When I started writing my first book, I used a general-purpose word processor because I didn’t know any better.
Word processors like Microsoft Word, Open Office, and Pages were originally made for drafting memos to print and pass around the office.
Since then, those programs have added many features, but they were not built or improved with authors in mind. Authors were an afterthought. If you have finished a full-length book, you know what I’m talking about. The general-purpose word processor becomes your biggest obstacle to publication.
It’s unfortunate and unnecessary.
But authors everywhere are buzzing about a brand new word processor called Atticus, which promises to be the best of both Scrivener and Vellum. Whereas Vellum only runs on Mac, Atticus runs on PC and Mac.
Does Atticus make book-writing easier and better?
I recently interviewed the creator of Atticus, Dave Chesson, to find out how it helps every type of author.
What is Atticus, and how does it differ from Microsoft Word?
Dave: Microsoft Word was built to let you write anything. It has cool functionality, and many people are used to using it. We’ve used it for years, but it was not designed to handle large documents such as novels, nonfiction books, or screenplays.
You could create those works in Microsoft Word, but it was not designed for them.
When people write large documents, they want certain features and components. They want to be able to work within chapters effectively and efficiently. They want to be able to access notes and track word counts easily. They want help plotting, and they want to collaborate with others.
There are three phases to writing a book where software can serve the author.
The first phase is the writing of the book in word processing software.
The second phase is working with others. Your book should be checked by people, including editors, who can correct grammar and help with developmental components. When you’re receiving feedback from your ARC team, beta readers, or editors, you’re collaborating.
The third phase is formatting your book. When you format, you typeset the text in a readable layout and font. After your book is typeset, you need to export the correct file format for the print and digital copies of your book so you can upload it to each of the online markets.
There has not been a single piece of software that can do all those things until now. You can write in Scrivener, but you can’t collaborate. You can format with Scrivener, but you may need to purchase a $50 course on Udemy to learn how.
Thomas: Most people have to export from Scrivener into Microsoft Word to interact with their editor. When they’re done editing in Word, they have to kick it back to Scrivener to format, and sometimes that process breaks, and it’s a mess.
Dave: Your formatting options in Scrivener are very limited.
You could avoid Scrivener altogether and simply use Microsoft Word for writing and editing. If you do, you’ll email documents back and forth and end up with a bunch of documents called Manuscript.final.doc and Manuscript.FINAL.FINAL.doc.
When you finally figure out which one is the final one, you still have to upload it to a formatting software like Vellum.
Vellum has intuitive ways to make your book look very professional, but then you need to export it.
The point is that authors have made do with so many different pieces of software. We’ve traditionally needed several tools to create a book, and each tool adds an additional expense to the overall cost of publishing your book.
That’s the problem I wanted to solve.
I don’t want to leave the program to perform another necessary task.
I wanted one program to help me with my book, allow me to collaborate with editors and ARC readers, and give me control over who has access to my manuscript.
Then when it’s ready, I can just start formatting in that same program. When I’m done formatting, I can export and upload it to Amazon and other markets.
Atticus is that program. But here’s the cool part. If I want to correct a typo or update the backmatter links a year later, I can just open Atticus, make the change, and hit the export button. There’s no hunting around and hoping an old file will work.
You just go into the program, make your change, and hit export.
Thomas: When somebody emails you with a typo, it’s a great feeling to be able to make the change in five minutes and email that person back to say, “Thank you so much. It’s fixed.” When they reload their Kindle file or buy a new paper copy, they can see it’s fixed.
Normally, an email about a typo makes you feel bad because you know there are 10,000 printed copies in a warehouse with that mistake, and there’s no fixing it. If you are indie published and you use a print-on-demand printer, there’s no need for that. Mistakes can be fixed as quickly as they happen.
Some authors outsource their editing to their readers and just wait for people to email them with typos. Don’t do that. Hire a real editor. But even with real editors, typos can slip through the cracks. It’s nice to be able to fix them quickly.
Dave: I actually uploaded the wrong file once. I had had so many files, and I was trying to find the final, final copy. I thought the all-caps FINAL copy was the one to publish.
But it wasn’t until I got a negative review that I realized the copy I thought was final didn’t include the last chapter. To fix it, I had to pay the formatter to reformat it again.
My point is that our standard author tools have made the process of writing a book inefficient. It can also be expensive when you add all the different components to it.
My goal is to create one software tool that you never have to leave if you don’t want to. You can control every facet of it.
We haven’t touched on all the other things authors do, like outlining, plotting, analytics, grammar correction, and goal setting. I want to incorporate features that let you organize, write, collaborate, check your analytics, hit your goals, hit your daily writing metrics, and publish in Atticus.
Thomas: It’s not a Swiss Army knife in the same way that Microsoft Word is a Swiss Army knife. Atticus is a multi-tool created specifically for an author.
Dave: To create such a tool would be a monstrous task. So, we started by creating the software to handle two components: writing and formatting. When we launched Atticus in October 2021, it was basically a formatting program like Vellum, but it worked on PC, Mac, Linux, Chromebook, and wherever you wanted to use it.
Since then, we’ve been adding features, and we have plans to continue to add features. For example, I would love to program my book to open up on a certain page.
Right now, when you open a book on Kindle, it will open up on chapter one. Well, what if I had other parts that I wanted people to go to? What if there was a content upgrade or an offer? What if I want them to go to the copyright page first? I want to add a feature to Atticus that will allow you to do that.
When you’re writing your book in Atticus, you have a screen that feels like a word document, but you can easily rearrange your chapters. There’s also a goal-setting feature and a habit tracker.
Soon we’ll be adding that collaboration feature.
If you’ve bought my other software tool, Publisher Rocket, you know that I’m constantly working to improve and add features. We’ll be doing the same thing with Atticus. Every new feature or capability will be a free upgrade for current software owners.
Thomas: When I worked as marketing director for a marketing agency, our lead developer threatened to make a program on the company server that would automatically delete any files with the word “final” in the document name.
You could never say something was a final version. You could only say it was “version 47.” The final, final, final, final version gets too confusing.
When I wrote my book, I didn’t use Microsoft Word for the collaboration phase because I wanted to avoid renaming and emailing new documents. I used Google Docs so I could have edits from five people in one place. I didn’t have to deal with users who didn’t know how to use the tool and messed up the formatting.
How will collaboration work in Atticus?
Dave: As we’ve been developing the collaboration feature, we’ve had to remember that editors prefer Word over Google Docs. It’s a bummer because, in Google Docs, you can have five people working on a document simultaneously. As the author, you can communicate with them through the comments. But editors love the track changes feature in Word, and they’re used to using it.
We want to build something that feels like Word but acts like Google Docs, and that’s how we’re approaching it.
Imagine a collaboration feature where you could see a list of the types of collaboration on the right side of your screen.
You could choose to collaborate with other writers, editors, beta team members, or formatters. Each of those collaborations is different, and each user would be granted different permissions within the document. For example, if you were collaborating with another writer, you could both write together. If you were collaborating with the editor, they could use track changes to make suggestions. If you were collaborating on formatting, your formatter could only touch formatting. Beta and ARC readers could only comment.
We plan to design the feature so that you’ll be able to grant different levels of permission to your various collaborators. When your formatter or editor has finished, you’ll be able to remove their access automatically.
The collaboration panel, will show you exactly who has access to your book, and you will have control of their access.
Only writers and formatters will need to have a copy of the Atticus software in order to collaborate with you on your document. There’s so much functionality that comes with writing and formatting that both writers and formatters will need access to all the software functionality.
But editors and beta readers will not need to have Atticus in order to edit and read your manuscript. To grant access to an editor or beta reader, you’ll only need to enter their email address, and Atticus will send them a link. When they click that link, they will be able to create a free editor’s version or beta-reader version online.
Once they’ve logged in, they can see that one project. It will look just like Word, where they can track changes. You’ll be able to accept their changes, and they will go into effect in your manuscript. If you don’t accept the changes, they won’t affect your manuscript.
Beta readers will be able to read your book, make comments, and correspond about your story, but they won’t be able to edits or change your text.
When our collaboration feature is complete, you’ll even be able to grant permission for beta readers to see each other’s comments or not.
That permission feature will solve a problem I’ve seen in Google Docs. Sometimes, one beta reader will comment that one part was confusing and didn’t read right. After their comment, all the other beta readers say, “Yeah. That’s true.”
But when I talk to them individually, they say, “Well, I thought it was okay, but I saw that everybody else had commented , and after I read it again, I agreed.”
The power of one commenter’s suggestion could influence other commenters. You may waste a bunch of time trying to fix something that wasn’t broken in the first place.
I want our collaboration feature to allow you to control whether your beta readers see other people’s comments or not.
These are the types of author-specific challenges we are keeping in mind as we develop the collaboration feature in Atticus. When collaboration goes live, it will be a free upgrade for our current software owners.
Thomas: I’ve noticed the power of suggestion in book reviews. The first few people who leave a review for a book set the tone for subsequent reviewers. People feel safe going along with the crowd, which is not what you want. When you get feedback, you want people’s actual opinions, not what they’re saying to conform to the group’s opinions.
How is writing the first draft in Atticus different from starting with a blank Word Doc?
Dave: If you start with a blank Word document, you need to be prepared on how you want to write. You’ll at least want to break out your chapters.
In Scrivener, I break out the chapters and prepare notes so that I remember what I want to cover in each one.
If you decide you want to write in Google Docs, you need to understand that at 80,000-100,000 words, Google Docs starts to lag a bit, so you need to consider that when you’re writing large documents.
Thomas: I remember when the feature that blew everyone’s minds was focus mode in Scrivener. It hid every toolbar and recreated the typewriter experience where all you could do was write. There were no distractions.
Does Atticus have a focus mode where you only see the page?
Dave: Not yet, but it is absolutely on its way. To make you feel like you can hold us accountable for what we are proposing to do, we have a public roadmap where you can see what our programmers are working on, what’s coming next, and what has been completed.
We update our roadmap weekly because we’re constantly adding new features. I think focus mode will come after we complete dark mode.
The cool part about the software is that you don’t have to re-download it every time we come out with new features. The next time you open it up, it already has the new features added.
Are you taking suggestions for features to add to Atticus?
Thomas: How would someone submit a suggestion?
Dave: If you have questions or suggestions, send them to our support team. We’ve worked with authors for a long time, and we are a company run by authors, so your suggestion may already be in the works.
We’re about 80% finished with the formatting capabilities we want to add, and that has allowed us to pull ahead of everybody else on the market. We’re about 60% done with the writing section, and the rest of those features will come to fruition soon.
Then we’ll start on collaboration.
How does Atticus compare to Vellum’s formatting capabilities?
Thomas: How do Atticus’s features compare to Vellum’s? If someone has been using Vellum, how will Atticus be different?
Dave: Some authors have literally bought a Mac computer so they can use Vellum. I think that goes to show how Velum has set themselves up. They built a great set of software that anyone could use, no matter your skillset. You could upload your Word document, and with a couple of clicks, you could create a beautiful, professional-looking book. It’s very intuitive software.
On the right side of the Vellum screen, you can see what your finished book will look like on Kindle, iPhone, or in print. You can even change trim sizes with the click of a button. But it only runs on Mac, so PC users would have to buy a Mac just so they could use Vellum.
We wanted intuitive functionality with the previewer, but we wanted it to work on PC, Mac, Chromebook, or Linux.
But there were also many other things we wanted Atticus to do that Vellum didn’t do. For example, back in the day, people would say they could recognize a Vellum book because Vellum only had eight chapter themes to choose from. Each book started to look the same.
When we started designing Atticus, we hired professional designers, so Atticus users had more templates to choose from.
We also started building a custom chapter theme builder. After we came out with ours, Vellum came out with theirs as well.
We basically took the idea and the ease and flow that Vellum had, and we improved upon it and added more features.
Atticus is also cheaper than Vellum by over $100, and that includes the additional features that are completed and the features that are still in progress. In essence, Atticus is Vellum with more features, a stronger writing capability. Atticus works on all computers and is $100 cheaper than Vellum.
Thomas: The development of Atticus has been good for Vellum because six months after you launched Atticus, Vellum 3 came out. This competition is good for authors. I’m not anti-Vellum. I own Vellum, and if somebody from Vellum wants to come on the show, we’d be happy to have you.
Authors benefit when Dave and the folks at Atticus compete with the folks at Vellum to see who can serve authors better. You’ve both already left Microsoft Word in the dust simply by existing.
Word is not good competition. No one switches to Atticus or Vellum and thinks, “Man, I miss Word.”
Microsoft Words is like using a Swiss Army knife to tighten a Phillips screw. Technically you can do it. But when you get a real screwdriver to do the job efficiently, no one misses the Swiss Army knife.
Does Atticus have a narration feature?
Thomas: There’s been a big buzz recently about narration. A lot of authors are starting to narrate. Computers are getting better at connecting voice to text, and we are getting used to talking to our computers.
What is your plan for adding narration?
Dave: We are working to integrate some of the free dictation software. If you already own the Dragon dictation software, we are working with Dragon to make it work inside Atticus.
One of our company’s goals is to work with other companies that care about authors. We just worked with BookBrush to allow users to design special images that work perfectly within Atticus. And BookBrush has created a giant section just for that. We’re also working with Draft 2 Digital and Plottr so people can export their plotting and upload it right into Atticus.
Thomas: Plottr is an incredible tool for helping you create a plot for your book very quickly. It works with the hero’s journey and the snowflake method. If you’ve read a popular plotting book, chances are there’s a plot or a template for that book.
How can an author use Plottr and Atticus?
Dave: We’re working right now to create a way to export Plottr and upload the file to Atticus. Atticus will take that plotting information and put it in the right spot. When you’re in chapter one, you will see the necessary plotting notes you need for chapter one and so forth.
You don’t have to jump from window to window or screen to screen in order to use two programs at the same time. I personally like Plottr. I think it’s a phenomenal plotting tool.
Thomas: What about data security? Many authors fear losing their work.
If I’m drafting my book in Atticus, how do I keep that file safe?
Dave: Atticus saves your work to the cloud automatically. If you knock over a glass of wine on your laptop and ruin your laptop, your work is safe and backed up.
You can also save it manually on your computer. We call it a snapshot. You can click “snapshot,” and it will save to the folder you designate.
We have plans to create something where you can tell Atticus to automatically back up locally to a certain place on your computer.
We use AWS Amazon servers, and two-thirds of the world is run on those servers. If those servers go down, we might have a bunch of real-world problems going on.
That being said, you can rest assured that your work is saved on your computer and in the cloud. You can easily restore previous versions saved on your computer if needed.
Right now, you can take the snapshot, but you have to remember to take the snapshot. We are working on automating that.
How do I access Atticus?
Dave: You could go to app.atticus.io and log in. If you’re at Aunt Gerty’s house, you can log in and start writing on her computer.
You can also download it onto your desktop, phone, Chromebook, or Mac. If you’ve been logged in before, you even use Atticus when you don’t have an internet connection.
You only need an internet connection to use Atticus if you haven’t signed in before or if you’re collaborating or exporting your file.
So those are the only times you’ll need internet. If your connection went down and you had it downloaded to your computer, you could still write. It just won’t sync up with the cloud until you’re connected again.
Thomas: You’ll also need an internet connection to sync with your other devices. For example, if you’re writing on your Chromebook at a coffee shop but also have a desktop as your primary computer, you’ll need an internet connection to sync the two. You don’t have to email the files back and forth between the two devices.
How does Atticus compare to Adobe InDesign?
Thomas: Traditional publishers use Adobe InDesign or something similar. How does this compare to Adobe InDesign?
Dave: Adobe InDesign can do everything. It can do everything we’ve talked about so far. Maybe say some of the HTML programming might be a little different. For example, I don’t think Adobe InDesign can set a specific chapter to open up to.
But for design and layout, Adobe InDesign has beautiful capabilities. They have beautiful call-out boxes. If you get a phenomenal InDesign designer, they can make some cool-looking books.
Thomas: And let’s reiterate that you need a designer to use InDesign. People go to college to learn how to use the program. You can’t watch a tutorial and be equipped to use it.
Dave: InDesign is a skill. It’s a beautiful piece of software, but you have to have hours of education and experience before you can create things that look better than what you can create in Atticus or Vellum.
If you hire a designer to format your book in InDesign, you also have to pay them to fix any mistakes you find later. Earlier I mentioned that I uploaded the wrong file. I had to pay my designer to fix my mistake. Even if you want to make a subtle change that seems like only a paragraph or a line, it may end up being something that requires hours of your designer’s time to ensure each page looks right.
Whereas with Vellum or Atticus, you could go in, change the word, hit publish, and export, and there it is.
InDesign offers increased capabilities, but you also need the education to use it. It has so many bells and whistles that you have to be a specialist or pay a specialist.
Does Atticus work for designing children’s books?
Thomas: Publishers use InDesign for laying out children’s books. Getting the images and words to fit together is a totally different set of skills and a different set of software.
Atticus is not a tool for laying out children’s books.
To learn more about Atticus, visit the website.
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