For those of you who don’t know, I recently published book three (Path of Strangers) of my running fantasy series (The Red Kingdom), and through certain situations, I came to the point where I needed to find a new formatting service or to do it myself. This is the situation I came across that might help some of you, as formatting has often been a source of frustration to me.
For eBooks, I’ve always formatted myself, albeit a basic form of it. It was easy for me to make sure things were indenting properly and to space things out, etc. There were no frilly or fancy elements to it, but it got the job done. Of course, there was a point in my writing journey when I wanted to upgrade my eBook formatting to add at least some interior design aspects, but more on that later.
However, print formatting was beyond my simple capabilities. For me, it was an entirely different ballgame. I was intimidated by it, and it might have contributed, subconsciously or otherwise, to me waiting on writing full-length novels until later down the line.
For my first two novels, I went with a service to do both the eBook and print formatting for me. The service was excellent, and it gave me a lot of peace of mind, but the service was no longer available by the time book three came around. So, that left me with my conundrum.
The old service provider used a formatting program that was only available to Mac users, and, having a PC, meant that it wasn’t an option, so I started searching around. I came across a formatting program called Atticus, and I immediately found it familiar. I’ve listened to more than a few interviews by its founder, Dave Chesson, who also started Kindlepreneur, which is a writing-related blog.
I decided to try Atticus out and share a review of it with you all. Off the bat, I noticed that it’s less expensive than the aforementioned Mac formatting software, which is nice. There are few authors who aren’t looking to save a bit these days. I don’t have the other software to compare it to, but at no point did I feel like I was lacking with Atticus.
Starting out, I found it quite simple and straightforward. There is a writing feature where a person could write the entire story within the program itself, but I’m too ingrained with Google docs to do something like that. It looks like Atticus will be adding some features to their writing-in-program functionality, so that may change down the line.
It would be neat if Atticus implemented a “Write or Die” aspect to it, such as electing for a feature where the words start deleting if the writer stops for too long. I wanted to try that out, but the Write or Die website—at least at the time—didn’t have the ability to change “dumb quotes” to “smart quotes,” and personally, I dislike dumb quotes with a passion. It’s personal. Oxford comma and smart quotes all the way.
So, at that point, all I had to do was upload my manuscript to Atticus. They back everything up on their servers, so it saves periodically—or at least every time I log out, which gives me some peace of mind. And it’s nice not having to download software.
Once the manuscript was populated, I had a lot of options on what to do with it, which is a good thing. There wasn’t a tutorial that I noticed, although I’m torn on whether I wish there was one. Virtually everything I did with Atticus was something I could pretty easily figure out myself, with 99% of it simple to understand. Each option or feature I clicked yes or no to was a simple enough lever to pull—for example, what side of the page to align the words to, what font to have, what illustration for the scene breaks, if I wanted “Chapter 1” or “Chapter One,” etc.
I found all of that very user friendly, almost relieving-ly so. Regarding the print side, those were the details that I was most nervous about and the part that was the easiest. All I had to do was press a button and it populated for me. It also makes it easy to open multiple projects at once so that you can replicate certain settings, especially when you don’t remember which setting you did for the original. I liked the different style/theme choices you can pick for the front matter, where they pair together different fonts/sizes for your selection.
I only wish there were more choices, as for a fantasy story, there seemed to be only one choice, in my opinion. It fits just fine, but I wish it was slightly different. More choices, especially in the epic fantasy feel, could’ve helped that. The ornamental scene break illustration portion has a quite nice selection, and I found one that fits my book perfectly.
What was harder for me to understand was which font, spacing, and gutter space to do, which wasn’t Atticus’s fault. Doing the print formatting myself meant that I had to figure out the size of all those things, which resulted in some trial and error. I write epic fantasy, or, at the least, long-form fantasy, and they’re not short books. My average book size is 200,000 words long, which changes the gutter size quite a bit. I went through the whole process before ordering the sample book to realize that I had the settings off, but again, that was my fault.
Changing it in Atticus was easy, but knowing what numbers to tell them was the challenge. I do wish, though, that there was a way to know the word count of the manuscript within Atticus. I’m sure it would if I wrote the entire book in Atticus’s writing section, but without that, it would be nice to know. I could find out by adding up the word count over 2-3 Google docs, as I write long books, but I’m not aware of a single number where I can look that up in Atticus, although it’s possible I’m missing it somewhere.
One thing I loved about Atticus is how I really only formatted one manuscript, but pressed some buttons to say what was different between the eBook and the print book—that, as opposed to formatting two manuscripts, one for eBook and one for print. It’s a subtle difference, but it keeps things so much simpler, which I appreciated. For example, I wanted a table of contents for the eBook—because those had click-able links—and not for the print book, and all I had to do to implement that is click a button that says “eBook only” for that portion of the book. Easy peasy.
For some reason, all my chapter titles were duplicated, and I had to delete them one-by-one. I believe I looked up a way to keep that from happening, but TBA on that part. Either way, it wasn’t immediately clear how to keep that from happening once I uploaded to Atticus, so I wish that part was clearer.
Regarding interior design, that’s another excellent part of Atticus. The way it can enlarge, stylistically, the first letter of every chapter, and how it illustrates a scene break, and how it keeps the style consistent across a book is fantastic. Those were all things that were merely a click apiece. Ever since I’ve had a service—or in this case, Atticus—do those sort of style changes, I feel like it adds value to my stories and makes it a better experience for the reader. Regarding the print side, it recalculates the physical page count with every change you make, which is great if you’re trying to get the book to a certain size.
I talked to their customer service via emails to iron out a wrinkle, something that I wasn’t quite understanding, and I have to say the people I interacted with were some of the nicest people in customer service I’ve ever experienced.
Perhaps my favorite element of Atticus is that it tells you all of the settings, which might sound odd, but some other formatting programs don’t tell you certain details—they adjust the document automatically. Some people might find that beneficial, but I want to know the nuts and bolts, which to me is part of the reason why I opted to self-publish in the first place. Self-publishers aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and get down into the details, and Atticus helps with that.
Overall, I’m quite pleased with Atticus as a formatting program, and I plan on continuing to use it for all of my books going forward. The cost-effective price, the high functionality, and the ease of use all make it a tool in my toolbelt that I’ll keep using again and again.