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Tech Tools for Authors #3: Automation

Authors have to juggle a lot of balls in today’s book industry. Not only do they have to write that next book, they also have to market it, balance the ledgers, woo their fans on social media, do background research on their next project, and make dinner.

In past tech tools for authors posts, I gathered multiple unrelated tools and explained how each one could be useful. This time around I am going to focus on just one niche, and covers tools that fill specific needs.

Today’s topic is automation.

There are only so many hours in the day, and there is always more work to do than we can fit into a single lifetime. Finding ways to automate simple and repetitive tasks will boost your productivity by letting you focus on important activities like writing and interacting with fans.

The following post details five tools I have used to automate my workday and get more stuff done.

If you know of an automation tool not mentioned here, please mention it in the comments.

Google Alerts

Before social media took over and everyone started living their lives on Facebook and Twitter, there were these things called websites. Everyone had one, and it was where they posted their status updates, book reviews, and links to sites they like.

It can be easy to forget in 2018 but there is still a world beyond social media where people post book reviews and discuss topics that matter to them. It is impossible for any single person to follow all of the conversations on the web, which is why you should use Google Alerts.

Just give it the search terms you want and whenever Google’s search engine finds new results, you will get an email  with links. You can create as many alerts as you like, and you can set the emails to arrive daily, hourly, as-it-happens, etc.

It’s almost as if Google is giving you your own virtual search assistant, for free.


If you use Buffer or another service to automate your social media presence, you will also want to start tracking responses and whether anyone mentions your name.

IFTTT can do that, and so much more. This is a general purpose web automation service that lets you connect just about anything. It has a simple, clean interface that takes only minutes to learn, and it can save you hours of work.


Zapier is basically IFTTT on steroids. It is ten times more capable and about a hundred times as complex.

Not only can you automate basic tasks in Zapier, you can also apply intermediate filters that add, remove, or change the input before it gets to the output.

I’ve used Zapier to create an automatic Twitter feed by inputting tweets from a Twitter list and then outputting the tweets to Buffer, and that is just the beginning of what it can do.

I don’t know that you will want to use Zapier, though; its interface is so unnecessarily complex that automating a single tasks can take several hours. But it is powerful, though.

Amazon Mechanical Turk

Automation is great, but sometimes you just need the human touch. For example, AIs still aren’t great at things like transcribing comment cards from a convention or reading figures off a receipt, which is why this is often outsourced to human workers.

Hiring a virtual assistant (even through Fiverr) for one task can get expensive if you need that task repeated 300 times, but luckily for us Amazon has a cheaper option.

The Mechanical Turk is Amazon’s solution to their need to automate simple tasks. You can use it for everything from deciphering handwriting to finding the contact details for people and businesses. It is designed so that you just have to submit the source data, write out the instructions for the workers, and then let them get to work. Each completed task has to be accepted individually, but once that’s done you can download the results as a spreadsheet containing neatly organized data.

This service got its start years ago as a simple automated tool that could accept your blog’s RSS feed and auto-post tweets and updates.

I never used it much because IFTTT came along and could match’s paid features for free, and frankly I thought that I was getting better performance by manually posting FB updates.

But I am mentioning today because it offers a lot more tools than when I had last used it (5 or so years ago). This service is now a social media manager on par with Buffer or Hootsuite.

In particular, has a feature where you can fill a queue with social media updates and it will automatically cycle through that queue on schedule until you tell it to stop. This is a feature not found in Hootsuite or Buffer, and it is almost enough to make me switch.

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Randy Lea February 27, 2018 um 1:59 pm

Hey Nate,

Do you have anything on IFTTT that you’ve made public? I’d like to see your recipes, or whatever they call it now.

Nate Hoffelder February 27, 2018 um 3:26 pm

I haven’t done anything really amazing with IFTTT – most of my ideas don’t work because IFTTT doesn’t offer the integration I need.

That’s why I just use prebuilt applets.

Mark Williams – The New Publishing Standard February 27, 2018 um 3:44 pm

Talkwater –

Far better than Google for alerts.

Nate Hoffelder February 27, 2018 um 4:44 pm

I remember them – they stopped sending me emails for some reason (I can’t remember why).

Tech Tools for Authors #5: Social Media | The Digital Reader April 11, 2018 um 1:57 pm

[…] I touched on this a little last time when I mentioned tools like Zapier,, and IFTTT as useful automation tools. All three work with social networks, but I won't rehash those tools in this post, which is why you […]

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