TMO Interviews Storyist: The Story Behind the Story

Many of our readers know that I have embarked on a marathon review of novel writing software. One such program that has not yet been reviewed as part of the series is Storyist, by Steve Shepard of Storyist Software in Sunnyvale, California. Storyist 2.0 is due to be shipped on June 18, and WWDC afforded the opportunity to interview Mr. Shepard.

TMO: Tell us how you got into the business of creating novel writing software? Were there precursor apps that you warmed up with? Or is this your first big venture?


Steve Shepard

Steve Shepard, Founder, Storyist Software

Shepard: Well, I worked for Apple for awhile in the 1990s, then I did the Silicon Valley thing. I joined a spin out of Netscape that got sold, went public, went high, then crashed. So at the end of that I took a year off to work on something of mine that had been in the drawer for awhile.

I was a night and weekend writer since 6th grade, and so I decided it was time to do something for myself. So I did. And, looking around, I thought there should be some tools. I didn't want tools that taught me how to write because, for better or worse, I thought I knew how to do that. What I wanted was project management tools to organize all the notes and research and character sketches that accompany a novel or screen play.

At the end of the year, I decided that there's a need there. So, rather than go back to high tech, I decided to do the independent developer thing.

TMO: Did the other apps that I've reviewed exist at the time you started this project?

Shepard: They didn't. Well, maybe Ulysses was out in an early form. But there really wasn't a category of project management for writers, fiction writers specifically.

TMO: Are you willing to tell us how many copies you've sold?

Shepard: Let's say ... more than one and less than 10,000.

TMO: Okay, we'll leave it at that. Um, I've been wondering ... do you find that the price point of Storyist, being a little higher than some of the competitors, creates some customer resistance?

Shepard: I occasionally get e-mails that suggests a range. And I guess the rule is that if no one complains about the price, then it's priced it too low. I get a lot of customers who are coming over from Windows who say they don't want to buy Microsoft Word again. Then again, there are some other apps that are lower priced that just aren't as feature rich as Storyist. For example, many customers want to see the exact layout of the page as they write. So I think it fits nicely between the big page layout apps and the the indie apps that are out there.

TMO: Since we're here at WWDC, I thought I'd ask you ... is this your first? Or just one of many?

Shepard: I started coming again in 2003. When I worked at Apple, WWDC was in a different place. [San Jose McEnery Convention Center.] So in 2003, I started looking around to see what was cool and hot, and I've been coming since then.

TMO: And Storyist is your full-time day job?

Shepard: It is.

TMO: Excellent. So ...tell me, from your perspective as the author, what are some of the things that set Storyist apart from today's competition?

Shepard: I think that one thing is that it's fairly cleanly laid out. So if you're coming to it without any preconceptions, you understand the metaphor. In page layout, you don't have to worry about compiling groups of notes into a manuscript. [Perhaps alluding to Scrivener. JM.] It does what it's advertised to do, and doesn't really try to do page layout like, say, [Adobe] InDesign. It's real strength is its focus for the novel writer.

TMO: Does having worked for Apple before help with your relationship with Apple Developer Relations?

Shepard: No, not for Developer Relations. But I still have a number of friends who still work there, so in terms of user feedback and working around bugs in the operating system, I think it does help.

TMO: In a similar vein, do you think that having worked for Apple gives you an advantage in terms of knowing how to deal with customers?

Shepard: I try not to think like a techie when I'm building an app for writers. They come to the Mac becasue it's known for its ease of use. And it's actually a very good writing platform, you know, with PDF built-in and system-wide spell checking. So assuming that writers are just like me really isn't the right way to approach it....

TMO: The Write Brothers [makers of Screenwriter 6] like to point to several famous screen writers who have used their product. And they actually have their photo on the app's packaging. Can you name any for Storyist?

Shepard: None that I can name. It's just a question of obtaining permission, though.

TMO: Without giving away any secrets -- how do you see the market for a product like Storyist evolving? Have you noted any exciting new technologies that Apple's rolling out that you think could change the nature of the product?

Shepard: I think ... there are two markets. For novel writers, I think the things that are going to be interesting there are integrating with ePublishing pipelines. It's called ePub support, and includes integration with Amazon. And then any, ah, [Apple] tablet that may or may not exist. [Laughter by both.] For screen writers, I think the major technologies there are collaborative technologies. For example, often screen writers work in pairs. So hooks in the OS that allow teams to share and take notes are of interest. Like SubEthaEdit.

TMO: So, you've been working on Storyist 2.0 now for about seven or eight months. And, last time we e-mailed, you said you have a final release date?

Shepard: I think it's going to be June 18th. I should add that the download only version is US$59.00 and there's a boxed version with a printed manual for US$79.00.

TMO: What about upgrades for version 1.6 users?

Shepard: For those who purchased after September 1st of last year, version 2.0 will be free. And for people who purchased before then, it's US$29.00.

TMO: Any final observations? On Storyist or WWDC?

Shepard: Well, for one thing, as a Cocoa developer, I can now sympathize with how Carbon developers felt here in the past. With the iPhone focus, there's a lot of new blood here. And a lot of DNA that's not the traditional Apple DNA. From a Mac OS X developer's perspective, that's a little sad to see.

TMO: But at least we can take comfort that it's all Cocoa all the time on Mac OS X and all Cocoa all the time on iPhone. By the way, what got you on the Cocoa bandwagon when you started developing? Was it coming to WWDC and seeing the handwriting on the wall? Or was it a natural choice for you?

Shepard: Actually, a good friend of mine at Apple was Tim Schaaf. We worked together, and one morning at breakfast, I mentioned that I was thinking about getting into development. He was fairly convincing that Cocoa was the way to go for any new app.

TMO: And so ... that's the story behind the story on Storyist.

Shepard: The End.