The Best Multipurpose Tool for Self-Publishing

Swiss army knife

by C.K. MacLeod

I’m a firm believer in finding and using the best tool for the job. However, it’s not always possible to learn a handful of tools before you need to produce book. When you’re at the beginning of the self-publishing learning curve, it makes sense to choose a multipurpose tool that will do a decent job of everything, and then invest your time in learning how to use that tool well.

If I were to choose one tool that hits on everything required to publish an ebook, it’d be this one:

Microsoft Word.

So, why Word? It's kind of like the self-publisher's Swiss army knife. If you have time to learn only one tool, this tool will serve you well.

Note: I know that many writers use Scrivener, and for good reason. Still, Scrivener will not do all the things that Word can do. Definitely make it the next tool you learn, though.

Below, I’ve listed the steps in the publishing process that Word can handle.  Don’t take my word for it (I couldn't resist...), decide for yourself if Word is a one-stop shop for your publishing workflow.

Tip: Find help for your version of Word here.


Out of the box, Word will need a few tweaks to customize it for writing and self-publishing. Once you’re set up, writing in Word is straightforward.


If you know how to apply heading styles while you write, you’ll be able to make use of Word’s Navigation Pane, which behaves like Scrivener’s Binder. You’ll then be able to easily move sections of text around while revising.


Word shines at the editing stage of the publishing process. It has built-in tools I can’t imagine doing without. You can also use editing add-ins and macros with Word, making editing a more accurate and efficient process. To date, there isn't a better tool for editing than Word.

Adding Images

It’s easy to insert images into your book with Word. Further, Word’s Smart Art and table design features can give an ordinary table visual zip.

Cover Design

While Word is known for its word processing abilities, it also has built-in graphic design tools.

On a lark, I designed a cover for one of my books using Word’s design tools and Derek Murphy’s excellent cover design tutorial to guide me. The cover won an honourable mention at the Ebook Cover Design Awards. The judges were surprised that the cover had been designed in Word, and I was surprised that Word’s design tools were easy enough to use, even for a non-designer.


It is possible to format an ebook in Word and upload a Word file directly to Amazon or Smashwords. The key to the success of this method lies on your ability to create a “clean” Word file.

Word’s built-in tool, the Show/Hide feature, can help you see unnecessary formatting that can make your ebook misbehave. You can find and delete potential formatting glitches with Word’s Advanced Find and Replace feature. Add-in clean-up tools, such as CrossEyes and FileCleaner, can help you clean up a book file in a snap.

When it’s time to design your ebook, ebook design templates can help you create attractive ebooks. Print templates are available, too.

Beta Reader Reviews

You can create PDFs with Word 2010 and later. This is handy when you want to send an advance copy of your book to beta readers who like to mark-up a copy of your book on a tablet. Alternatively, you can send beta readers a copy of your book in docx format, so they can read it on a Kindle using their Send-to-Kindle email address.

Ebook Extras

Many authors are creating extra material, such as checklists, to accompany ebooks. This material is often posted on the author’s website. Word will allow you to create posters, PDFs, and interactive checklists to complement your ebook.

So, if you have time to learn only one tool, Word could be that tool. It’s the only tool I know of that accomplishes so much, so well.

Want an example of a book produced using Word? See Idea to Ebook: How to Write a Quality Book Fast.

Image by Jim Pennucci

2 thoughts on “The Best Multipurpose Tool for Self-Publishing”

  1. I agree with what you've presented so well, but I'd add a qualifier. Word is the best multipurpose tool for the amateur publisher. For the professional, InDesign is much more appropriate.

    1. David,
      Thanks for your comment. I'd agree that InDesign is the tool that book designers use to produce print books. If you want to produce really nice print books, use InDesign (or a similar layout tool). If you don't know how to use InDesign, ready-made templates available at Book Design Templates can take care of the decision making involved in laying out a book.

      I didn't discuss InDesign in this article because it addresses only one part of the publishing process. Word is a flexible tool and can address many more stages of the publishing process. As you've pointed out, it's a good place to begin.

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