Writing a book is hard. If you’ve never tried, just take my word for it. And if you already have one or more books under your belt, I have endless respect for you.
And while writing is certainly the hardest part, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows once you have the story down. You still have to get your book out into the world by formatting it. Which, if you don’t know what you’re doing, can be just as difficult as the writing (if not more so).
This is what I want to discuss today. Namely, the book formatting tool Vellum. So let’s get started!
Just want the lowdown? Here’s my takeaway from this Vellum review:
- Vellum makes really pretty books
- The free trial lasts as long as you want, as long as you don’t export your book
- A few good book styles
- Easy to make box sets
- Future updates are free
- Not available on PC, iOS, or Android! (this is a huge one)
- Extremely expensive! (also a huge one)
- Separate price points for both ebooks and print books
- Only imports Word files and not EPUBs, MOBIs, etc.
- Not meant for word processing (aka writing a book in Vellum)
- Images are a huge hassel
- There are no footnote capabilities
The Bottom Line: Vellum is an expensive but good option for formatting your self-published books — if you have a Mac. There is a workaround using MacInCloud if you have a PC, but it’s generally more of a hassle. The free trial is handy for getting to know the Vellum software, but there are comparable and cheaper options available (namely Atticus).
What is Vellum?
Vellum is a kind of fancy paper you can buy at arts and crafts stores. Oops! Wrong Vellum. 😉 The Vellum we’ll be talking about today is a book formatting software for use on Mac operating systems.
Created by a company founded by former Pixar employees, the goal of this formatting software is to create beautiful and professional print and eBooks. Some people also use it as a word processor, but this takes some getting used to, as it’s not really what the software is designed for.
Lots of authors swear by Vellum, and with good reason. It does create some amazing eBook and print book files that you can use to get your book out into the world! And until recently (at the time of this writing), there wasn’t a comparable software on the market. But now there is. More on that later. First, let’s talk about how you can use Vellum, and how much it costs.
Vellum System Requirements
As mentioned above, Vellum is designed only for use on Mac operating systems. The creators have said that they don’t plan on making Vellum for PC or iOS. This means you can’t use it on your iPad or Windows PC.
If you do have a Mac, you’ll need the latest version of the operating system for optimum function. And you’ll also need at least 60MB of free space for the software. Every book you format will take up more space.
How Much Does the Vellum Software Cost?
Vellum offers a free trial, allowing you to use all the features except exporting. If you want to export your formatted book, you’ll have to pay. They have two price tiers:
- Vellum Ebooks – This version is $199.99. It’s a one-time fee that allows you to export unlimited eBooks, but no print books.
- Vellum Press – This version is $249.99. It’s also a one-time fee, allowing you to export unlimited print and eBooks.
It’s cool that they allow you to use it before paying! The full-featured free trial is great for those who aren’t sure about the software or are new to self-publishing and formatting.
Unfortunately, if you buy Vellum eBooks first and then want to upgrade later to do print books, you’ll end up paying an additional $99 for the pleasure, costing you nearly $300 instead of the $249.99 you would pay for Vellum Press upfront. Keep this in mind if you decide you want to purchase the software.
That said, they do have a 30-day money-back guarantee if you’re not satisfied after buying either plan.
This formatting software is known for a few major features that make manuscript transformation easy. Let’s take a look at them now.
The only file type you can import with Vellum is the Microsoft Word .docx type. Since this is the standard for manuscripts, it’s no surprise. The nice thing is that Vellum automatically formats your chapters based on headings from your MS Word document. It also generates a table of contents so you don’t have to.
Sometimes the formatting can be a little wonky, but it’s easy to fix using Vellum’s “Convert To” feature. Like any other formatting tool, you’ll want to ensure that everything looks good before you export your files.
Choose Your Book Style
Vellum is a time-saver, which is a major reason people like it so much. Whether you’re formatting for print or eBook, you’re likely to find a book style that works for you among Vellum’s eight ready-made choices.
When you select one of these eight styles, Vellum automatically changes certain aspects of your manuscript to make it into a beautiful book. Some of these aspects include:
- Body Text
- Ornamental Breaks
- Paragraphs After Breaks
- Chapter Headings
- Section Headings
- Block Quotes
- First Paragraphs
- Headers and Footers
What if you’re not liking any of the eight book styles Vellum offers? No problem! You can also dive deep and customize pretty much everything mentioned in the section above. You can’t really start from scratch, but you can use one of the pre-made styles as a place to start, going through and changing the things you want to.
For example, you can choose from ornamental breaks that Vellum provides, or you can upload your own. You can insert pictures into your book as well.
If you want to customize your book, you’ll have a little bit of a learning curve to tackle. Luckily, there are plenty of free Vellum tutorials available online.
Preview Your Book
Once you’ve got your book just the way you want it, you can see how it will look on a variety of different devices before exporting.
You can see how the print version will look, as well as the eBook version on a number of different e-readers, including Kindles, Android tablets, iPhones, and iPads. This is especially helpful for those who haven’t yet bought Vellum. It reduces the risk that you’ll be disappointed with your final product once it’s exported!
Interior Layout Design
While Vellum makes it easy to (almost) seamlessly transform your manuscript into a book file, you’ll still need to pay attention to a few layout factors. These factors include:
- Line Spacing
- Drop Caps
- Ornamental Breaks
- The Layout of Charts, Tables, and Pictures
- Paragraph Starts After Section Breaks
Again, this will probably involve some learning if you’re new to book formatting, but this is the same with almost every formatting software. And if you’re doing both formats, you’ll want to check with the print edition and the eBook format to make sure they’re both optimized and error free in terms of design and layout.
Creating Box Sets
Writing in series is one of the best ways to become a full-time indie author these days. In fact, some say it’s the only way. And when you write in a series, you’ll eventually want to offer a box set to your readers. Thankfully, creating a box set is (somewhat) easy with Vellum.
The “Volume” feature in Vellum allows you to separate each book in a box set, making it easier for both you and the readers to see where each book ends and the next begins.
You can easily add an already formatted book from Vellum to a box set, or you can import a DOCX manuscript and format it to your liking.
Plus, if you do an anthology box set with other authors, it’s pretty easy to assign each book its own metadata, like author name, editor, copyright, etc.
Exporting Your Books
With your book formatted and ready to go, the last thing you’ll need to do is export the files! Let’s talk about the eBook and print book generators.
If you’re planning on “going wide,” meaning publishing on platforms other than Kindle Direct Publishing, you’ll need eBook files for the different platforms. Vellum makes this easy, allowing you to check boxes for the most popular eBook sales platforms out there:
They also give you the option to generate a generic EPUB version of your book, which is ideal for use with aggregators like Draft2Digital or PublishDrive. Pretty convenient!
Print Book Generation
Print book formatting is a bit more involved than eBook formatting. You’ll need to do some research on the trim size of your book, font size, and line spacing. You’ll also need to figure out headers and footers.
You can preview what your print book will look like, but you’ll always want to get a print proof copy to make sure everything looks good (most print-on-demand services do this for the cost of printing and shipping).
This is in addition to having a print cover made, which is a whole other topic!
Remember: You’ll need separate ISBN numbers for your print edition and your eBook edition.
While Vellum is a good formatting option, there are some limitations to keep in mind — especially when there are other options available these days.
No Windows Version
I mentioned this above, but it bears repeating. Those folks out there who don’t own a Mac (there are a lot) will have a hard time using Vellum. They can “rent” a Mac remotely using a service like MacInCloud, but this is usually more of a hassle than it’s worth. And it costs more money on top of the expensive Vellum software.
Not Ideal for Editing
Vellum isn’t ideal for editing your manuscript. It’s definitely not a word processor. That’s not to say that you can’t edit your book while it’s in Vellum — you can. But things you take for granted in MS Word or your writing software of choice won’t necessarily work in Vellum. It’s best to have your book fully edited before importing it to Vellum.
While it’s true you can customize your book within Vellum, it’s not really possible to do full customization. You’re hampered a bit by the eight book style choices. So if you’re an author that wants to customize every aspect of the book, Vellum isn’t the best option for you.
If we compare the cost of hiring a professional formatter to the cost of Vellum, it’s clear that Vellum is the much cheaper option. And for a while, those were the two best options unless you already had some design skills. But these days, there are other options on the market that do as much or more than Vellum for much cheaper.
On that note, let’s talk about some Vellum alternatives.
If Vellum sounds good but the idea of going out and buying a Mac isn’t appealing, you do have some other book formatting options. The two best are Atticus and Adobe InDesign.
Atticus is an easy-to-use all-in-one writing, editing, and book formatting tool. It’s available as an app and via your browser. And best of all, you can use it on Mac, PC, Linux, and even Chromebook. As a book formatting software alone, it has more options than Vellum. Atticus has almost twice as many pre-made book styles as Vellum. Plus, you can fully customize just about everything to create a wholly unique style to use over and again!
Like Vellum, it has a preview option to let you see how your book will look in print and on various devices. It’s also a powerful word processor, complete with a built-in timer and word count goal-setting capabilities.
Whether you want to make a beautiful eBook or an amazing print book, you don’t have to worry about different price tiers. Atticus is available for a one-time payment of $147 — for unlimited print and eBook formatting. I highly recommend this tool if you’re looking for a great book formatting software. Here is a quick comparison table of the two side by side.
|H2 - H6 Headings||Atticus|
|Volumes and Parts||Tie|
|Pricing||$199 for ebook|
$249 for ebook and paperback
|$147 for ebook and paperback||Atticus|
|Chapter Theme Generator||Tie|
|Ease of Use||Tie|
|Check it Out!||Check it Out!|
(You can also check out my Atticus vs Vellum review for more info!)
Okay, sorry for nerding out there for a minute. I’m back.
If you have some design skills already, or you want to learn some, then this is a viable option for book formatting. It’s a general design software, so you’ll have a bit of a learning curve if you’ve never used it before.
Unlike Vellum or Atticus, this software is only available as a monthly subscription. It’s $20.99 a month for just the InDesign app or $52.99 a month for the entire Adobe Creative Cloud suite of tools.
Free Book Formatting: Kindle Create
If you’re really strapped for cash, you can give the free Kindle Create app a try. This is an option provided by Amazon, but it’s low on features and can be confusing to use for the first time. And you’ll still need to use another formatter to create other files if you’re publishing wide, as Kindle Create only exports KPF files.
Still, this is an option if you don’t have the budget for one of the other tools on this list!
Vellum Review: Final Thoughts
There’s no doubt about it: Vellum is a great way to format books. It has a well-deserved reputation among professional authors. It’s easy to use, provides some customization options, and does much of the work automatically so you don’t have to.
But there are some drawbacks. The biggest being it’s only available on Mac. For a while, it was the go-to option for book formatting, but that’s no longer the case. With Atticus, there’s a more powerful and cheaper alternative to Vellum on the scene.
But unlike Vellum, Atticus doesn’t have a free trial (unless you count the 30-day money-back guarantee). So if you have a Mac and you want to give Vellum a shot, I say go for it! If not, you can always check out Atticus or get to learning Adobe InDesign.