Microsoft Word is the publishing industry standard for editing manuscripts, and you’ll find that many literary agents, traditional publishing companies and even self-publishing companies also accept Word documents.
Fortunately, authors who don’t have Word or who simply want an alternative have several free and low-cost options for writing their manuscript without needing to buy an expensive Microsoft software package that includes Word.
“Word Online” allows you to use Microsoft Word for free
What is it: When you use the fast and free Google Chrome Internet browser you gain access to thousands of free applications (apps) that you can add to your browser to customize your online experience. Word Online is one of those free apps, and it will allow you to create, save and edit Word documents. Just like you can download apps that you can use on your phone, you can download apps from the Google Chrome Web Store to use with your Google Chrome browser.
Pros: You can create, edit and share your book in the Microsoft Word format without investing money into buying a new version of Word. If you don’t already have a Microsoft account login, you can create one for free that will allow you to login from any computer to continue working on your book.
Cons: You need Internet access and the Google Chrome browser to use it, you don’t have access to the Microsoft Track Change features that most editors use to recommend revisions to manuscripts, and you may have trouble using traditional Microsoft Word template files for writing and formatting your book.
Office 365 Personal allows you to rent Microsoft Word for $7/month
What is it: The techies at Microsoft know there are a lot of free and low-cost competitors out there, so they’ve created a way that you can use the full functionality of Microsoft Office (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher and Access) and possibly other programs based on the package you choose) through a monthly rental fee as low as $7/month.
Pros: You can install Word-or any of the other programs that come with your subscription-onto 1 PC or Mac computer, 1 tablet and 1 phone so that you are not limited to where or how you use Word. After you install it onto your computer, you do not need to have Internet access to continue using it. You will also have access to the Track Changes feature and will be able to use template files without a problem because you have full access to the latest version of Microsoft Office. If you sign up for an annual subscription, you can pay the equivalent of $5.83/month. If you want to download the software on up to 5 PCs or Macs, 5 Tablets and 5 Phones, the charge is only $10/month.
Cons: After two years of renting, even after the discounted annual subscription price, you will have paid about $140 which is the same amount you would pay for a one-time price to outright buy the same software. So if you think it will take longer than two years to write your book or that you have long-term needs for the software, you are better off purchasing the software outright.
Google Document is a free writing software that lets you read and save Word documents
What is it: When you create a new, free Gmail account, you will get free access to Google Drive which allows you to create, edit and share Google Documents (Google Docs). Google Docs can open and edit Microsoft Word documents, convert a Google Doc in a Microsoft Word format, or save a Google Doc in a PDF format. You can also download a version of Google Drive onto your computer so you can edit Google Docs while you are offline.
Pros: You can create, edit and share your book manuscript in the Word format without buying Microsoft Word. Google Docs also has free add-on’s that allow you to add a dictionary, thesaurus, Bible quotes or even track changes. It automatically backs up your writing so you never lose it, and the Google Drive that holds your Google Docs are accessible from any computer when you log into your Google account.
Cons: When you convert Word files to Google Docs so you can edit them or convert Google Docs into Word files so you can share them, the conversion process can alter spacing and the formatting style of the text. This is not that big of an issue while you are editing the book, but keep this in mind if you plan to send your manuscript to anyone else who is using Word.
Scrivener is an affordable software that lets you save as a Word document
What is it: This $40 writing software program is designed specifically for authors. You can organize your ideas visually on a corkboard, combine your notes into a binder, easily create a bibliography and so much more. You can use it on a PC or a Mac.
Pros: It looks nothing like Microsoft Word and helps you organize your ideas before you write and then to help you write using the tools you actually need. You can export files from the software so that it is compatible with Microsoft Word and you won’t have problems collaborating with your editor or submitting your files to your literary agent or printer. You can even use the software to set word count goals for your writing appointments and it automatically backs up your writing so you never have to worry about losing it.
Cons: It looks nothing like Microsoft Word, so you will have to take out time to learn how to use it.
Even if you don’t own a $140+ Microsoft Office package, you have a lot of free and low-cost options that you can use to help you write your book. Scrivener even gives you an option to visually create your book so you are not limited to the traditional tools offered by Word and its competitors.