Hello all! This post is for those who are interested in the publishing process – maybe because you’re curious, maybe because you’re looking to publish. Either way, I hope it’s informative. The next post will be back to stuff about my books. Happy reading!
Vellum. For those independent authors out there, you’ve probably heard about this software. Maybe you even own it, but aren’t sure if the upgrade is something you need or even want. I’m going to take you through some of the benefits of the software and my reasoning for my own upgrade.
(Do you have Vellum already and really want to know about the new paperback feature? Go right to that section here!)
To start, I’ll mention briefly what Vellum is. Vellum is software that takes your manuscript and turns it into a well-formatted ebook for various vendors. It can read most text formats and convert them. Once converted, Vellum allows you to export your book into one of the formats supported by the top five ebook vendors (this includes the generic epub version).
When reading about Vellum, I often hear, “Why do I need this if I can make my own ebook without it? Vellum for Ebooks is $200. Not to mention it’s Mac exclusive. I hate Macs.”
I’m going to tackle the Mac question in a second, but first I’ll tell you why I decided to purchase Vellum even though, yes, I was able to make my own ebooks without it.
Let’s just say you aren’t interested in the attractive formatting options Vellum provides. You can see a number of their clean, pleasant formatting options on Vellum’s splash page, so I won’t show any examples here. I will say, achieving these effects on your own without something like Vellum takes a lot of time. There are good arguments for why attractive formatting isn’t essential – mainly, most people don’t really care about it. If your book is good, the formatting doesn’t matter. If your book is bad, the formatting doesn’t matter. So, let’s say you’re only interested in Vellum’s functionality as an ebook creation tool. $200 sounds like a lot for just that when you can do it for free.
The problem with that argument, for me in any case, is my time is worth something. Any time I spend struggling with formatting my ebook is time I can’t be writing. Every writer knows you have to keep producing content or your sales will drop off. I’m fairly technically competent. I know how to do some basic programming in C++ and used to train people how to use software and hardware. So when I say making an ebook is time consuming, I’m coming from the standpoint of someone who doesn’t have trouble understanding how to make an ebook. Some people are starting from a place where formatting for an ebook is hard because they haven’t been trained how to do it.
Not only is formatting for an ebook time consuming, every vendor has their own quirks and requirements for their formatting. This means you’ll need to make separate copies of each book for each major vendor you want to upload to. This is a pain twice over. Since you have to maintain all these different versions of the book, anytime you update your book you need to remember to update every single version. Do you write really clean prose with no errors so this isn’t a problem for you? Then you might consider how nice it would be to be able to change things like the “Also by” section in the back of your book easily.
Vellum makes all of this a snap. You can have one copy of your ebook and Vellum will take care of generating all the copies for all the vendors every time you make a change to your book. I’ve uploaded books from Vellum to all the major vendors and never had them reject them for formatting issues. I haven’t been so lucky without Vellum, particularly when I tried to get into Smashword’s Premium catalog. I must have stripped every shred of formatting from my book trying to get it right for Smashwords. Every time they found something wrong. When I finally purchased Vellum, I imported that same book and exported it as an epub. It was accepted into the Premium Catalog within 48 hours.
Making the ebook is super simple and intuitive. If you use Word to write your book, for example, when you import it to Vellum, it automatically creates the chapters, the title page and the table of contents. Vellum calls special sections of a book elements. An “element” in Vellum is a distinct section of the book: a copyright page, a dedication, an author bio. Adding things like copyright pages or About the Author is as easy as picking it from a menu of elements. There are tons of nice features in Vellum that make it easy to generate copies of your ebooks without fussing. Say you want to link to your other books from your “Also by” page. Since Barnes & Noble will reject your book if it has an Amazon link in it, you’d have to make sure each copy of your ebook had the proper links. In Vellum, you can create something called a “Store link” which will automatically choose the right link based on what version of the ebook you generate. So mobi files will only have links to Amazon, and your Barnes & Noble epub will only link to Barnes & Noble copies.
Some of you might be saying, “That’s great and all. But I’m Amazon exclusive for all my books. I don’t need this.”
Granted, there is less argument for Amazon exclusive authors to pick up Vellum. But most of my books are Amazon exclusive at the moment. I’d still buy Vellum again, even if all my books were Amazon exclusive. The time saving is that valuable to me. It used to take me an hour at best, several at worst, to create a simple ebook with all the elements I wanted to have. Testing it in Calibre to make sure it looked right. Adjusting it when it didn’t. Testing again. Realizing my About the Author displayed funny. Adjusting again.
Vellum took all of this and streamlined it for me. I can create a beautiful ebook in fifteen minutes, from start to uploading on Amazon. Vellum allows me to real time preview what the book will look like on both a Paperwhite and a Fire. If I want to make sure my Call To Action displays all on one screen on both devices, that’s easy with Vellum. I’ve more than paid off my investment in Vellum in time saved. Additionally, Amazon exclusive authors will find a lot more to love about Vellum Press which I talk more about below.
So what, you might say. I hate Macs. I’m never going to use this.
Yeah. If I’m completely honest, I’m right there with you. I wish this were on PC. Being Mac only was the biggest hurdle. I’m not going to get into a lengthy discussion of Mac vs PC. I’m still a PC, but after being forced to use Mac in order to have access to Vellum, I’m less vehemently against Mac. I’d say this is the power of Vellum, but I think the truth is, Mac has tried very hard over the years to become as much like PC as they can to soften the learning curve of switching. There are still some quirks about Macs that drive me nuts, (loathe the lack of a backspace key) but you don’t have to be an expert Mac user to use Vellum. Even if they did have a PC version, I’d wager it’d work on PC almost identical to how it works on Mac. If you can use Windows, you’d be able to work with Vellum.
You don’t have to own a Mac to use Vellum either. You can use MacinCloud. MacinCloud basically allows you to rent a Mac online. I tried it out and it works fairly well. It’s like any remote desktop, though, and can be a little laggy. If that’s something that would bother you (Like me. I’m fussy when it comes to computer responsiveness) then any simple Mac would do. You don’t have to get fancy. Vellum isn’t Photoshop. I run it on an old Mac Book I picked up used and it works just fine. In addition, if you do want to put your books on the iStore, getting a Mac makes that much easier. I don’t even know if it’s possible to upload your books without a Mac or a MacinCloud account. I couldn’t find a way to do it from PC, but it might be out there.
Would I buy Vellum again if it came out on PC? In a heartbeat. I work primarily on PC and my time with a Mac hasn’t convinced me to switch. I’ve been on PC too long. I type very fast – having to learn the new keyboard shortcuts alone would be frustrating and time consuming. The funny way Mac deletes would cause me no end of stress whenever I slipped back into a PC way of typing. Because of this I still write on my PC, which means I need to switch back and forth between the Mac and the PC when I’m ready to make my ebooks. Having everything on one machine would streamline things just that little bit more.
Okay, so you know what Vellum is now and why I recommend it. Or maybe you already have Vellum and you’re not sure you want to upgrade yet. Here I’ll talk about Vellum Press, it’s features, how it’s improved my workflow even more, and why I think it’s a good investment.
Vellum Press does all the things that Vellum Ebooks does. It also makes paperbacks. Even Amazon exclusive authors should find a lot to like about that.
If you don’t already know, Amazon makes it pretty easy to add a paperback to your listing. All you need to do is provide the properly formatted pdf and away you go. You don’t even need a full cover, because Amazon has a nifty cover creator that will help you snap something together that looks fairly nice. You can even use your ebook cover for the front. I’ve done that and it doesn’t turn out bad. CreateSpace works very similarly, which makes sense since Amazon bought them up and is probably just using the same software. Getting your book uploaded for sale is the easy bit. The harder part is getting your manuscript formatted correctly.
Getting everything right in Word can be tricky. If you know how to use InDesign, you’re one step ahead of most and maybe this isn’t something you need. I don’t use InDesign, so I can’t say how quickly you can make a paperback from it. I can speak about formatting for paperback in Word. It’s time consuming and even small things can mess you up.
An example: I wasn’t really interested in trial and erroring my way to a professional looking paperback. I went out and found a template for sale. The examples looked attractive so I bought it. It wasn’t cheap. It cost $130 for unlimited uses of the template. I picked one that was thematically bland so it would fit with any genre I planned to print. They had chosen the fonts for the book to make it look aesthetically pleasing. They did a good job, but because they had to use open license fonts, a couple issues arose. One was they used an Open Type Font, or OTF instead of True Type Font, TTF. When I was finally ready to print to PDF, Adobe threw an error. One of my fonts wasn’t allowed. It took me a while to figure out what went wrong. Adobe doesn’t play as nicely with OTFs. Now, I knew I could convert an OTF to a TTF. But I also know this would be an issue that would stymie an awful lot of people who aren’t familiar with these types of problems.
Another example: A lot of people would assume buying a paperback template would make things faster. The problem is, there are a number of things that can “break” a template, ruining the careful balance of margins and spacing that the creator has so the book will print correctly. I don’t type in the template. I use the basic “No Space” formatting in Word because I like to see more of the text at once. If I typed in the template I’d see very little of the current page I was working on. Because of this, I need to copy and paste my text into the template. I don’t think my scenario is uncommon because the place I bought my template from has a video showing you exactly how to do just this. In fact, they claim it’s very simple.
In truth, it’s much trickier than that. Do you have italics? They might be lost when you paste and reset the formatting to that of the template. Did you have page breaks or sections breaks? These carry over your original margins, and will change the whole template’s margins. It’s a time consuming process that’s easily muddied by small errors that take yet more time to troubleshoot.
Finally, you can’t necessarily just turn this paperback version into an ebook. I used to use Calibre to make my ebooks. It was as simple as it got before Vellum. Calibre is a nice product, but because it’s only programmed by a single person, it takes a while to fix bugs and add customization. In addition, even though the template I purchased claimed it was easy to turn the paperback version into an ebook, I found all kinds of formatting errors when I did. Italics didn’t transfer over for reasons too complicated for me to go into here. Seriously, you’d fall asleep if you haven’t already.
Why is that important? Well, you run into the issue of having to maintain two copies of your work, even if you’re Amazon exclusive. When you’re independently published, your time is even more precious. Every aspect of your work that you can streamline, should be. Vellum helps with that.
What does Vellum Press do?
The add on for paperbacks is fairly straightforward to use. In addition to some control over the look and feel of your paperback, you can also preview what it will look like in print, create print only elements, add a table of contents with page numbers, and change the size of your book.
Here are some of the specific features I like best.
Print or ebook only elements – One of the things I was worried about was being able to have elements like the one picture below without having them show up in my paperback. Vellum provides a simple way to denote something is only for print or vice versa.
Formatting flexibility – One of the things that worried me was whether or not Vellum print books would all look like every thesis I’ve ever seen: everything Times New Roman 12 pt, 8.5 x 11, numbered in the corner blah. Vellum has limited flexibility, but it’s just enough to give your book your own personal flair. There are several fonts you can choose from that are all suitable for the text block of a paperback. You can choose to number your pages at the bottom, or the top, have your title in the middle of each page or on the right. You can have all chapters start on the right side of the book if you like, and you can change the font size. You can pick from a variety of book sizes.
A lot of these features are especially important if you write longer books. It can be difficult to price a longer paperback in such a way that you still earn some royalty while not making the book overpriced compared to other mass market paperbacks. My fantasies usually come in near 100K words. Even pricing my paperbacks at $11.99 I was only nabbing a buck and change in royalties for each copy sold. I was able to fine tune my books in Vellum to get that number over $2 without upping the price at all, and hopefully not giving an inferior reading experience. Being able to see the proof in real time is extremely convenient if you’re attempting a similar experiment.
Box Sets or Collections of Books – I didn’t mention this in the Vellum Ebook review, but Vellum makes creating a set of books convenient. For making a paperback version of that set, Vellum is far superior to anything else I’ve tried, save sending it to a professional printer to have a box set designed. As I mentioned above, my books are longer than some, so getting three into a single book was difficult. It needed to be under 830 pages. With Vellum, it was much easier to accomplish this. A simple font change dropped 30 pages off the book. A slight adjustment on font size got me just under the limit. And I could still check the way the book would look with the preview in Vellum.
Once you’ve got your paperback, it loads into Amazon or CreateSpace without any errors. Keep in mind, it doesn’t make your cover for you, so you’ll still have to do that.
So what does the final product look like? Does it look professional?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer, it probably doesn’t look as distinct as J.K. Rowling’s latest work, but if that’s really what you’re after, I don’t think it’s impossible with Vellum, either. Vellum allows to add images and use them as section breaks, for instance, an easy way to make your book a little more personalized.
Other than that, the book looks every bit as professional as the template I purchased for $130. The text is a little more cramped, but the formatting is just what I’d expect from a paperback. If you’re anything like me, you sell a vast majority of your books as ebooks. I sell paperbacks, but not that many. I want to hit the sweet spot between time and effort on my part, and satisfaction of my readers. I could spend a ton of money having a professional format my book to make it look every bit as personalized as a big time author, but I just don’t sell enough physical copies to make that sensible. Using Vellum, I get a nice, clean copy with minimal stress.
Overall I’d highly recommend Vellum to anyone who is independently publishing their work. It’s a real time saver. I’ve talked a lot about the positives but I haven’t really mentioned anything negative. There’s one pretty big downside to Vellum from authors I’ve talked to. If you write non-fiction with a lot of citations, Vellum can be difficult to deal with. The way it handles footnotes and end-notes is not sufficient for those authors.
I personally feel the addition of format specific elements would be a nice feature. I have some books on Barnes & Noble, but not everything I write is there. Upsells, like the one to the right, I’d like to be able to include in the Mobi version of this book. Currently what I have to do is generate my Mobi version, then delete this element, then generate my other versions. Since Vellum already has coded their product to have print only and ebook only elements, it’s possible this might be a feature in an update. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
I’d also like it if the generic “element” came in a couple varieties of formatting. The generic element formatting looks like the one on the right, which is a centered title with a blank gap then a place for editing. That image of my book is as high on the page as I’m allowed to place it. If there was a generic element that was the whole page, this would make the elements that much more flexible.
A final tip for any Vellum users: If you have a lot of elements like the one on the right that you swap out frequently, keep a “book” saved in Vellum called Ads or CTAs – something so you know it’s not a book you’re going to publish. In it you can keep all your ads for swapping in and out of other books. I have various elements saved this way, including previews to books, links to box sets and calls for ARC readers. Vellum makes it easy for me to mix and match these. It’s especially nice for when I’m doing a book launch and I’m trying to get some advance momentum going using my back catalog.
I hope you found this information helpful in making your decision to buy or upgrade Vellum. Thanks for reading! Next time I’ll have some more news about my upcoming releases.
Copyright 2018 M.M. Perry
Hey, really enjoyed your article! Very informative and thorough. I’m definitely going to look into getting a Mac and Vellum, esp. after reading this. But I’m curious–you mentioned not needing a separate paperback cover for your books b/c Amazon did a fairly good job. What about other retailers? And what do you do for the spine and back cover? Inquiring minds want to know! 🙂
Sorry it took so long to reply to you that you had to email to get my attention. 🙂 I get so many spam comments, I don’t check this as frequently as I should. I’m going to invest in an autofilter so I get an email alert when a real comment comes my way.
I answered Ilana in an email, but for anyone else interested in this question, I wanted to say I’ll be posting an updated version of this review soon that will include a recording of the process from Word document to Vellum paperback and ebook. I’ll also show the cover creator for Amazon and CreateSpace in that video to illustrate exactly what I mean about not needing a separate paperback cover. Essentially, Amazon allows you to edit the spine and back cover text. If you use a cover that has an image with dark edges, for instance, you can pick a color close to that of your border and it will blend fairly well. I use black with most of mine that are done this way. Stay tuned and I’ll be uploading that video soon.
Great article. I’m considering investing in Vellum and this answered ALL of my questions. I completely agree that the time saving factor is a huge part of justifying a new software purchase. I’m hoping that, just like Scrivener revolutionized the way I write and edit (from MS Word), Vellum will be an improvement on my basic level InDesign/Calibre skills. Thank you!
I’m glad you found it useful! Thanks for the comment!
Good review. I’m also planning to buy it, but there are huge drawbacks for me:
1st – I’m a non-fiction writer, and not being able to add footnotes for Print and endnotes for Kindle is terrible. Amazon’s Kindle Create does that for free.
2nd – I also don’t like how everything is so “fixed”. I can’t seem to add a double enter and have a bigger than normal space in-between two lines. Vellum has a pretty much fixed up template that one can’t change that much (example: I can’t change the font of a page on a specific part. I can only change the font size of the whole document.)
Kindle Create, which is a free software, allows one to do all these above points and more with ease. The problem for with it, is its lack of hyperlink edition and how terrible it is with images. Vellum is amazing in both these categories. I’d love to either have Vellum with such capabilities (shouldn’t be that hard to implement), or Kindle Create with an in-program tool to add or edit links /add images.
Not sure either of them will hear me out.
In a group I’m in on Facebook, your first point was brought up by a lot of authors. It’s definitely a weak spot for Vellum.
I haven’t tried Kindle Create, but it sounds like something I might like to check out. I’m always on the lookout for things that make my job easier.
Related (somewhat) to your comment about what Vellum might hear, in the short time I’ve had Vellum – 6 months – there have been a number of updates that have added small but significant functional updates. Some of the changes are so specific, it’s hard to believe they came up with them without some input from authors. When I used to work in a library, the catalog system we used had a forum for feature voting. All the libraries who licensed the catalog were allowed to vote on features they’d like included in the updates and the highest vote getters were prioritized by the development team. While Vellum doesn’t have this, I suspect they have something similar in an unofficial capacity based on their updates. They probably get a lot of suggestions from authors, and the ones they hear the most/are the easiest to implement quickly probably get priority. They have a FB page : https://www.facebook.com/vellum180g/ and I’ve seen them answer questions there, but I’ve also heard they are very responsive to email. You might have already done so, but let them know what you’d like. Maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised. 🙂
I’m trying Vellum and loving it. But I haven’t figured out one issue yet. When I make a paperback PDF file and import it into CreateSpace, the Table of Contents is always wrong. I’m doing a short book (160 pages, 5″x8″), and the print proof has a table of contents that is WAY off, to the point where it’s unusable. (For example, Chapter Six, according to the TOC, begins on page 55. But in the actual proof, it begins on page 80-something.) Is there a fix for this?
Sorry it took so long to respond to this. I’m not sure, since I haven’t used CreateSpace for my paperbacks, if there’s some specific issue with the ToC or if it might have something to do with some option in the paperback creation part. I’d contact Vellum directly with this issue, since they’d be more familiar with any quirks like this. https://help.vellum.pub/contact/
I don’t want to get into a vs. discussion about it and I am one of the first to say that Macs aren’t for everyone, but I find it interesting that the gripe you mention it the supposed lack of a backspace button when the delete key is in the same place and does the same thing so essentially it is only different in name… Does the name printed on the key really mean that much to you? Again, I don’t mind people that dislike Macs, to each his own. Just thought it was strange that the delete key is your problem. The main quirk I had to retrain myself and everyone else who uses my computer on is that closing a window doesn’t quit an application. But now having gotten used to it over the years I rather like that.
Anyways, good review about Vellum, I’m interested in it. To ask you a question more related to the post, one of the reasons I hire an ebook formatter is that I know this formatter will make an ebook file clean of junk code. Do you know anything about the guys of Vellum ebook files in that regard?
Mac “delete” key first – that was one example of many issues I have with Macs and re-learning the interface I’ve grown used to over a lifetime. Just to be clear, it isn’t my only issue with Macs, but since I wasn’t interested in the PC/MAC argument, I just put a minor annoyance I had down as an example. The whole point of that section is not to attack Macs or people who prefer them; I wanted to illustrate that I am not a Mac user, and in fact dislike them for my daily use, yet I still think this Mac exclusive software is worth getting ( I thought it would go a long way as an argument for PC-based writers hesitant to get into a Mac 🙂 ). But yes, if we want to get into the nitty gritty of why this type of thing frustrates me – backspace goes left, delete goes right. I have both buttons on all my PC keyboards, have always had both so I grew used to being able to use both, and use both frequently as I edit. I’m used to it. I’m not used to not having it. That’s all this is.
As to your second question, the junk code – if you’re referring to the auto-generated stuff like what Word does, I don’t think Vellum does that. I’m not sure anyone can create markup as ugly as Word, so it’s not a very high bar, but Vellum only makes ebooks. It doesn’t have to worry about formatting for anything but ebook readers. Smashwords premium catalog, which has some of the most finicky standards when it comes to ebook formatting, takes the Vellum created generic epub every time without a hitch. I tried several other ways to upload epubs to Smashwords for premium catalog status, including using Calibre and marking up a file by hand, and still Smashwords kicked back the file and said it had issues. Vellum is clearly working hard to make sure that their ebooks are acceptable by all the vendors – which makes sense since it’s all the software does. That being said, at some point tomorrow I’ll get a look into the HTML markup on a mobi and an epub for a Vellum created file, and post the screen shots so there’s a good example of what it looks like under the hood.
I sent a Vellum created epub over to my web developer as he’s far more up to date on HTML and CSS than I am. The markup portion of epub/mobi is a subset of HTML/XHTML and CSS, so I figured his input might be helpful. He perused it for a few minutes and gave me his feedback on the quality of the generated code. He says that the Vellum markup looks like “Bootstrap for ebooks” – for others who might be reading this, Bootstrap is a framework for controlling web page layout that my developer uses. Here are his comments:
Hope this helps. 🙂
Can I create a hardback with Vellum
Vellum creates a PDF of a book’s text block – which would be what most places that print books would need, whether paperback or hardback. Vellum doesn’t handle the cover aspect of book printing. I’m not sure of the specifics for things like gutter size, margin spacing and the like with hardbacks, but Vellum is fairly flexible in adjusting these types of things. If you’re looking into having hardbacks printed with a company, I would ask them specifically what they need. It’s very possible the file Vellum creates for the 6×9 paperback could work with a hardback as well.
From my time bookbinding when I was still in undergrad – just in case this is what you might have been asking – I could hand make a hardback with the file Vellum produces and it would look very nice. But that would be a hand made thing, so there’s a lot more room for adjustment.