Formatting your book with Vellum: Why I love it and why haters gotta stop hating.

taken from vellum.pub

Vellum is expensive–$250.00 for unlimited ebook and paperback capability–and I never recommend it because I’m sensitive to people not being able to afford it. Also, it only runs on a Mac and if you don’t want to pay to use MacinCloud on a PC, Vellum won’t be an option for you anyway.

But for those authors who can afford it, or hire a formatter who uses it, it can be a wonderful software that can generate book files in just a couple of hours. (Some authors say minutes, but I’ve found it can take a little longer than that–especially if you have to create the front and back matter from scratch.) I’ve formatted all my books with Vellum–even backlist titles got a facelift when my fiancé purchased a Mac and Vellum for me.

It’s amazing, and I absolutely have no argument with it.

But some authors do. They say they are disappointed in the limited capabilities and I’ve heard the familiar refrain a few times. Enough to make me mad. I take offense when someone feels the need to nitpick this software. Brad West and Brad Andalman did the indie community a huge service designing this software and continually updating it and adding new features. Still, this isn’t enough for some authors.

When I’m feeling particularly spunky, I’ll challenge them with this: a reader might appreciate the little extras you can deliver, but the real reason readers buy your book is for the story. Have you written a good book? That should be your main priority, not moaning because you can’t add color chapter headings, or fancy maps, or any other crazy stuff you want to add in a lame attempt to hide a mediocre story.

That might seem a little harsh, but it seems to me the writers who complain the loudest are the first time authors who haven’t understood that they are going to have to fight tooth and nail to sell their book and formatting is the least of their worries. (During COVID a whopping 88,000 books are being published very MONTH! — source, Alex Newton from K-lytics.)

Of course you want the inside of your book to look professional and in my mind you only need four things:

  1. Full Justification
  2. Drop Cap for Chapter Starts
  3. Professional Chapter Heading
  4. Appropriate page numbers and author name/title in headers and footers

That’s it.

Readers aren’t going to care if the chapter headers are colored images, or if they take the whole page. What they’re going to care about is if the story grabs them from the first sentence, or if there are typos or other mistakes that will pull them out of the story. They care if your story will engage them to the very last line.

Can you guarentee your readers that?

I bought a Jodi Ellen Malpas book on Amazon and I was surprised to see it came from Ingram Spark’s print on demand. She self-published this book. She’s a New York Times best-selling author. She can afford a team that can put together a beautiful book. And the formatting inside is plain. As plain as you can make the inside of a book. Because she knows her fans are not buying the book for how it looks, but for the story inside.

Here are my list of reasons why I do the minimum formatting in my books:

  1. Kindles can only handle so much. Not everyone reads on a tablet. Some people really do read on a Kindle Paperwhite, or a Voyage (that has been discontinued), Kindle Oasis, or other e-readers with limited functions. Readers can set the font so who cares if you’re bitching Vellum has a short list to choose from? Some e-readers are black and white so what does it matter if you insist on inserting colored chapter headers? E-readers strip a book of almost everything but the actual text that makes the story. If your story isn’t engaging they’ll return your book and read some thing else.
  2. Fancy formatting is a paperback perk. How many of those do you sell? Unless you write non-fiction or children’s books, then that’s something different. If you want to write in commercial, mainstream fiction, your e-books will far outsell your paperbacks. If you’re going to a convention, fine. But your cover is going to be on display more prominently than your formatting.
  3. Fancy formatting takes time. Pay for it if you insist on having it. There’s no reason to gripe in Facebook groups about how Vellum won’t suits your needs. There are other programs that will, like InDesign. If you don’t know how to use it, either learn or hire someone who does. You don’t need to complain in forums about a software you’re unhappy with. Deal with it because for every person it disappoints, it makes twenty others happier than hell.
  4. Story will always come first. Yes it’s exciting to publish and you want your book to be perfect. But your story should be the most perfect thing about your book followed by the cover. Readers will appreciate a cleanly formatted book. I know I have tossed books aside that are not formatted properly. I appreciate a plain format and a compelling story much more than a boring story with pretty chapter headers. I’ll know what the author cared more about and I won’t be impressed.

I’ll defend Brad and Brad. They did the indie community a huge courtesy developing a software that makes book formatting easy. The software produces a .mobi, epub, and generic epub for Nook, Google Play and Apple Books. It produces a PDF for the paperback. Vellum creates a beautiful book and when you’ve written a beautiful story, what it offers should be enough.


Agree? Disagree? Let me know!

Thanks for stopping by. Until next time!


4 thoughts on “Formatting your book with Vellum: Why I love it and why haters gotta stop hating.

  1. I haven’t used it, but for my last two novels I used Kindle Create, which is a free app that KDP provides. It hits the same notes you mentioned (drop caps, etc.) and I’m very pleased with how my books came out. I’m 100% with you that simple formatting is best. Write a good story and then get out of the way.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.