SPS-298: Atticus: the All-Purpose Tool for Indie Authors – with Dave Chesson
Dave Chesson, creator of Publisher Rocket, has ambitiously created an all-in-one software for authors that helps you write, edit, collaborate, format and more. In today’s interview, Dave gives James a look under the hood at all Atticus can do and what the plans are for future functionality.
- What Atticus is and how it can help authors
- How Atticus works with a full writing team, including editors
- The present features and ones that will be added
- How Atticus is going to integrate with other tools like ProWriting Aid
- How book categories work and why they matter
- Does Amazon care which category your book is in?
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
SPF 101: Our introductory/intermediate course about how to self-publish will be open for enrolment October 6, 2021. Learn more here.
ATTICUS: Click here to learn more about Atticus and how it can support your writing
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-298: Atticus: the All-Purpose Tool for Indie Authors - with Dave Chesson
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show...
Dave Chesson: It's always been my own personal pain point of having to jump from programme to programme, from file to file, and I've just always wished there was something that could do this.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers. No more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?
Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome. It is Friday and, therefore, it is The Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: You glitched when you said that. You glitched last week when you said that.
Mark Dawson: Did I?
James Blatch: And the editor asked me if I had any other recordings of you, and I looked and you glitched on that. So I think you're glitching.
Mark Dawson: It's possible. I don't know. Maybe I do have a-
James Blatch: I mean physically you. I mean you are, because you're more machine than man now, we know.
Mark Dawson: The Matrix is coming out, isn't it?
James Blatch: Never seen The Matrix.
Mark Dawson: Oh, you've never seen The Matrix? How neat is that.
James Blatch: Never seen The Matrix, no. Right. What were we going to talk about? I was going to say something. Oh, yes.
Do you know where we should be? We should be eating chips and fish and chips.
Mark Dawson: Fries.
James Blatch: Fries and fish and drinking beer with our friends in 85 to 90 degree warm weather standing on the beach in Florida. But instead, because of a virus, the virus, we're here. How do you feel about that?
Mark Dawson: I'm not thrilled. I have to say, I've seen the pictures on Facebook from Dan Wood and Cecilia, have been in Nathan's plane.
James Blatch: And Lucy. Lucy flew it.
Mark Dawson: Lucy's flown, I've seen.
James Blatch: Do you know what? Shout to Cecilia because I hope she doesn't mind me saying this publicly, but she is frightened of flying. She's genuinely scared of flying. I've tried to arrange stuff with Cecilia before and she said, "Well, I don't want to take another flight because I'm scared of flying." But she went up in a small aircraft with Nathan.
Mark Dawson: I think she piloted it. He let her take the controls as well, which is a great way-
James Blatch: I haven't heard from them since. But you know, I'm sure it's all fine.
Mark Dawson: No, absolutely. I've seen some lovely pictures. Also, we sponsored one of the welcome meal drinks, I suppose.
James Blatch: Welcome reception, yeah.
Mark Dawson: So I've seen some pictures of our little flags on the tables and things, which was on the one hand very nice. And on the other hand, quite annoying because I'd quite like to have been there.
James Blatch: Yes.
Mark Dawson: But there we go.
James Blatch: So if you don't know what we're talking about, we're talking about NINC, Novelists Incorporated. We have an annual conference in... Well, it's been in Florida for the last few years. I think it was Chicago before. Wasn't it something like that? It's a conference aimed at people who are currently selling books of writing on marketing and selling books that either are traditionally published or indie, so it's a step up from the absolute beginners. It's been very, very good over the years.
It's a really, really fun place to go. It's a nice place to go, anyway, but to network, to meet people. We've met some friends who we've been dealing with online in person and learnt loads of stuff. We found people like Becca Syme teaching a really brilliant course there and others. We've lectured to a room full of people in your lecturing kind of way.
But yes, because of obviously the global pandemic, second year of that, so we've missed it. We are hoping. There has been an announcement, surprise announcement from the White House that they are opening up. They're moving into the more European style of saying, "As long as you're double vaccinated and you've had a test before, you can come in and do business in our country."
So we are fingers crossed, hoping that's going to happen in time for us to fly to Vegas on something like the 6th of November for the 20Booksto50k conference organised by Michael Anderle and Craig Martelle. I should say organised by Craig Martelle. Michael Anderle turns up and stands on stage and says, "Well done, Craig." But yeah, so we're hoping that's going to happen. It'd be lovely because I know a lot of people listening to the show will be trying to get there, as we are.
Mark Dawson: I think there's not much we can do apart from we've got our flights booked, hotels booked. We know what we're going to talk about on stage, so we'll get that ready. It is just a question of being allowed in. The alternative, of course, we go to Mexico for a couple weeks and then sneak over the border there.
James Blatch: Which doesn't sound much like we're drug running, does it?
Mark Dawson: No.
James Blatch: Or is that a slur? One of us slagged off Florida last time, and I can't remember whether it was you or me.
Mark Dawson: No, no. It wasn't-
James Blatch: I think it was you.
Mark Dawson: It was me. We didn't slag it off. We merely pointed out that the COVID rates in Florida were quite high that week and-
James Blatch: Yes. I think you used an expression that may have triggered some people.
Mark Dawson: No.
James Blatch: I've just slurred Mexico as being a drug-running place, but it's a beautiful country. And actually, quite a few authors live down there. What's that place, Santa Maria?
Mark Dawson: Cabo.
James Blatch: No. Oh yeah, Cabo, of course. Yeah. That's the big retiree zone, but there's somewhere I think Steve Moore, your old school chum, lives that's quite a creative kind of hub.
Mark Dawson: That's right.
James Blatch: Can't remember its name. Alta Maria or something like that, anyway. Anyway, lovely Mexico, I'm sure. And let's be friendly and nice.
Now, one thing we do have to mention, it is time for us to open the doors on our Self Publishing 101 course that's going to happen on Wednesday the 6th of October. It is an opportunity for you to use the teachings that Mark and I and a host of other experts put together for you.
What does 101 do, Mark?
Mark Dawson: Well, it's the foundation really, so it's everything you need to know from the moment you have finished your book, or if you've got a few books in you, you haven't really got things going yet, it will show you the steps you need to put in place to give yourself the best shot to sell lots of books and find readers.
It's the beginning to intermediate course, and the intention is that the ads course fits in together with that quite nicely. But I wouldn't recommend people start running ads unless everything is optimised perfectly so that those ads can do their best job for you. That's what 101 is intended to do.
James Blatch: Yeah. I mean in running Fuse Books, I found 101 immensely useful and, particularly, understanding things like the cover and blurb, understanding not just where it's got to go and technically how to get it there, but understanding its role in selling your book.
This is not simply a lesson. We do cover the basics of how to set up an account and so on, but it's why you're doing things and how to make it optimal. And the sort of dorsal approach is that you do everything to make sure that your product is indistinguishable from something from Faber & Faber or Random Penguin House, whatever they're called, Random House Penguin, whatever they're called.
Mark Dawson: Penguin Random House.
James Blatch: Yes. I don't know, where'd that come from?
Mark Dawson: Random Penguin House, that sounds like something you could have at the zoo. Let's go to the Random Penguin House.
James Blatch: Random Penguin. I wonder if we could get away with calling a publishing company Random Penguin. They'll all be one company by the time this book goes out. Anyway, yes, it's incredibly useful. It has been the course that has just ignited so many author careers, and we are always delighted and pleased. We have a whole page full of authors waxing lyrical about the 101 course.
It's our course and we're proud of it. Nothing cheers us more than meeting somebody who wants to shake our hand and say, "You unlocked it for me." That's available if you go to selfpublishingformula.com/101. That will be from Wednesday the 6th, probably open at 10:00 PM UK time. That's a bit earlier in the day in America and a bit early the next day in Australia. Good.
A couple of other things. What else are we going to talk about? We're going to talk about TikTok. TikTok is a platform, we mentioned it a couple of weeks ago because we had an interview, of course, with Lila and Jayne. It's a platform that's very much caught our eye much more than Instagram did, much more than Twitter has done. It's caught our eye because authors are filling up the space and #booktalk, which is a substrata of TikTok. They are reporting great guns. They're reporting genuinely uplift in their careers as a result of this, and so we've been digging down into it.
We've had a lot of discussions with Lila and Jayne, who do a fantastic job in not just evangelising TikTok for authors but in teaching how to do it and how to get it right. Very much, we felt, in the mold of how you teach in your expert areas, Mark. So I'm delighted to announce that Lila and Jayne have signed with us. They have joined the Self-Publishing Formula family and they are currently working on a module, a very comprehensive module. It'll be something that will, once applied, will help you move the needle on your books.
For that reason, it's going to go into Ads for Authors. They're working on it now. It's going to be released in January next year. If you're already a student of Ads for Authors, you will get it at no extra cost, of course, because that's how we operate. If you're getting into Ads for Authors for the first time, it'll be opened for enrollment in January, get in now because everything in the future, including this TikTok module, is part and parcel of that. We're very excited about it. We're going to build up towards that, Mark.
We had a technical problem with the last webinar in replay and lots of you missed it, so we're going to do another webinar on TikTok. That will be closer to probably in January as well because obviously Lila and Jayne are very busy in the immediate future. We're going to put our heads together and come up with some other training ideas for TikTok. So the best place to be I guess is in the Facebook group, Mark, for this.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Well, of course, if you're on the main list, you'll get notification when we have something more concrete to say. But yeah, we've got a few things that we think might be quite fun next year.
James Blatch: Yeah. And it's one we're going to have to keep on top of because it's going to be a fast changing platform, I think. It's obviously in its infancy compared to some of the other social media platforms, and it will evolve and change. We will make sure that it's something that we keep... All our courses we keep dynamic, right? We've been changing this week actually and making some changes to the 101 course to make sure it's absolutely bang up to date. Good.
Now, talking of new things, we have Dave Chesson on today's podcast. Welcome back to Dave. It's been a little while since we've had Dave on. If you don't know who he is, he's based in Nashville in the US and he is the man behind a product called Publisher Rocket. Publisher Rocket is really your metadata friend. So when you talk about keywords and categories, Publisher Rocket is I think in many people's eyes an essential tool for indie authors. In fact, it should be an essential tool for probably traditional published marketing organisations. Whether they use it or not, I don't know. But there's gold dust in there, Mark, isn't there?
Because we're talking about something else mainly in the interview, it's worth just talking about Publisher Rocket for a second. In not just helping you select your categories, but you understanding how particular genres perform, whether you're writing in a genre that's got lots of readers and not much supply, which is ideal, or whether you're writing in a genre that's oversupplied by books with not as many readers. I mean it's the type of marketing research that's available because of big data today that simply wasn't available in the past. It is important.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. It's a useful product. He's been around for a while, so it's very well established now. Most authors probably have heard of it. I think it's pretty reasonably priced. There have been tools like this available for other Amazon sellers for a long time, so it's like MerchantWords, it's a very well-established tool that does a similar function for people that are selling stuff that they've bought in China and reselling into the domestic markets. You can use those tools for books, but they're not looking at books specifically, which is what Publisher Rocket does.
Dave's got a good grasp of that. He's got a good team of developers who help him with that, and he's then added to his portfolio with Atticus, which given that I have a character called Atticus, I sometimes get a big confused when people say, "How are you finding Atticus?" I'm like, "Well, it's all right. It's selling quite a few copies." Yeah, it's a nice product.
I know you'll speak with him and you've mentioned they had some teething problems in the early days. It's always the case. We've seen it too with digital products. You occasionally get things that go wrong but then you can get them fixed. I know Dave is very responsive and he seems very responsive to the issues that only really get discovered when people start using something in a good number. You don't necessarily see those when you're testing yourself.
James Blatch: Well, if an organisation with a market value of Apple can release a phone that has problems on day one, that just goes to show that it's a fraught area of very complex things, digital tools. And as you say, once they're used in anger, things turn up. I think he was a victim of his own success. I think it was this massive scramble for those beta slots.
Mark Dawson: Yes, it was.
James Blatch: He was a bit overwhelmed in those first few days. Anyway, so that was in the past. Atticus, by the time this podcast goes out, we're actually recording it exactly seven days ahead, but on the 1st of October, I believe Atticus should be out of beta and into public. I think Dave talks about that, so you'll be able to find out in the interview.
Okay, look, that's enough from us. Let's hand over to me for a couple of days ago when I interviewed Dave Chesson. We'll talk Atticus and Publisher Rocket and everything else.
Dave Chesson, welcome back to The Self Publishing Show. It's been a long time, I think, since you've been on the show.
Dave Chesson: Yeah, it's been a while.
James Blatch: I think you were definitely one of the first guests because you're such a huge star in the indie world. You're like a pillar. A pillar, I was going to say.
Dave Chesson: Aw, well, thank you. The really means a lot coming from you guys.
James Blatch: It's been fun working with you on and off over the years and hanging out together, which this time of year we would normally be doing. But because of this blooming pandemic that doesn't seem to want to go away, this is the closest we're going to get, Dave.
Dave Chesson: Hey, at least we got this.
James Blatch: We've got this, and at least I don't have to make excuses to why I don't want to drink whisky, which you're always handing me and saying, "Smell this, James, and drink this." And I have to go, "That's nice." And to do it that way because I'm a beer guy. I don't want to waste all my alcohol units on tiny bits of alcohol, but you love it. You love it.
Dave Chesson: I had a couple of good ones I was looking to share with you this time, but next year.
James Blatch: I know. I've given it away now. I know you love your bourbon. Okay, look. We're going to talk all things that are happening at your end, especially Atticus, which is a really exciting... could be a huge product that we're all very familiar with in a few years. I know that's your aim, and we're going to hear all about it on this show. At the time this podcast is going out, should be the 1st of October, it should be widely available, publicly available?
Dave Chesson: That's correct, yep.
James Blatch: Wow, that's very exciting. I know there's been a private beta and a few people would have been involved in that.
Why don't we start with Atticus. Why don't you explain to us what Atticus is?
Dave Chesson: When Atticus comes out, what it will be is basically Vellum but cheaper and works on all platforms. See, Vellum created a phenomenal way to format books. You have the ability to see what your book looks like as you format it. It's very simple and intuitive, but the problem is is that well, one, it's really expensive. Because let's face it, it was the only cat in town. And two, it's only for Mac, and so a lot of authors who use PC would either have to use Mac in Cloud or for many, they actually buy a Macintosh computer just to be able to use the one programme.
So we decided not only to create a formatting tool that works on all platforms, and that includes Linux to Mac, PC, even Chromebook, Android, all of those, but we want to go a step further.
My absolute goal is summed up in a statement I like to say is if Scrivener and Google Docs and Vellum got together and had a baby, its name would be Atticus. The reason for this is that my goal isn't just to create a formatting software. My goal is to create what I honestly believe will be the best book writing software, and that's because we hope to tackle the entire process that an author would use from outlining, writing, collaborating with editors or other writers, and formatting their book.
This way authors don't have to jump from point to point to point. They don't have to use one software over here and then a software over here and then export to Word and then email back and forth with editors and then buy another software to be able to format. And then by the end of it, they have maybe seven, eight, nine different Word docs on their desktop that say final version.
Let's face it, I mean every author has had that moment of, "Uh-oh, which one is the final? Is it the one called Final-Final, or This is the final, or Final, please submit this one?" I'm not kidding. If you go on my desktop, I always have to scratch my head about, wait, which one was the one that I actually used to format and then send to Amazon?
Right now when this comes out, we will have tackled the writing component and the formatting component and in quick succession. Anybody who's ever invested in Rocket knows that I'm all about free updates and new features constantly. We have a lot of incredible features like goal planning, analytics, even some fun Easter eggs and some gamification for getting people to want to write. But we even have a lot of really cool custom features to make our formatting stand out.
Once we've completed that, we then want to move into collaboration. This is a component where you can work with an editor side by side. You can work with another author side by side seamlessly instead of having to send files back and forth or communicate or get stuck working on Google Docs, which is good for collaboration but not very good for handling 100,000-plus words or any of the other features that authors like to use. That is what Atticus is and will be.
James Blatch: I'm really interested in the collaboration side of things. I think I understand what you're saying. We could get something that looks and feels like Scrivener but then moves on to formatting without moving out of the software, which you sort of can do in Scrivener, but not many people use the formatting element of Scrivener. To me anyway, it looks a bit unwieldy and feels unwieldy.
But to have something that you hold your manuscript, there's one manuscript, is a very enticing prospect because I'm absolutely in tune with you. I like working in Scrivener. Once it's out of Scrivener, it is all over the place. It gets emailed off. It gets emailed back to you. Then it's exactly as you've explained. You're looking at initials at the end of it and looking at modified dates and so on. That's a big appeal to me.
Explain to me how that will work, how there will still remain one version, one entity that is your manuscript.
Dave Chesson: We've designed the software from the beginning with this in mind. That's helped us to make a lot of decisions. Because to be able to collaborate in the way that I'm about to explain, it really takes a lot under the hood to get there.
What would happen is that in the top you'd click Collaboration, and you have what we call four designations. There's collaboration with another writer, editor, art team, and formatter.
It's got its own limitations. If you collaborate with another writer, clearly they can write. If you collaborate with an editor, they can only edit. An art team can only read and leave comments. And formatters can only touch the formatting. Granted, we hope that our formatter is super easy, but maybe they want a skilled designer to create this amazing back image that totally fits their character or that particular page. You can just bring somebody in, they can make it happen. You look at it. You say, "Yep, I like it." Click Accept and now it's imported as the final version inside of your Atticus. That's without having to leave.
Let's go through each one. If you want to collaborate with another author on Atticus, that is one of those cases where the other author has to own Atticus as well. It's just we don't think it's going to be a good experience if the person's using a smaller version of it or something like that. So collaboration between two authors requires that they both have it.
However, with editors though, we know that with editors that's just not going to fly well. Maybe editors in time will do it, but what we know from editors is most enjoy how Word is, using Word and the Track Changes and all that. Here's what it would look like as an author if you want to collaborate with an editor. You select Editor. You put in their email address and it sends them a link. When they click it, it will allow them to create a free version of Atticus in their web browser.
They can create their account and they'll see your book right there. They can click on it. Then at that point what it looks like is it looks exactly like Word, so they don't have to learn anything new. The buttons will be where they would expect it, the functionality. There's a couple of things we're going to borrow from Google Docs that I think they do right to help with collaboration, but all in all, it's going to feel like Word.
What awesome for the author is that inside their Atticus they can go to collaboration, they can look, and they can actually see real time what's happening, kind of like Google Docs in that respect. They can see the editor leave comments, make tracked changes. What's even cooler is the author can accept them. They can comment back. They can communicate with the editor.
When they accept it, it will immediately put in their manuscript and it will then be there. Unless you accept it or not, it won't show up in your manuscript, so it's like a safe mode. That you can work with your editor and the moment you accept it, it's applied.
Now you can go back and forth. When you're done, here's my favourite part about it is that when you're done, whether it's art team or editor or formatter, you can literally click one... You can see everybody you've given permission to and you can click one button and it cuts their connection to it.
When you're done with the editor, you don't have to worry about the editor still having access to your book. You don't have to worry about the art team having access to your files. We're also going to make it very secure so that people can't download it, so there's not going to be another copy floating around out there where it gets out to pirates.
To recap on this, it's a safe mode for you to be able to give people access with certain permissions. You can work with them inside of your Atticus. Then when you're done and they no longer need access, you can securely remove them from it. Now you can look at one screen and know everybody who has access to it or nobody has access to it but you.
James Blatch: Wow.
Dave Chesson: That's what I'm most excited about. Because you start throwing out a copy out there, and you don't know who has it. Well, not anymore.
James Blatch: Do you see the editors' updates live? If they go through page one and make a change and then they're on page two, can you be on page one reviewing what they've done?
Dave Chesson: Exactly. Yes, you can. What's really cool from the editor's perspective is that they can mark when a chapter is ready for you to review it. Now you can see when they're ready for you. Maybe they like to go down the chapter first and then they come back through it again or they want to think and hem and haw about some component. Well, until they do this one particular move that then therefore marks that this chapter is ready for you, you can see where they're at and you can also see what they've done and you can accept them. You can go along with them or not. That really makes it easy.
The other thing too is that we'll have a counter at the top that lets you know how many changes they've made that you haven't accepted yet and how many comments that you have acknowledged. There's no chance that you could think that you were done and forget that there was one tracked change where they removed a comma somewhere and you just didn't see it. And then you go to publish your book with that comma that shouldn't be there. This is just one more, shall we say, extra part that should help back up authors in that collaboration component.
James Blatch: Wow. So they could, if they wanted to, work more traditionally and think, "I'm going to do a pass on this book, but I don't want them to see my edits until I've gone back and reviewed it all myself. Then I'll hand them all over in one go." If they wanted to, they could do that, the editor.
They're not forced to reveal every edit instantly. They could do it at the end?
Dave Chesson: Yeah. That's true. That could be a preference or a discussion point that you have. One of the things that I really like, especially with collaborating with authors, is that when you got to give somebody a collaboration component, you can actually decide what permissions or what things they can and can't do inside of that.
Let's face it, we all know that one part where there's the really awesome writer and then there's the other writer that's maybe the name isn't so much known. And maybe there's a different set of permissions between the two. You don't want maybe author B to override author A. Well, if you're the one setting out the permission, you can set those kind of things up. It gives you that kind of capability.
Same thing with beta readers too. I haven't discussed them, but if you have your beta readers or your street team or whatever you call them, depending on whether it's before or after you've written, you can send them all a copy. They can read it on their browsers, and they can leave comments. You can change the permission to state whether or not they can see other beta readers' comments or only their own. It's like these little things to give authors options.
Because for example, if you have beta readers, you might have that maybe one beta reader who leaves a comment, and then all of a sudden that starts a cascade of them all jumping on the same thing even though the others wouldn't have even thought of it until they saw it. So some authors prefer beta readers not to see other beta readers' comments and instead just have their own level. So again, we want to create these options for authors.
James Blatch:This is pretty groundbreaking. The idea of the end of that waiting for edits to come back period where it becomes more of a flowing process is just one small aspect that could change the kind of ecosystem in which writers exist, which I think is really exciting.
Dave Chesson: Exactly. As somebody who's used Scrivener way back in 2007, it's always been my own personal pain point of having to jump from programme to programme, from file to file, and I've just always wished there was something that could do this.
James Blatch: It did annoy me the first time an editor said, "I want it in Word double spaced in 12 point and stuff." I thought, "Why can't I just hand the Scrivener file over to you?" "Oh, I don't do Scrivener." That's how they are. And that, of course, does bring me onto that point about they are quite conservative with a small c, the editing and writing community. They'll have to do some adaptation here.
That's obviously what you've had in mind to make it as easy as possible for them to do it, but personally, I would love the time where an editor is Atticus accredited type thing. So before you even talk to them and get a quote, you see, yes, they work on Atticus. That will become a self-fulfilling thing because editors will realise they've got to be on there.
Dave Chesson: Oh, for sure. Well, one of the things that I really look forward to doing is that we will be having a branch of the company that will be looking for editors that want to go through training. Then on top of that, we at Atticus can also recommend editors that would accept Atticus for sure, know how to use it, and so that way if you're not sure which editor you want, you can go and find a list of editors that are very qualified that are capable of using the programme and are willing to do it, especially as we get started.
Because a lot of editors may baulk at it at first because it's not what they're used to, but I really believe that the ones that give it a try will be very familiar with it from the get-go because we understand that Word is the preferred situation. We're going to be working with editors as beta users as well to make sure that we really get the kind of features that not only they're used to but the ones they've always wanted and so we can get that implemented. I really believe that in time we'll be able to show editors that this is a much better process for them. I think as more people jump on, it will become the norm.
James Blatch: Where are you with the software at the moment? What features are going to be live when it releases on, is it, 28th of September, which is a couple of days before this podcast goes out?
Dave Chesson: We will have the formatting at almost the level of Vellum and we'll be quickly adding more features, I believe, that will surpass them. We'll have the writing component as well. We had a lot of things that I want to add to writing, especially as we gear up for NaNoWriMo.
We want to have analytics. So for example, one of the things I would love to see and that we have designed out is, and this will be the first I ever announce this, but we're going to have some fun games. For example, if you type in the word The End and you don't type anything after that for a bit, all of a sudden a little fireworks will go off, because congratulations, you just finished your book.
We'll also have a popup that has analytics that shows not only how many words but how much time you spent inside the project itself and working. To me, it would be really cool to show that wow, this is how many hours or days that I spent writing and building this from the beginning. We have things like that. We also have goal setting, so timers, specific zone settings to make it very clear when you're in the writing zone.
There's a lot of really cool components that will help authors to meet their writing goals every day, help gamify it a bit. We're looking at giving badges and marks so when you've written a total amount of words that you get this badge or this ring. Or when you have hit your daily goal every day, you get a badge, borrowing from the ideas of Fitbit a little bit on that. Those are some of the areas we want to really focus in.
Also, one of the things that I love most about what we're doing is just that I want to work with as many companies as possible. We want to make sure that we work extremely well with ProWritingAid. Grammarly is going to be a bit hard. For anybody who's tried to use them inside of other programmes, I hope maybe they'll come around, but they can really drag down a lot of... Like Google Docs, they drag down a bit. There's a couple of other areas, but we're working with 4thewords, Plottr. I would love for people who love Plottr to be able to export and then just import it right into Atticus and it takes the information and puts it in the right spot so you can use it while you write.
We're gung-ho about making sure to add as many integrations with tools. Because here's the thing about authors, we're all different. We all have preferences on how we do it. I'm not going to be able to perfect outlining, just I'm going to say it, for everybody. We'll create our own way, but we want to make sure that hey, if you love Plottr, if you love Outliner, if you love... list all the other companies, that we'll be able to over time be able to take anything you work in there and help to apply the right information in the right spot so you can get more out of it.
Same thing goes with our editors. We're not the master of editors. ProWritingAid is much better. If you love what they do, great. 4thewords is a super fun gamification of writing, and so we want to make sure that if you're writing inside of Atticus that it's applied to your game. One big thing is we're going to be focusing on integration. We have a whole bunch of other new features to formatting that I'd like to see that will probably be coming out in the first couple of weeks from launch.
But once we've hit those marks, that's the moment where my team's going to be really focusing in on the collaboration. I can't say exactly what date. I've learned in programming that that's the worst thing is to ever give yourself a particular date, but we have an all-star team of programmers that I'm just really jazzed about. And we're going to be working full time all the way through to make sure that that collaboration not only comes out, but it comes out and it improves over and over again.
James Blatch: I think you were working with a team in the Far East for Kindlepreneur. Are you working with the same guys here?
Dave Chesson: Yeah. Actually, so this is a little bit of inside information on it, but with Publisher Rocket, we had a great bunch of programmers. But I learned was that I needed access to even more talent to be able to build out Atticus. This is a serious piece of software, like beyond. So what I did was I bought a one-third stake in a software development company, and I've been working extensively within that company to build its capability to hire some of the best programmers possible. That's allowed me to get this team together. That's been excellent.
We also have a phenomenal support team. Anybody who's ever worked with Rocket support knows exactly what I mean about that, but I also believe that support is a window into the heart of a company. If you're not providing something to really help in that component, then what are you doing? So yeah, it's an eclectic group. Most of my support team is here in the United States and Canada. But yeah, it's been fun.
James Blatch: How much will it cost?
Dave Chesson: When it comes out, it will be $147. That's a one-time fee. That's for books and ebooks, unlimited books and ebooks, which at this time is half the cost of what Vellum is. I'm not a fan of subscriptions, as many people know. The reason for that, especially for writing, is that as an author, I just don't like the idea of having to pay each month in order to use the platform in which I store all my writing on. That just feels off to me.
Then on top of that, even if the companies say, "Well, if you stop paying us, we'll allow you to download your content," okay, cool. But in order to do the whole process of writing a book, I don't want to spend all this time learning something and getting experience in something to only have to then keep paying just so I can potentially use it. Then the moment I stop paying, am I going to something else?
So we really wanted to create a platform where authors can just know that they're here, that this is what they use, not have to learn something else, not have to learn four different softwares but just the one. We figured that doing that was a much better model.
James Blatch: Just on that question about having your manuscript in there in one version, so going back a little bit, what security is there for the manuscript and do you have version history, for instance? And is it offloaded somewhere outside of your servers in case things go wrong?
Dave Chesson: That's a great question. What we do is that we store it on our servers, which are AWS. We have super hardcore encryption on that. Our team, we do not go through that. We do not touch those things at all. That is your work and that is very clear that that is your work.
On top of that, though, you can also save it locally. You can do both. The key is, is that you can tell Atticus to save onto your computer as well. The reason why we have to store it and have that backup on the server is because well, we're doing the collaboration thing. If we weren't doing this collaboration thing at all, then yeah, I'd have been like, "Hey, let's just make it just a downloadable software that doesn't tap in." But in order to collaborate and coordinate, that was a big part.
What's awesome, though, about this is you can work offline as well. The only time that you need to be connected to the internet with Atticus is when you upload a manuscript, okay, so you have a Word document that you want to upload, if you want to collaborate with somebody when that comes out, clearly, and also when you want to export your final file. That's it. Everything else can be done offline.
We have a couple of things that we're going to be adding over time. Like for example, you said the version history. That's really key. We have already started where we can send you version history. So in case you did something crazy, like we have had a couple people who deleted their book. They thought they were deleting something else and they deleted the wrong book. We took care of it. Said, "No, no problem. We got it for you. Here you go." There it is.
But we're going to make something very soon where authors can choose which version they want. They can even mark off if they want to go in a different direction on a chapter and then come back. They can mark it inside of Atticus and then they can revert back to it if they want. Those are things that are coming, but right now we have the ability to save locally and we do have the ability for previous versions or history. But we're going to soon make it where you can control that.
James Blatch: Wow, what a big project this has been. I remember when first mentioned it sometime ago and you've been through, I imagine, a gestation period that's always challenging for any big thing that's going to do this much.
How are you feeling about it now? Are you feeling confident this is going to be where you want it to be in a couple years' time?
Dave Chesson: Oh, yeah. We did a private launch of this, I think, back in June, and boy, we fell on our faces. I'm not even going to hide that. We did not realise how many people were going to jump on it and jump on it as quick, and it literally broke our system.
Then on top of that too, we had a lot of problems on the inside that we needed to fix. Luckily, a lot of people really just believed in what we were doing, so mad props and mad thanks. Anybody listening who was a part of that, we super appreciate it.
We have been spending so many months working with individual authors, getting a real use case, and being able to apply and learn from that. If it wasn't for all of those people that were there from the beginning, this would be scary, but we've really been in operational mode for a while. We're just adding more. We're getting feedback.
I'm doing an AMA session with the beta users and we're having a lot of fun with it. So I'm really excited about where we're at and where we're going to be, especially when this comes out. It's because of those, shall we say, fun complications and challenges that we had from the get-go, but we're so much stronger because of it. And a mad appreciation to everybody who was a part of that.
James Blatch: Move fast and break things, I think is what Mark Zuckerberg said when he was setting up Facebook, and I guess that must feel a bit like that at the moment. Well, we wish you luck with it, Dave. I'm looking forward to getting my hands on it on the 28th of September. I'll definitely be one of your launch customers there and I'll be giving it a go. I'm a Scrivener, Vellum fan, and I'm not a big fan of exporting it to Word and sending it off, but I know that's what editors insist on at the moment, so that will be the big thing for me in time to come.
So your old company, which is still very relevant and used every day by many of us, Publisher Rocket, I know is still an evolving and changing thing. I saw your QR code stuff today drop in on an email, that you can generate those for authors now.
Publisher Rocket, I guess, is not standing still through all of this.
Dave Chesson: No, no.
James Blatch: In fact, I'll tell you what. Let me not jump ahead. We better explain what Publisher Rocket is for people listening who may not be aware.
Dave Chesson: My first ever foray into real software was Publisher Rocket years ago. What it was was a book marketing tool. It was to help authors find the right keywords, to discover the right categories, improve their effective and efficiency in Amazon ads. But when I first launched it, all it did was keywords and competition analysis. That was it.
If you saw what it looked like when we first came out to what it looks like today, it's a far cry. That's the thing is that once it came out, it was all about how do I improve it and make the better, make it more accurate, increase it to more markets. We're always tinkering and tweaking. Of course, you also have Amazon who changes things all the time, so it's kept me and my team on our toes.
We just came out with a brand new improvement to the keyword feature where we now give red light, green light and yellow light to give you an indication if that's a good keyword or not. It goes beyond just a static number. One thing that authors have really liked about it is that you may have a keyword phrase and it has a large search number, the number of people who search that term. That might be a yellow. Then you see another term that has less searches but it's green, and that's because over the years we've been analysing Amazon and we found that there are certain keywords that while they get typed more, they actually don't sell as many books as other keywords. So we've implemented that into the system to make it even smarter and better for authors.
Case in point, if somebody goes to Amazon and they type in the word fantasy book, sure, there are a lot of searches for that, but what are the chances that Amazon's going to present the perfect kind of fantasy? What ends up happening is a lot of shoppers go to Amazon, they type in fantasy book. They see the list and, "Nah, okay. What can I add to my phrase to make it more clear what I'm looking for?" They might say, elf epic war. Then they look and they're like, "Okay. Well, there's way too many scantily clothed people on the covers." And so then they'll say, J.R.R. Tolkien or they'll something until they finally get to what they're looking for.
We started to see that there's higher conversion rates on longer phrases and certain phrases than there are the broad phrases, and so we've implemented that in the system to just make it so much more accurate and to help guide authors so they can make better choices without having to be the number nerds that we are.
We did that and very soon we're going to be having a new feature come out, which is Audible. You'll be able to learn about Audible books, how much money Audible books are making, so you'll see those. You can do competition analysis there and also it will include all of the Audible categories. So we'll have the entire catalogue of every category and you'll know how many Audible sales you need to make in order to be bestseller or how to rank in those. That's all coming out very soon.
We have a new feature after that that I've been working on for over a year and a half, and that's historical category data. There's over 14,000 Amazon US categories in book and ebook. We currently have them all listed and a great way to help you find these categories. They tell you how many books you need to sell that day in order to be number one, but now what you can do is, well, when this feature comes out, when you click on that particular category, you'll be able to see the sales trends over the year for that category.
And what's really awesome about this is that you'll be able to see how many competitors have been added, how hard is this, how much money it's been making, is it trending up, is it trending down. And even more so, my favourite is, is there someplace in there year where there's a dip and a spike so that maybe planning your book launch can be even better. That's going to be 100% free for anybody who owns it. That's just a free new feature that we're adding because personally, that's something I've wanted to see. That's just how we operate.
James Blatch: I do find the categories astonishing, 14,000, you say, in the US.
Dave Chesson: Yeah. In the US alone.
James Blatch: When you upload your book on the KDP bookshelf, you can only choose two and you get access to, I don't know how many is in that list, 120 or something, maybe.
Dave Chesson: Yeah. When you go to publish your book on Amazon and KDP and they ask you to select your categories, that popup box that has a list, those are actually BISACs. So those aren't even Amazon categories. BISACs are this international standard code. It's kind of like a catalogue, if you will, where all the publishers in the world said, "Okay, these are the accepted categories that we all acknowledge." So when you choose a BISAC, it's a number that's sent to the companies so that they know where to put the book.
The reason for this is say a ma-and-pa shop may only have six aisles, right? And all of a sudden they get a book called Wiccan Wars. That person who opens up the box may think, "Oh, Wiccan, okay. Maybe that's religious studies or maybe that's fantasy or maybe that's... " So they don't know. They created this code. They look at the code and then they look at their catalogue and they're like, "Oh, okay. That goes on aisle six." There's no subjective opinion. That's why they created the BISAC system.
When you go to publish your book on Amazon, there's less than 5,000 BISAC codes. So you select two and then Amazon takes that and they'll put you in what they think is the equivalent Amazon category. Now, most of the time it's the same. Sometimes though, that category could be something different. And so people will sometimes check the categories their book is actually listed for and be like, "That's not what I asked for." Remember, there's less than 5,000 BISACs. There's 14,000 Amazon categories, and so there are a lot of categories out there that authors don't even know that they can select because they just think the BISAC system is the only way.
Just having that catalogue has been really big for people, but then to really look and see what's trending and learn or maybe they're curious about where they should write, I think this historical category data is really going to help them out.
James Blatch: Out of interest, I know that you introduced me and many other people to the fact that you can email Amazon and get your book put into more categories. Is that up to 10, I think, something like that?
Dave Chesson: Yep.
James Blatch: But without that knowledge, and that's probably... Again, we always say, "There's lots of people publishing indie books and a small number listening to these podcasts and actively thinking about it and doing this sort of thing." That's only a few of us doing that.
Without us intervening, how does Amazon put your book into any of those other non-BISAC equivalent 14,000 categories?
Dave Chesson: There's a couple things. First off is that they'll translate the BISAC you chose into what they might think. Another thing too is that, and they're not very motivated to do it, it's not like they do it often, but they will analyse what they think your book is about. And sometimes, sometimes is the key word, they will put you in another category that they think, but they don't do that often.
So most of the time books will maybe only be a part of two or three categories total, and it's not like Amazon's like, "Oh, let's put this book part of five, fix, seven, eight." Instead, though, Amazon, so they went from where you had to send an email, but now they have a special form just for requesting the addition of categories, the changing of categories, and also even categories in different markets. So you can email them to make sure you're in certain categories for the UK, for Germany and so forth. They've now optimised the process.
Technically, there is no maximum number on categories. It's weird. To this day, or that I know of, they have not yet said that there is a certain number. I always say the rule of thumb is 10 because you always have to deal with the humans, and I love to call them the Amazon humans. Anybody who's ever dealt with Amazon humans, they know exactly what I mean when I say it like I say it, but sometimes you just get a human that's like you fill out the form for adding categories and the human will respond back and say, "I'm sorry, but you can't request categories." It's like, "I just sent the form that says change your category." Sometimes you just get that human.
I found that with 10 categories you almost never get any pushback, and that's 10 total. Sometimes beyond 10, it depends on the human you get. Sometimes they're like, "Yeah, sure. No problem." Sometimes they're like, "No, we don't do that at all." The key is that I say is 10 is the usual limit, we'll put it that way.
James Blatch: Is a good number. That's interesting. So there is a little bit of perhaps almost... Well, I think you will know this, I'm sure, there's a little bit of AI work going on in Amazon that will try and pick out what a book's about and place it in some other categories. The reason I say that is because we often give this example of somebody who got number one in an obscure category and it wasn't really related to their book and is a little bit of whether it's mischief or just a bit of fun, I don't know. But it was a romance book and the naked torso man had a chisel, and it was number one in woodworking.
Dave Chesson: Masonry.
James Blatch: Yeah. But do you know what? It might not have been the author's fault because I saw something put up Twitter, and I'll send this picture to John, our editor, so he can put it on screen now as we're talking about it. But someone noticed there's a UK comedian called Bob Mortimer who's a slightly anarchic, brilliant comedian. He's written his autobiography. The front cover picture of him screaming and somebody noticed his book is number one in opera singer biographies.
I wonder whether some level of AI and Amazon saw the image of him, which does probably have a lot in common with an opera singer, this man was mouth wide open on screen, and automatically put it into one of those categories thinking it might help it sell.
Dave Chesson: I would doubt that. First off and foremost, with AI or the algorithms it's really hard to get the context of the picture. Especially when you're working SEO with Google, I always tell people, "Google has no idea what that picture really is." It's super, super hard for a calculation to figure out that that's a picture of a dog, a green dog, doing a trick for food or something like that. That's why we have to put alt tags in there to help Google understand what the picture is of.
For it to potentially have seen that, that would be a lot of hardcore crunching on their part. And I personally just don't think Amazon really cares about the category system because there's a lot of authors that will put their books into things that clearly they are not a part of, and there has been no retribution, no issue.
I just don't think Amazon has the motivation to do the heavy lifting of figuring out what categories a book should be. It would be a lot of humans that would probably have to be involved and that just probably isn't a good use of their resources. Sad as it sounds, I just don't think they do that.
James Blatch: My wonderful theory. But this is a traditionally published book, so it also seems unlikely to me that someone at this publishers would have requested it go into opera singer biographies, but maybe they did.
But what I'm curious about then, so if you get your 5,000 BISACs, 14,000 other categories, so the other, what is that, 9,000 categories were only there for those of us who contacted Amazon and said, "Can you put me into that category?" There's no other way your book would find its way into those?
Dave Chesson: No, like I said, I think there are a couple of categories that you may naturally be added, but I just don't see it happening a lot. I don't see books ask for two and then be a part of 10 naturally. I think that it does happen once or twice. Now, about a year ago or maybe even two years ago, there used to be the thing where Amazon and then before that, there used to be a thing where if you wanted to be a part of a certain category, you had to use a certain keyword. They literally had a page that listed all of these categories that required a certain keyword in order to get put into that.
However, though, a year ago Amazon not only destroyed that page, they got rid of it. There's no indication that there is a trigger. So what this tells me is that I do think that Amazon still looks at the keywords to help maybe automatically put you into something. So for example, you might not have selected Arthurian, but if you use Arthurian as a keyword, then that's a trigger for them to do it. They're just no longer promoting that since they now have the form where authors can just request whatever they want.
I think that there's probably a calculation in there. I don't think that they're putting a lot of resources into expanding upon it because they're clearly not culling the thing. At one point they were using keywords to help them figure out. Now they just don't promote it. So I think they've now sat back and said, "Hey, maybe we'll do this a little bit, but we'll just rely on the authors to tell us." I don't think they're going to lift a finger to try to subjectively figure out if that was a good category they requested or not. That's kind of a sad state.
James Blatch: I think few people outside of Amazon know more about it than you do, and you know a lot more than a lot of the people inside Amazon, particularly one or two of those people we email.
Dave Chesson: It's been fun looking under the hood, working with the programmes, staying on my toes, analysing. We've also done a bunch of experiments too. We once created a special crawler to try to index. That was expensive because Amazon does not like being crawled.
James Blatch: No.
Dave Chesson: But to help us figure out things, like how to best prepare your seven Kindle keywords. I constantly tell people, "I really love the fact that I've got a programming team that really helps me get into the weeds." So combining that with being an author is just a lot of fun.
James Blatch: Dave, what an absolute pleasure it has been catching up with you. And like I said at the beginning, so sorry it won't be in person. Well, certainly not this month, maybe in November, but who knows? We'll keep fingers crossed for that.
You better let people know where they can find Atticus.
Dave Chesson: You can find Atticus at Atticus.io. And if anybody has any questions about anything we talked about or said, you can always hit me up at kindlepreneur.com. I've got a contact form there and I'm still responding to each and every one of them.
James Blatch: Excellent. Did you catch those fly balls behind you, your dirty ones? Are they from a game?
Dave Chesson: Oh, no. I'm an avid baseball person. I love historic baseball, and so the centre ball is the 1953 Red Sox team-signed ball with Ted Williams front and centre. The one on the left is Mickey Mantle, and the one on the right is Joe DiMaggio.
James Blatch: Wow.
Dave Chesson: Then the one all the way on the right, the white ball, the clean one-
James Blatch: The clean one.
Dave Chesson: ... yeah, is a one-word stencilled picture of my dad, myself and my son Kian at the Fenway game watching the Red Sox versus Yankees. I took my dad there before he died of cancer, and so it's kind of a memorial to him and just that really amazing experience of the three generations being able to watch the Red Sox together. My dad was a diehard Red Sox fan, and he had never been to Fenway.
James Blatch: Wow.
Dave Chesson: So to do that the way we did, it was perfect.
James Blatch: That's very cool and very lovely. What a great thing that sport does for us to have those memories. Dave, was such a pleasure talking to you, one of the great guys in indie publishing. We're very happy to be your friend here, SPF, and a friend of Kindlepreneur. We will catch up properly, I'm sure, in person at some point, but until then, just wish you all the very best with the Atticus big release.
Dave Chesson: Hey, and thank you so much for having me.
James Blatch: There you go. I mean it's audacious, I think, Atticus. It's audacious and I love the idea of having a single place to be to write and format and edit. Because I was a little bit shocked when, you would know this because you're old hand at this, but when I had my book in Scrivener, you can export it or you could hand over the Scrivener file, but then the editor says, "No, this is how we edit. We want a Word document and it double spaced. We want it in Times New Roman and 12 point." "Oh, okay."
So you have to export it there and suddenly that's your book. It's not the one in Scrivener anymore. That's an old, out of date version because the first change that happens in that Word document means that's the new version of it. So you make those changes and then at some point you upload it to a formatting bit of software. I use Vellum.
As soon as you make your first change there, the Word document's out of date. So keeping an eye on which is the actual version of your book is something you really do need to pay attention to. And I'm sure I'm not the first author to suddenly stare at a folder on the computer thinking, "Well, which one is it?"
Mark Dawson: Try 50 books.
James Blatch: Yeah. Well, I can only imagine. I'm getting a little bit like that with Fuse, of course.
Mark Dawson: You do have to be fairly religious about things like naming conventions and making sure that you understand if you have a final file, it needs to be marked final and then not opened and tinkered around with, or make sure you're not doing that to the wrong one. Yeah, it's not ideal.
I don't actually mind. I quite like when you go out of Scrivener and into Word, so I've recently done that with the new Milton book. It's a nice step on the road because I know that once I'm in Word, I'm into tinkering and tweaking mode rather than Scrivener, which is more about the drafting and the organisation. That's for the bigger jobs.
When you're at the stage where you can go into Word, for me anyway, I'm polishing at that point, and Word's quite good for that. Track changes is excellent and it's been refined over 20 years so it works very well. That's something that Scrivener does not do well. Good luck to Atticus. He's bitten off a lot. It's quite ambitious.
I've seen others try that before in the community. Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt and David Wright had a similar product, a writing product that they couldn't get to work, so it's challenging. But if anyone can do it, I think Dave has pretty good chance, so best of luck to him.
James Blatch: Yeah. He has a software background, and obviously Publisher Rocket is a complex bit of software and it works.
Mark Dawson: He has a nuclear submarine background as well there.
James Blatch: Yeah. He was on the boomers, isn't he? Doesn't do that anymore. Yeah, so we will watch with interest. I will sign up. I think I've already signed up. I don't know if I was in the beta or not, but I will certainly sign up to buy Atticus and support Dave and give it a go.
I do like that idea of being in one place and the editor going backwards and forwards. Of course, editors I think are people generally, I imagine, who have worked in a same way for sometime or will continue to want to work in that way. So getting them out of Word and onto Atticus will be a massive thing.
But what will happen hopefully if a few people do it is that on Reedsy and stuff when people are trying to recruit editors, they will say, "Are you Atticus certified, basically?" If the answer's no, they might go to an editor who is, and that's the sort of thing that will start to shift potentially editors in the future. Anyway, good luck to Dave Chesson. Hopefully, Atticus is live by the time this goes out. If not, I'm sure it will be a few days.
Right, that's it. Thank you very much, indeed. Mark, it's a Friday so you can have the rest of the day off if you like and have a beer. I'm going to do the cricket club junior presentation awards barbecue tonight. It's my job as chairman of the cricket club, doing the barbie. I might go and buy Three Wood this afternoon, though, just to cheer myself up. And I have got a new, shiny iPhone because I'm shallow and I do require shiny things to fill the void in my soul.
Mark Dawson: Me too. Yeah, mine's on its way, so I've got a nice new one coming too every year, which is ridiculous, I know, but I love some tech.
James Blatch: I'm every two years because I care more about the environment and the random penguins.
Mark Dawson: Yes, random penguins.
James Blatch: Name of our grunge band. Good. Thank you very much, indeed. All that remains for me to say is it's a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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