DBook Review - Structured And collaborative writing

Daniel Pataki
Oct 23, 2014
Updated • Oct 23, 2014

I started writing a book a while ago in a great tool called Editorially. Regretfully Editorially closed shop this May and in the search for a new app, I found something even better: DBook.

DBook is different from many other tools out there because it forces you to think in terms of structure. While many other apps give you a blank canvas to start writing, DBook makes you create sections. In essence, you have to create your table of contents as you go along and edit each section separately.

To be honest, this annoyed me a lot initially. When editing the content of a section you can not add headings which means you need to structure your whole document in the table of content mode. This seems counterproductive, and in one sense it is, but it proved to be an invaluable tool for organizing myself and getting work done.

First of all, it made me sit down and think about the structure of my book. This helped me clarify my thoughts and identify the weakest sections. One other benefit of this method is that it breaks the work down into manageable chunks.

I knew in advance that the book would be around 40,000 words so sitting down in front of a blank canvas is daunting to say the least. DBook allows you to just go to a section and write about it. Once you're in there you don't need to think about context, how it all fits together, you've already done all that.

While this feature has been a Godsend for me it's limitation is also a big problem with the app. Let's take a look at the features DBook has to offer and I'll explain along the way.

Table Of Contents

The table of contents view is the default view for your project. DBook allows you to add four types of items to your table of contents:

  • Placeholders are temporary items which show an upcoming section and can be redefined later
  • Textblocks will be your most common element, these allow you to add content to the section
  • Definitions contain a term and the meaning of that term
  • Pictures hold a single image


Once items are created they can be indented and dragged and dropped easily - This allows you to quickly restructure your work.

Editing Content

Editing content is very limited. The syntax is markup-like, but lacks a lot of the features. Much of this is intentional, the focus really is on writing. The only elements you have at your disposal are:

  • bold text
  • italic text
  • unordered lists
  • ordered lists
  • quotes
  • links
  • preformatted text

DBook relies on the table of content view to add your headings and items to add images. To me this image handling is an issue. While I would write my next book in DBook as well because of the organizational help, the fact that I have to break up my content just to add images is annoying to say the least, not to mention that for image-heavy work it breaks up the table of contents so much it msay become unwieldy. This has forced me to use a new tool for final editing and adding images.

Collaborative Workflow


The collaborative workflow is not bad but lacks some features. You can assign three statuses to any item: Draft, Review and Final. This is handy if you have an editor. You can indicate when an item is ready to go into editing and your editor can indicate with "Final" when the particular item is ready to go. Based on these statuses, DBook will tell you the completion of your project in percent.

Commenting is available via the sidebar and works like a task list. Each comment can be marked as done, in which case it will disappear and be filed under the archived comments section. This is pretty handy, but it doesn't allow you to specify exactly what section of the content the comment refers to.

Since DBook is all about creating short sections this is not necessarily an problem, but it does mean you need to be as clear as possible in your commenting. Overall, the system does have limitations, but what it does, it does well.

Additional Features

DBook has many useful tidbits. Statistics on your project (word count, character count, number of revisions), it allows you view revisions, change options for your project, download and print your document, and more.


Multiple projects can be created and managed easily, others can be invited to collaborate and share. That said, the meat of DBook is in the table of contents view and the editing workflow.

Final Verdict

In the end I love DBook, but right now I can not use it alone to complete a book. The biggest asset of DBook is the way it makes you write and organize your project. Since this is a subjective issue many people will hate it for the same reason.

If this compartmentalized writing style suits you, DBook will be a great tool for collecting your thoughts and turning a long and difficult task into bite sized chunks.

If you need a one-stop application to write a book DBook falls short, although not by much. It is an interesting direction to take an app and I'm sure they will find their niche. With some more development in the content editing (adding images) they could become a strong contender.

Overall it is nice to see an application with a clear focus. Even though this means it won't be for everybody, those who find it helpful will have a great time with it!

Now You: if you have any suggestions for editing and writing longer pieces of text do let us know in the comments.

DBook Review - Structured And collaborative writing
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DBook Review - Structured And collaborative writing
Dbook is a structured and collaborative online writing tool that has been specifically designed for large documents such as ebooks or books.

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  1. Kelsey @ Brosix said on November 7, 2014 at 8:12 am

    Thank you for sharing, Martin. :) This certainly will help aspiring book and novel authors, and I and quite a few of my friends are that (birds of the same feather…). Will give this a whirl, and I’ve already shared it! :)

  2. Pants said on October 23, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    I’ve been thinking about this for a while now (about a year… godamn I am such a lazy bastard /s) – writing large’ish projects that I can break down into smaller and smaller chunks, set up a layout and of course, when done, export etc. Of course, being me, it has to 1. be portable and 2. be offline

    Had my eye on this >> http://www.giuspen.com/cherrytree/ <> http://portableapps.com/apps/office/cherrytree-portable

    I haven’t actually tried it yet, but Martin’s post prompted me to at least grab it and get started checking it out.

    1. Pants said on October 23, 2014 at 5:36 pm

      guess I shouldn’t use greater than and less than signs, because my post dropped everything in between them *sigh*

      The bit dropped off was about the website for CherryTree – a hierarchical note taker (the downloads section has a win installers, nic versions, and a portable zip). Just grab the archive, unpack, rename the folder, run /bin/cherrytree.exe – go File>Preferences to fiddle.

      Alternatively, there is a portableapps version but this is unavailable at the moment (I assume due to their last update inadvertently removing any projects in the Cherrytree directories – yu were safe if you kept your files in say My Documents)

      1. Martin Brinkmann said on October 23, 2014 at 7:00 pm

        Sorry to hear that and thanks for reposting.

  3. Robert Palmar said on October 23, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    I have been waiting for a book from you forever, Martin.
    Of course your “day job” does take time and finding the
    time to write is the first big hurdle that must be overcome.

    I once suggested that you could write the definitive guide to being
    a webmaster called “Webmaster Secrets To Mastering The Web”.
    Whatever it is you are writing about I will be buying it for sure.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on October 23, 2014 at 4:31 pm

      I don’t think I’d write a technical book though if I’d really start to write one ;)

  4. Martin Brinkmann said on October 23, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    Just checked it out briefly. A free limited version is available and paid unrestricted versions start at $9.99 per month.

    The thing that is keeping me from using online solutions is that I prefer offline solutions. Among the reasons for that is that I have full control over the document while I don’t have that online.

    With that said, it looks like a useful service for users who don’t have these objections.

    1. Randall said on October 27, 2014 at 10:57 pm

      Dear Martin,

      thank you for your point of view. The Offline feature is definitively on our closer roadmap – many people request that in the last weeks. I like to know what do you mean with “that I have full control over the document”. When did you think you loose control?

      Best regards
      DBook –
      Structured and collaborative writing for large documents

      1. Martin Brinkmann said on October 27, 2014 at 11:14 pm

        With control I mean it being available online on a server that I have no control over ;)

    2. Daniel Pataki said on October 23, 2014 at 3:44 pm

      I actually agree with you about the offline solution, my reason is also full control. If I have something synced to my dropbox in a non-proprietary format I can manipulate it anyway I wish.

      That said, writing a book is usually a collaborative process. I would rather have an easy to collaborate version somewhere in the cloud since it makes it easier for others. This makes it a bit more difficult to back up, but since it can be downloaded in 2 formats this isn’t a huge issue.

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