Vellum to the rescue

December 25th, 2017. Christmas Day for most people — a day where family, presents, and if you’re lucky, snow greets you as you wake. Not us. Not this year, at least.

First off, we’re in Japan, where for all the Christmas music in the stores and blustery cold in the air, there is no celebrating of Christmas, per se. The occasional present is exchanged and the occasional cake is consumed, but the overblown mash-up of religion and markdowns doesn’t exist here. The second reason Christmas isn’t a factor for us is that Getting Even is exactly two weeks into its run on Amazon. Which means we are still in the midst of promotion, the occasional revise, and, to be honest, equal amounts of wonder and worry. And a bit of fatigue.

Notice I didn’t mention celebration. I can only imagine what other self-published authors feel when their book goes live on Amazon. You know, when the reviews, downloads, and money start to pile on up. For us, well, it’s been interesting.

With today’s post, I hope to begin the task of putting into words the steps we took to get our book live. One step, one post. You’ll probably learn more about our path to publishing then you might need to, but the goal is for you to grab a takeaway or two you can apply to your own publishing adventure. One thing for sure. I don’t want to make the same mistake twice, so why should you make it even once!

Today’s misadventure down memory lane goes back to preparing our book for upload to the Kindle store. Merely having a manuscript written, edited, proofed — what you might think is a manuscript ready for others to read — doesn’t mean it’s formatted for acceptance to the Kindle Store. You’re going to need a third-party application to massage your manuscript into final form that includes all the usual elements of a book — table of contents, title page, copyright page, acknowledgments page, bio, etc. We don’t think anyone needs to go overboard with design elements and fancy flourishes, but if you’re going to compete with the other million-plus ebooks on Amazon you ought to at least look the part.

The format –> upload part of self-publishing is where Meg and I started to lose time to the various options.

For baseline formatting options and info, start here. The KDP page of compatible formats for ebooks sold on the Kindle Store total eight: Word, HTML, MOBI, ePub, Rich Text Format, Plain Text, Adobe PDF, and Kindle Package Format. But — and this is key — the formatting stage of self-publishing isn’t just COPY ALL, PASTE ALL, and PUBLISH.

You pick a piece software and it’s that software that manages your great big gob of words, a.k.a. your manuscript, and renders a rock-solid, healthy looking book. But which one is best?

One of the best reads to familiarize yourself with the choices and challenges associated with the software choices comes from the KDP forums themselves, specifically the Ask the Community thread aptly named “What software is best for publishing books on Amazon/kindle.” That’s not the only thread on the topic, but it’s a good start.

This question kicks off the beginning of what will be a ton of Am I doing this right? What’s wrong with me? What am I missing? What do you suggest? and Help! moments you will invariably have.

We started with good old (and free) Microsoft Word. But after almost three weeks of struggling with fonts we hoped would look like something a real book might use (which never did happen), line spacing that didn’t look cramped, or too airy and random (nope, not possible), and indentations throughout that mimicked the norms of a conventional book (didn’t happen), we moved on. After Word we tried two well-known programs (of many), calibre and Sigil. After a few days toggling between those two pieces of software, we bailed. Too complicated.

It’s worth noting that while both programs, Sigil and Caliber, are free, they are known to be difficult-to-manage apps for all but the really tech-savvy. So maybe we set ourselves up for failure.

We went back online for more research and started to read about Vellum.

Among the reviews that helped steer us toward Vellum were Joanna Penn’s Creative Penn web site (this post in particular). Other hints at Vellum’s strengths came from this Tech Crunch review and other user reviews we hopped around to (mostly in desperation) that we encountered after web searches like:

best + ebook + software + reviews      or,

book + kindle + publishing + software + forums

Just copy and paste each of the above word strings and put into a search field (remove the + sign, of course) and have a look at some options.

All we wanted was a clean and simple software solution. But it had to render our gobs of prose into a smart looking book.

After wasting a few weeks on two free programs, and all the while, continuing to prowl the web and various forums, we decided on Vellum, a piece of ebook software developed by two Pixar Animation Studios alums in 2012. Believe us, the polish in the final product and the easy-to-manage user interface is obvious from the start. And the $199 for a Vellum license didn’t seem outrageous (especially in light of the days we were burning on the task).

One hard truth is that Vellum is a Mac-only program (though I’ve read online of workarounds for PC users). We were fine with that as Meg writes on her MacBook Air in Pages, anyway.

The merging of the Pages document into the Vellum editor was a cinch and once in Vellum, the chapters surfaced with a rough table of contents on the left-hand side of the file’s editor view, and calls to action for other necessary pages you’ll need to prepare before going live on Amazon (TOC, copyright page, acknowledgement page, bio, etc.).

Meg and I continued to revise the manuscript either in Vellum (if the changes were small) or in the Pages file if changes were extensive (and we would then swap the reworked text chunk, say a rewritten chapter, into the Vellum file).

Sounds complex, but suffice it to say Vellum is our software tool of choice for creating manuscript files to be uploaded to Amazon.


When you’re ready to format your manuscript for upload to the Kindle Store, you’ll be bombarded with information and options. Make the wrong decision on the app and you can lose precious days or weeks. Our solution after trying a few of the free options available to writers, was Vellum, a $199, Mac-only, software program that is intuitive and will render a solid looking book design compatible for upload. We didn’t have the same luck with the Vellun software for our paperback iteration (+$49 if bought together with the ebook license, $99 if bought later). Too many glitches for us, which mirrored forum comments we eventually encountered online.


That moment you’ve been waiting for. The upload to Amazon.

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