you need to be able to format your own ebooks in order to sell them. Again, Scrivener comes to the rescue with how easy it is to create your own .mobi and .epub files!

All of these are the reasons why I decided to buy Scrivener and learn the trick. Like I said, it was infinitely easier than I anticipated – by far one of the simplest tech hacks I’ve picked up in years!

What would you do with your own ebook files?

Using Amazon Giveaway to Grow Your List and Thank Your Readers

The holiday season is upon us (in case you hadn’t noticed), and the spirit of gift-giving is in the air. How about giving a gift to your loyal readers? I recently learned about Amazon Giveaway. While not built specifically for authors, we’re in a great position to take advantage of it – and let our readers know how much we love them.

2015-12-09 How to Use Amazon Giveaway

What Is Amazon Giveaway?

2015-02-20 BenchAmazon Giveaway is a tool that lets you choose any physical item from the Amazon store – your book, somebody else’s book, a Kindle, whatever – and use it as a prize in a drawing. Any physical item works, so long as it’s eligible for Amazon Giveaway. How do you know if an item is eligible? Check the bottom of the item’s product page; scroll waaaaay down below the customer reviews. You’ll find a button that says, “Set up a giveaway.”

You can also choose how many prizes to give away, and how winners are selected. Amazon can select winners randomly, or via a lucky number (such as every third entrant), or first come, first served. (Great for those, “Be one of the first ten to reply!”)

Finally, you select what the entrants have to do to be eligible for the give-away. The options Amazon makes available are following you on Twitter, watching an Amazon Video Short, or watching a YouTube video. Also, you can make your giveaway no-strings-attached.

You pay. Your selected number of entrants win. Amazon ships.

It’s that simple.

“Grow Your Following”

2015-12-09 at symbol, twitter, follow, social media, green, growOn its home page, Amazon Giveaway advertises itself as a way to “create buzz” and “grow your followers and customers.” However, I’m not sure how exactly they expect that to work.

Amazon Giveaway doesn’t appear have any built-in  feature to help you grow your following. For example, there is no requirement for the participant to SHARE a social media message to be eligible. A feature like that, combined with, say, a Kindle tablet or a boxed set by a famous author, would be HUGE.

You might argue that people might share your tweets and Facebook posts that advertise the giveaway. Well, I wouldn’t count on that. When there’s a contest for a limited number of prizes, why would a participant reduce their own odds by inviting everyone in their circle to enter the competition, as well? The only way you could encourage sharing is if it were a requirement of participation, or if the participant could increase their own odds by sharing. (“Click share, and we’ll add your name twice.”)

As far as I can tell, the only way to get people engaged in your Amazon Giveaway is to tell them yourself (and through your network) that you have a giveaway going on. You’ll have to use your own means to get your giveaway to reach people beyond the following you already have.

Sure, you can require interested parties to follow you on Twitter. But chances are, you’re using Twitter to tell people about your giveaway. Hashtags will be your only salvation here to attract participants from outside your current following.

Okay, so this isn’t an Insta-Grow solution to your followship woes. What are some other ways to turn an Amazon Giveaway into a mode of growing your following? Maybe start a Thunderclap campaign. Maybe ask all your friends in your network to let their  followers know about your giveaway. Maybe go on a blog tour and tell everybody that you’re holding a drawing.

Grow Your Mailing List

2015-12-09 book plus love equals mail reading fans mailing list subscribersOne review I read about Amazon Giveaway lamented that there wasn’t much of a way to keep in touch or follow up with the participants after the giveaway is over.

Your most valuable asset as an author is your mailing list – your direct link to those people most interested in buying your books. If you have a small list, your top priority should be to grow it. (And write books.)

So here’s one idea for linking an Amazon Giveaway to growing your mailing list: Choose your product to give away – either your own book, or a book by a best-selling author whose work is much like your own, or even a Kindle. Then instead of directly advertising the Amazon Giveaway itself to your social media outlets and network, invite people to join your mailing list in exchange for a chance at winning the product you selected. Don’t share the Amazon Giveaway link on Twitter or Facebook; put it in an auto-responder and share it only to the people who sign up to your mailing list.

Can we make this even better? And can we curb the disappointment of your new subscribers who didn’t win? Sure! Try this: All subscribers to your mailing list will receive a free copy of one of your own books (that’s author mailing list 101, right?) PLUS they get a chance at winning a book (or boxed set) by a popular author whose writing is similar to yours. Pow! Everybody wins, because everybody gets your  book, but you’ve also got the power of a well-known title behind you, which should draw even more people in.

One way or the other, you’re going to have to advertise your Amazon Giveaway. Why not make all that work count, and get all your participants on your mailing list?

Combine with Facebook Ads

2015-12-09 Free book, leather, old bookI’ve just started experimenting with Facebook ads. (Promising results so far!) One way you can use Facebook ads is to (again) grow your mailing list. Advertise your free book in exchange for readers’ email addresses.

Oh, wait. What if you don’t have a free book?

Well … why not use Amazon Giveaway to give them somebody else’s book? Again, make it a book that’s both well-known and similar to your own writing. Amazon Giveaways only run for a limited time, though, so this would be a way to create a boost of new subscribers … such as just before you release your first book. (Clever, eh?)

Or Just Thank Your Followers

2015-02-20 Humor (1)The place where Amazon Giveaway promises to excel is in taking all the hassle out of running your own giveaway, packaging items, and dropping them off at the post office. You select the prize, Amazon handles the rest.

As you can see from my comments, I don’t see Amazon Giveaway as a simple way to magically grow your following. (Contrary to what they seem to imply on their homepage.) You have to get creative to advertise your Giveaway to people outside your current following.

So why did I get excited about Amazon Giveaway when I first saw it? Because I value the people who have already signed up to my email list. What a great way to let them know just how much they mean to me!

At some point in my career, I would absolutely love to make a Giveaway an annual, holiday thing, just to let my subscribers know how much I appreciate them. These are the devoted people who enjoy my writing so much, they want to be the first to know when my next book is coming out. They want to receive my blog posts and/or newsletter in their inbox every week and month. One of my subscribers even sent me a handwritten Thanksgiving card! My fans mean a lot to me, and Amazon Giveaway would make it really easy for me to show them just how much I appreciate them.

So, I’ve proposed several ways to make Amazon Giveaway work for you. Your turn! Have you ever run a giveaway? What did you like or dislike about it?