If you’ve ever found it frustrating to create a beautiful book, you need to read this Vellum software review.
As authors, there’s an almost never-ending list of tasks to complete and things to track. The process of writing, releasing, and marketing a book isn't simple. And formatting your book to look just the way you want, while also meeting the technical requirements of the various ebook platforms, can be time-consuming and tedious.
There are three common options for formatting your finished novel. Some authors have the time and patience to learn the ins and outs of manual formatting. They create their books using Scrivener, MS Word or Adobe InDesign (with plenty of trial and error). Though technically savvy, I'm not the kind of person who wants to spend hours of time learning how to manually format with programs like these.
Other authors decide to outsource formatting to a specialist. Naturally, this costs quite a lot, and you're also stuck going back to the formatting service or person for every change you want to make.
Vellum offers a third option, and it feels like the right one to me. It's an easy to use, premium ebook formatting and layout tool for Mac users.
In this article, you will learn:
WARNING: Before we get into it, I want to reiterate that Vellum only works for Macs (not PCs). The creators have even gone as far as to say that they will NOT be creating a version that works for PC or iOS. However, PC users can access Vellum software through Mac in Cloud. It's basically a cloud that allows you to access a Mac and use the Vellum software–you'll be charged hourly. So, not only do you need to purchase a Vellum license, but you'll also need to pay for the hourly services as well. Then again, it's much cheaper than buying a Mac…
What Is Vellum?
Vellum is a book formatting tool from 180g, a software company founded by former Pixar employees.
Vellum’s mission is “to create beautiful books.”
By using Vellum, authors can easily create elegant books that can be quickly and simply exported to the required format.
Vellum works incredibly well for all levels of authors. I started using the software even before I hit publish on my first novel several years ago. It's not only a great tool for publishing beautiful books, but it's also useful for sending out digital copies of books to beta readers.
The software has been used by top authors for high-performing projects. For example, James Scott Bell chose Vellum for his gripping thriller Your Son Is Alive, and J.T. Ellison used it to produce the novella box set for her Taylor Jackson series.
Let me be upfront about this–Vellum isn’t cheap! However, I firmly believe you should see it as a longterm investment that saves you time rather than simply a cost to you.
Vellum is available in three options when it comes to pricing:
- Free. Vellum starts as a free download. You can get hands-on experience with the software and see what it's capable of for free. The only limitation is you can't generate copies of your book in the free version. Which is kind of the whole point! Testing whether its capabilities are right for you before investing a single cent is awesome, though.
- Vellum Ebooks. This is priced at $199.99. It allows for unlimited ebook generation, but no print editions.
- Vellum Press. This edition costs $249.99. It allows for unlimited ebook and print edition generation.
- If you decide to purchase a license to fully test out the product, you can get a refund within 30 days if you're not satisfied
If you're on the fence about spending the money, you should take the time to calculate what buying Vellum will save you in terms of time and money. How many hours would using Vellum save you? How many Fiverr formatting fees would you avoid?
To give you a tangible idea of just how much time you'll save, I've created a “How to Use Vellum to Format Your Books” video. In this video, I'll take you step-by-step through the process of importing your book into Vellum and adding front and back matter. The entire process takes less than 15 minutes.
Now that you know how much Vellum costs and the time it can save you, what are the requirements for using it?
- Mac only. If you’re a Windows user, Vellum isn’t available for you — unless you use MacinCloud.
- Certain Mac editions only. You need to have Mac Sierra, High Sierra, Mojave, or Catalina to run the latest versions of Vellum.
- MacOS only. The creators of Vellum at 180g have stated they are not looking to develop an iOS version in the foreseeable future.
If you have a compatible Mac, I’d urge you to check out the free download of Vellum. It’s awesome to play around with. Even if doesn't turn out to be quite right for you, it’s worth comparing it to your current formatting process to find out.
Vellum offers a number of intuitive formatting and style options in the following five areas:
- Ready-Made Professional Styles
- Create Box Sets for Your Books
- Add Title and Metadata
- Easily Create Print Editions
- Simple Compiling and Uploading of Your Work
Let’s take a look at each.
1. Ready-Made Professional Styles
One of the key benefits of using Vellum is being able to easily create a beautiful book that looks exactly as you intend, whether in print or digital format.
Rather than having to customize every option for your book’s style, Vellum comes with a range of ‘book styles' which you can quickly select and apply to your book. This makes it easy to choose a style that's appropriate for the tone and content of your book.
You can think of ‘book styles' as a filter for a photograph. By choosing a book style, it alters some of the aesthetic elements of a book in one fell swoop.
This is a huge timesaver.
So what exactly does a Vellum ‘book style' modify, and what are the different styles offered in Vellum? Vellum Book Styles allow you to choose an aesthetic theme for your book, which changes the following aspects:
Headings: Allows you to customize the look of chapter titles in your book.
First Paragraph: If your book makes use of a stylized first paragraph, you can change its appearance here.
Block Quotation: If your book features distinct block quotations, you can ensure their appearance is exactly as you want here.
Ornamental Break: Instead of a boring chapter break icon, you can use any image for your ornamental breaks thanks to a recent Vellum update with the custom image button below.
Paragraph After Break: Choose how you want your paragraph to appear after a break in writing.
Photograph: Impacts how visual content will show up in your book’s format.
Caption: Choose the style of captions for images in your work.
Header and Footer: Customize the visual feel of your book’s headers and footers.
Body: Alter the appearance of your book’s body text.
The ready-made styles offered by Vellum include:
Meridian: A classic and clear style, as seen below.
Trace: Clean and modern with interesting headings.
Artisanal: Interesting aesthetic with retro touches.
Kindred: An attractive and clear book layout.
Sudo: A style with very distinct headings that would work well for grittier fiction genres.
Oxford: A classic aesthetic with traditional heading styles.
Parcel: A modern book layout that feels spacious, as seen below. This is my personal favorite and the one I use for my science fiction mystery novels.
Chroma: Distinctively modern style with attractive colored headings.
Vellum does not constrain you with styles. You can still quickly and easily customize any aspect of your book’s appearance, tweaking the pre-made appearances until they meet your exact requirements.
2. Create Box Sets for Your Books
Box sets are a valuable weapon in your book marketing arsenal.
Whether you're offering several installments in your own series in one package, or teaming up with other authors to offer readers a smorgasbord of stories, box sets are often one of the most effective ways to increase your sales.
Thankfully, Vellum is designed with box sets in mind. So, which features have been included to aid with their creation?
- A special Vellum element known as a ‘volume’ represents each book in the box set. Within the ‘volume’ element, you can see the particular chapters for each book in the set.
- You can easily import existing Vellum files into the box set. You can also add books created outside of Vellum by importing them in the .docx format.
- If the books in the box set have been created by multiple authors, you can quickly and easily use Vellum to give credit where it’s due.
The settings for creating a box set in Vellum can be seen above.
Even if you don’t produce box sets at this time in your author career, you may well wish to in the future. When you do, Vellum will make it a heck of a lot easier. I can't wait to use this feature in the coming year.
3. Add Title and Author Metadata
Books are often collaborative projects.
While some solo authors take a truly DIY approach and handle everything on their own, others make use of a team to produce a book. This might include an editor, cover designer, and even a translator for the international edition.
Vellum makes it easy to create title and contributor data. This impacts both the information shown to the reader, as well as the metadata for their e-reader device.
So what does Vellum offer in terms of contributor information and metadata?
- Automation. By adding information such as the name of the author and the title of the book, Vellum automatically populates aspects such as your title page and any headers — featuring the title that your ‘book style' makes use of.
- Customization. You can define your own terms for things. For example, if you want your chapters to be referred to as ‘sections’ throughout the book, Vellum makes that easy.
- Collaboration. You can quickly and easily give credit where it’s due with Vellum. It comes equipped with the ability to add contributor roles to the metadata, such as illustrators and translators, and you can quickly and easily add different roles if you need to.
I firmly feel that as self-publishing evolves, it will become more of a collaborative field. Vellum is set up to enable you to credit your collaborators in the proper way.
4. Easily Create Print Editions
Print editions of your ebooks can be a valuable additional revenue stream. As an Indie author, I've published three books. Despite being a relatively new author, I make about 30% of my sales from print editions. Sadly, many authors overlook this opportunity due to the perceived difficulty of creating an attractive print book. That's a major misconception.
If you've watched my “How to Use Vellum to Format Your Books” video included above, it takes less than 15 minutes to format the interior of a print book. If you're not doing print versions of your ebooks, you're leaving money on the table.
If you purchase a Vellum Press license, you can use Vellum to format print editions of your book.
So what does Vellum offer when it comes to print?
- Easily adjust your trim size, font size, and line spacing, to ensure your book is optimized for the printed page. Trim sizes include popular sizes such as 5×8 and 6×9, international sizes, mass-market sizes, and large print books
- Adjust your headers and footers for the print edition.
- Preview and export your print edition in the correct format to easily upload to a print-on-demand service.
The above image shows Vellum's print book capabilities in action, including its clear and useful preview.
The cost of a Vellum license for creating unlimited print books is $50 more than if you opt to create ebooks alone. However, you can probably recoup this cost in terms of the money saved on a professional formatting service, or the hours you'd spend doing it yourself.
5. Simple Compiling and Uploading of Your Work
Vellum calls the export process ‘generating.' This is the stage where you export your design outside of Vellum, into the format required to upload to a particular platform.
Vellum is a free download initially, but the ability to generate books is only available with a purchased license.
So what does Vellum bring to the table in terms of generating your books?
- Store requirements. Different ebook stores have different formatting requirements. If you’ve ever tried to meet these manually, you’ll know just how frustrating it can be. In Vellum, you can easily check a box for every store you’ll be uploading to. Vellum then generates separate folders containing everything needed to upload your book to that store in particular.
- Proofing. Vellum has a dedicated proof mode allowing you to double-check exactly how your book will look for users of each particular ebook platform.
- Epub generation. When you use an aggregator like Draft2Digital or Smashwords, you’ll need a generic epub file. Vellum makes it quick and easy to generate a standardized epub without any particular ebook store’s requirements.
It’s a truly nice touch that Vellum allows you to easily generate books that will work well for users of particular ebook stores. This is a big efficiency booster and timesaver compared to the frustration of manually trying to meet each store’s requirements.
Of course, nothing is perfect, including Vellum! So what didn't I like about it?
The premium price point might be off-putting for authors who can't afford to make the initial investment, but the time savings alone would justify biting the bullet on this one. However, I'm not sure there should be separate price points for ebooks and print books. If you watched my video, the software formats an ebook and print book at exactly the same time. I get that if you also offer a print version of your book, you can recoup the additional cost by selling a few copies. However, it's not like the cost of formatting for print is higher than that of ebooks. So why charge the customer more?
The biggest complaint I hear from my fellow authors is that there is no Windows version of Vellum. And there's not even the possibility of hoping for a Windows version in the future — 180g has decided not to do the work. A lot of authors won't be a fan of that.
For me personally, the biggest downside is the limited customization and control. As independent authors, it's no secret that we like having control over our author businesses and brands. Despite its speed and elegance, Vellum only offers eight ‘book styles,' which means the books produced by Vellum users will look mostly the same. There's some ability to customize within styles, but at the end of the day, you're stuck with rather limited formatting options and fonts. Would I trade endless hours of my time tweaking things for unlimited possibilities? Probably not. But that's why I'm a Vellum user.
There are a few other downsides worth mentioning for non-fiction authors. Vellum imports footnotes by converting them to endnotes. That means there is no option to do footnotes. If you're fine with endnotes, it's nothing to lose sleep over. There are also some significant limitations for inserting images into text. I'm planning to create a non-fiction book with many different types of images and need to have greater control over the format. As a result, I will probably use Adobe InDesign for that project.
Overall, Vellum is a premium product that will save authors a ton of time and frustration. It's a turnkey solution that exhibits amazing speed and elegance.
I love the fact that real authors of all types use Vellum for their work. I am a huge fan of the fact that Vellum is updated regularly and new features are added and improved upon to respond to user demand.
The premium price point and lack of Windows compatibility will continue to be a sticking point for some. However, I truly feel that Vellum is an investment that will save authors time and money over the long run.
Have you used Vellum? Do you prefer another option for your ebook formatting and exporting process?
I’d love to hear from you guys in the comments!