by Steve Hooley
A Writer’s Best Friend?
Atticus is a new writers’ program for writing, editing, and formatting. It is on-line based, but can also be downloaded to your computer for off-line work. The program works on Windows, Mac, iOS, Chromebook, and Linux computers. It is available for purchase, even as continuing additions and improvements are made. At this point, its main advantage is a formatting program for Macs and PCs that rivals Vellum (Mac only) for ease of use and beauty of final formatted file.
Atticus produces both PDF and EPUB files. (As of 10/1/21 Amazon Kindle accepts only EPUB files for new books.) I believe I read somewhere that Atticus plans to develop the capability to produce a MOBI file for sideloading into a Kindle device.
I learned about Atticus while reading a review of Vellum. The review was by Dave Chesson, founder of the Atticus project. At the end of the summary at the top, tucked into the end of “Bottom Line,” was a single sentence: “I recommend Atticus overall, though.” I followed the links. (The tutorials are all the way at the bottom.)
I was excited when I saw that the program worked for Windows. I was skeptical when I read their goal of being a combination of Scrivener + Word + Vellum. And I was pulled in to explore more when I saw the price. At that point, the price for “early adopters” was $117. It is currently $147 ($102 cheaper than Vellum). And all continuing and future updates and improvements are free. They had me hooked, and I began exploring.
I found my way to the tutorials, and studied them thoroughly, reading them first, then viewing the computer views while the tutorial was narrated. The tutorials were exceptionally good.
I was most impressed with the formatting component, the component most fully developed at this time. I had downloaded the free Vellum program (for trial use without the ability to produce a file until you pay) on a Mac laptop that I use to write. Atticus seemed to have the ease of use that Vellum is known for. It had been a couple years since I examined Vellum, but Atticus looked like it had more options and choices for theme and style.
I was not impressed with the writing component. (Atticus is currently working on that component). At the time of this writing, the writing component is bare bones, with very few choices for font and size in the writing frame. The chapters are listed in a column on the left (like Scrivener), but that’s where the comparison ends. I write in Scrivener, and I’m guessing that Atticus will have a huge uphill battle in convincing Scrivener users to switch to Atticus for the writing component. Note that Atticus will allow .docx files from other programs to be easily uploaded and formatted.
At the time of this writing, I have not found any editing tool or component (like Word) in the program. The promise is for an editing component. I hope the developers will use an open-source program (such as Open Office or LibreOffice) and develop it for both the writing and the editing tools. That is a weakness of Scrivener (editing). And, if a writer could have the main capabilities of Scrivener, with added robust editing tools (without having to export the file), while being able to produce a .docx file, the writer might be willing to give Atticus a try.
Bottom line for me: I felt like the formatting component alone was worth the price of the program. Until further improvements come along, I plan to write in Scrivener, edit in Word, then upload a docx file into Atticus for formatting.
My experience thus far:
I uploaded a docx file of my first book in my Mad River Magic series. I had a new cover, and I wanted to reformat the interior of the book with a larger font. I also wanted an EPUB file for “going wide.”
I had first reviewed Garry’s “Ten Tips for Formatting eBooks from MS Word” (9/17/20). I removed as much formatting as possible. I specifically removed the front matter and the back matter (as per Atticus recommendations), creating a separate file for future use, and copy and paste capabilities.
I carefully removed existing formatting from the titles and formatted them with H1 style and 20-point size. I removed any spaces between the title and the text.
I then uploaded the docx file to Atticus. It successfully identified all chapter titles, and the beginning of my Table of Contents appeared in the left column.
Atticus did miss some of my scene breaks, (***) (Atticus calls them “ornamental breaks”). I learned by trial and error to remove them and any spaces, put my cursor on the end of the paragraph before the scene break, then “insert ornamental break” from the menu above the writing frame.
Foot notes were a problem for me. I had learned from the tutorials that Atticus changes footnotes into “end notes” (at end of chapter). I use footnotes for the interpretations of my magic spells. I played around with ways to adapt the endnotes, but finally gave up when I discovered that Atticus handles how it displays the numbering differently in PDF and EPUB files. I stripped out the footnotes. I believe that Atticus should standardize how it displays the numbering of end notes so they appear the same in EPUB or PDF.
The formatting came next. It was easy and fun. A window that shows how your formatting looks is placed on the right, and you can see what you are doing.
Adding and formatting front and back matter followed, and was easy, with a few hitches. Template pages can be added from a menu in the TOC column, and show up in the left column TOC. They can be easily dragged and dropped up and down to change their order. You can copy and paste from your front and back matter file (that you created when you stripped them out of your manuscript). If you have chosen your style and theme first, you can see what the page looks like in the formatting window.
Two problems I ran into here were Copyright page and Full-page images. I will say right away that Chris (with support), was unbelievably helpful. Responses to my questions were quick and accurate. Even when we ran into a real bug that needed to be fixed in the program, Chris had a work-around.
The first was mainly due to my stupidity. The copyright page does not show up accurately in the format window. I was used to Kindle formatting the copyright top and center. Atticus kept putting my copyright at the bottom of the page. When Chris explained that the page was formatted that way intentionally, I checked a bunch of books and discovered that the page I never look at was “now” being formatted to the bottom of the page. I didn’t like the way my tiny copyright looked, so I changed the font size from 6 to 8 point and put about 10 empty spaces below it before I repasted it into the formatted page. It worked.
The second problem was full-page images. Having struggled with inserting images into the Kindle formatter, I was amazed at the ease of inserting images into Atticus. The problem arose when the pictures (inserted into the backmatter) disappeared in the EPUB file. The empty page was there. The page was titled in the TOC, but no picture. Chris discovered that a true bug had been found and referred it development, but Chris also found a work around – put the page in the “body” rather than the backmatter. The order was the same, the page showed up in the TOC, and it worked. Two seconds to drag and drop.
Downloading the files:
Down loading the files was simple. Clicking the PDF button opened a screen notifying me that the file would be attached to an email. Clicking the EPUB button downloaded the file directly to my computer. If you have Kindle previewer on your computer (a free Word app), you can preview your EPUB file in Word (when I double clicked the file, Kindle previewer opened directly).
When I uploaded my PDF and EPUB files to Kindle, they were accepted immediately, and no changes were required. That was a new experience for me.
If you have a Windows PC (or a Mac and are not using Vellum), check out Atticus. My plan is to write in Scrivener, edit in Word, and format in Atticus. I believe the program is worth the price for the formatting alone. And I look forward to those free additions as Atticus works on the Writing component and the Editing component.
Atticus had its official launch last week. At this point, the price is still $147, and improvements are continuing to be made. The link above (in the second paragraph) is an updated landing page with lots of details, including a comparison with Vellum. The tutorials at the very bottom of the page give you a good feel for how the program works and prepare you to jump in and format some beautiful manuscripts.
Some other improvements that Atticus has announced are coming soon:
- Book writing goals and progress
- Plotting and outlining features
- Large Print
- Custom font for writing area
- Find and replace
- Set opening page
- Epub and Mobi import
- Reusable elements (pages like “Also By” and “About the Author”) can be saved as templates and reused in other books
Okay, TKZ community:
- Do any of you have experience with Atticus? What are your thoughts?
- What would it take to convince you to use formatting software?
- We’ve only scratched the surface, but what other components would you like to see in Atticus?
- Do you write and edit on the same computer, or do you use two separate computers?