5 Alternatives to Vellum, or How I Spent My Weekend

5 Alternatives to Vellum - www.alliepottswrites.comVellum. It’s not just for illuminated scrolls. For those of you not in the self-publishing world, or those newer to book formatting, Vellum is also a popular software option that helps magically transform your manuscript from a document processing file into something the non-publishing world might call a book. (This post includes affiliate links)

I know plenty of authors who basically describe it as the bee’s knees when it comes to formatting your book. But what if you are allergic to bees? What do you do then? I say that as a bit of a joke, however as Vellum is limited to Mac users and isn’t cheap to use, it isn’t for everyone. Nor is the entire process of book formatting for that matter, but that is an entirely different subject.

So what is an author intent on publishing a new book to do?

I’m glad you asked as I have recently spent far too many hours getting An Uncertain Confidence ready for its upcoming publication date by experimenting with Vellum alternatives offering formatted files I could then take to a professional printer.

Microsoft Word

This has been my trusted go-to method of getting my books in shape as it allows me to tweak font sizes, add decorative flourishes, and basically customize my book’s size and content any way I see fit. However, Word has an annoying habit of inserting blank pages, “helpfully” adjusting page numbers, and text can be overly stretched with funky spaces between the words if you don’t know some of the advanced tricks.

  • Pros – High degree of control
  • Cons – Takes forever and a day if you don’t know what you’re doing, or haven’t written your entire manuscript with Word formatting in mind (i.e. you didn’t take advantage of Word ‘styles’) and may just drive an author to drink.

Adobe InDesign

InDesign offers a lot of the same customization capability of Word, which can help your book stand out from the competition (caution – this isn’t necessarily a good thing). It also does a better job handling the space between words on the page, making your book look cleaner and more professional. However, this is another option that takes time to master and InDesign isn’t cheap.

  • Pros – Improved readability compared to Word in terms of text spacing. Much easier to control pesky things like blank pages and funky page numbers
  • Cons – it’s an Adobe product, which means a steep learning curve and a high price tag though there is a free trial option.

Scrivener

Scrivener is a word processing and story organization tool specifically designed for books. You can copy and paste your manuscript from another word processor into the software, or import it depending on the file type, and export the Scrivener version as a print-ready PDF. However, it is probably far easier to write the entire project in the software from the get-go. While Scrivener is designed for print books, it also has a partnership with Vellum if you prefer their templates over Scrivener’s offerings provided you are willing to pay the price for both services.

  • Pros – Super easy to export your complete manuscript into a print-ready pdf
  • Cons – The product works best when you write your manuscript from end to end in the tool rather than try to import it from another processing program, and doesn’t offer the same level of customization in your book’s format as offered by Word or InDesign (once again, this is not necessarily a bad thing as some people can’t handle the awesome power that is font selection).

Reedsy

In addition to editing, Reedsy includes a free book formatting service. All you have to do is copy and paste your manuscript into its online user interface, designate elements of your book like chapter name or section separator, select a book size, and a theme. It also is partnered with Blurb, which is a print on demand service, making it easy to print your book once it has been formatted.

  • Pros – Easy to use with a price that’s hard to beat. It even inserts back matter pages for you like your social media links, description (with images) of your other books, and a note about how people can join your mailing list.
  • Cons – You have to copy and paste each chapter one by one, which is time-consuming, and you are limited to three themes and three book sizes. Also, you don’t get your formatted file right away, though I only had to wait for a few minutes before I received the email saying my book was ready.

Outsource it

Of course, you also have the option to outsource book formatting if, unlike me, you are a sensible person who would like to actually spend time with your family or friends on the weekends (or be working on your next book) rather than seated in front of a computer screen waiting for swirling wheels or flipping hourglasses to say your file is ready.

  • Pros – You keep your weekends
  • Cons – You have to trust that your formatter knows what they are doing and, if you find that edits are required in your final proof, it can start getting costly.

But in the end, no matter which path you choose, holding that end product in your hands for the first time is always worth the hassle. Trust me.

Books by Allie Potts - www.alliepottswrites.com

and then there were four…

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20 thoughts on “5 Alternatives to Vellum, or How I Spent My Weekend

  1. My go to tip for getting a smart ebook that works for kindle, Apple books, kobo ePub etc is download the smashwords style guide and follow what they describe as the nuclear option. Gets you a lovely little ePub etc book with a working TOC with not much hassle. For the paperback I then delete theTOC and cut and paste the odd into a template I’ve grabbed off a print on demand platform called feedaread. Creates the perfect formatted pod version that works for feedaread and create space, now kdp. I accept that now I have seven titles out there I’m a bit more savvy and slick that 1. I don’t pay for any of this 2. It works 3. It works on my laptop and I therefore don’t need to go to the dark side with vellum on Mac as I’ve been encouraged to do by those who use it. Anyway if I had to pay for it I don’t think I’d bother since my current set up works and is cheaper.
    Of course those who read my books may be grinding their teeth at this and how crap my formatting is… hey ho.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a great tip and one I wished I knew the first time around if only for the recommendation not to use tab to indent your paragraphs. I’ll have to check into feedaread as I’ve never heard of that one, so thanks for that recommendation as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Some good information, Allie. I have always used Word for my self publishing, and when publishing books for others. Perhaps because I’m familiar with it, I haven’t had too many issues. It does provide quite a bit of flexibility . . . but it does have its “glitches.” My most recent adventure was formatting an entire book in the font called Chochin, which I had downloaded off the Internet. When I went to insert line numbers in the manuscript, all of a sudden the pages got all screwy, and the font transformed in front of my eyes into a totally different font. When I changed to a different font, Book Antiqua, everything was okay. Just for fun, I tried to change back to Chochin, but the original Chochin font had been “overwritten” with an entirely different font. Finally, I uninstalled the Chochin font from my Mac font book. I have no clue what the problem was, but I hope it never happens again. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Authors are notorious drinkers already, which may explain the popularity of Microsoft Word!

    Seriously, that’s always been my go-to. But I also paid my publisher to format my first novel, so I managed to keep my weekends, too (though it cost me).

    Liked by 2 people

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