5 Free Alternatives to Vellum – The Ebook Conversion Edition

Vellum Alternatives for Ebook Conversion - www.alliepottswrites.com

While downloading ebooks to your reader is simple, getting them up on the cloud in the first place requires some work. I write my books using Word, however, just because you can import your manuscript’s formatted-for-print-ready Word document into Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon), doesn’t mean you necessarily should.

For example, you may want to include a table of contents in your ebook for easy navigation, but don’t want one in the print version, or you may want to include links in your ebook pointing readers directly to your other books, making purchasing faster. There are also other distributors besides Amazon that require a specific format for ebooks called epub. This leads me to the next step in the book publishing process – ebook conversion.

Vellum

Vellum offers formatting for print as well as ebook conversion. However, lacking a Mac or a bottomless checkbook, I’ve only been able to appreciate its service as a reader. I can tell it must be awesome to use though based on the number of books I’ve read featuring one of its telltale templates. Don’t get me wrong – it creates highly readable ebooks. I’ve just seen enough of the same decorative flourishes to recognize a Vellum ebook as soon as a chapter opens.

  • Pro: Super easy to use
  • Con: Costly at $199.99, it’s not available for non-Mac users (unless you go through a third-party service like MacinCloud), and your book looks like dozens of others making it more difficult for your author brand to stand out from the crowd.

Smashwords

Smashwords is an ebook conversion service and distribution channel. It is also one of the most difficult ebook conversion tools I’ve ever used. This is because Smashwords distributes your book to channels like Apple books, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble for you, and those channels may have slightly different requirements for an ebook’s file’s layout. Therefore, Smashwords is VERY particular about how your manuscript is formatted prior to releasing it to partner sites and works best with Word files. Fail their checks during the process they call “the Meatgrinder” and your book goes nowhere.

  • Pro: Converts to all major ebook formats including mobi, epub, and pdf for free
  • Con: I am serious when I say this service is NOT recommended for people who don’t know how to use Word styles or are unwilling to read through an entire book of “style guides” prior to attempting to convert their file. Also, once your book passes inspection, it is put up for sale without going through a secondary preview approval step. This means there is a risk your book could be published with typos or with a missing chapter as long as stylistically it fit within the Smashwords Style Guides.

Draft2Digital

Draft2Digital is like Smashwords in that it is a distributor that also offers ebook conversion. However, it is much, much simpler to use. Upload your word doc, select a template, and then add in things like your social media links, mailing list link, or author page, and Draft2Digital spits out a book file you can either take and distribute through other channels yourself or distribute through them for a portion of future book sales.

  • Pro: It is fast, simple, and lets you download mobi, epub, and sample length versions of your ebook for free – even if you don’t choose to distribute with them.
  • Con: You can’t edit your file once it has been uploaded and table of contents are created automatically which may or may not always match up with what you expected. Therefore if you do see issues such as funky chapter breaks or incorrect chapter headers, you have to correct the error on the word doc and upload again.

Kindle Create

Kindle Create is still in its infancy, in software terms, and therefore is somewhat limited in what it can do compared to some of the other ebook conversion programs out there. For example, there are only a handful of templates to choose from and it only exports a special non-mobi kindle-ready format. It also requires you to download the software rather than work online. However, it’s another free option that produces nice, clean ebook files, and unlike Draft2Digital, gives you the ability to tweak your ebook’s appearance without leaving the user interface.

  • Pro: It’s even easier to use than Draft2Digital, includes a kindle previewer tool that lets you see how your book will look on multiple device sizes, and free!
  • Con: It doesn’t export to epub or mobi file, which limits your ability to use it to create advance copies of your ebook that can be sent via email or service like Instafreebie, Bookfunnel, or via email to early reviewers.

Reedsy

When you format a book with Reedsy (affiliate link) you have the option to either have them email you a print ready file or send you an epub or mobi file you can then take to the ebook distributor of your choice. Like Kindle Create, you can edit your ebook’s appearance in the user interface, which is a great, but unlike Kindle Create or Draft2Digital you have to copy and paste each chapter individually.

  • Pro: The ability to edit your book without leaving the user interface is a big plus over Draft2Digital the fact you can download in both epub and mobi is a great benefit compared to Kindle Create
  • Con: Reedsy requires significantly more time to initially set up a book and downloads aren’t as instantaneous as the other options. Also, there are currently only three templates to choose from.

Calibre and Sigil

While you can technically use either of these programs by themselves, they really work best together. Calibre has the ability to take a Word Doc (saved as HTML) and turn it into epub or mobi file using the headers, fonts, or other decorative touches you specify. This makes layouts more flexible, and gives your books a more custom look than what you can do with the other programs.

Sigil is more of clean-up tool than a conversion program. You can import an epub file you created with Calibre or with any of the programs above (except Kindle Create as it doesn’t offer epub), then tweak it until it looks the way you want, giving you the ability to customize the files generated by other programs. It makes fixing those pesky typos that somehow managed to sneak past your edit process super fast once you get the hang of it, but until then…

To be clear, neither of these programs are for the technologically challenged, and both require some comfort with programming. Personally, I love Sigil now, but it was a hard-won love.

  • Pro: This combination gives you the greatest range of customization for your ebook’s appearance and both programs are free to us
  • Con: Both programs have a rather steep learning curve and may cause a person to shake their fist in the air, sob into the phone while wondering what they ever did to deserve such agony, or be driven to drink.

I am sure there are other programs out there, but these are the ones I’ve used the most. Now, one step done, one million other little things left to go.


Rocky Row Novels - www.alliepottswrites.com

An Uncertain Confidence: Coming soon to a device near you

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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…

Reedsy and the editorial quest, part three: the final update

Reedsy and the quest for an editorial partner - www.alliepottswrites.com part three

The following is the final installment in my hunt for the elusive editorial partner for my WIP using Reedsy. For those not familiar with the service, Reedsy, a database of freelance professionals with a focus on the publishing industry.

This post contains affiliate links.

As of last week’s update, I’d received three responses to my project brief. One editor wasn’t taking on new projects at this time, one editor didn’t have availability until closer to the end of the year, and another had availability, but the work would cost more than I was hoping to spend. However, I still had two more responses to go.

Suddenly this whole series of posts I’d intended as a fun way to share some of the challenges, but mostly the benefits, of being an indie author, wasn’t quite so fun.

I received another quote from a potential editor. The price was still higher than I originally was targeting for this project, however, her proposal also included a long list of testimonials relevant to my project. Not only that, but many of the authors listed had the word ‘bestseller’ attached to their name.

This editor had been my long shot when I’d been scrolling through Reedsy’s marketplace profiles. I’d had to get over my ever-present imposter syndrome to even send my request for proposal, and yet not only had she submitted a quote, she’d taken the time to tailor it to me. I’ll admit, I got a little starry-eyed at the thought of what we could do together.

The only problem was her quote hadn’t included a sample edit, though one was offered if requested. As much as the creative dreamer in me wanted to accept her quote, the more logical, business-minded side of my brain took over. Even with the testimonials, the quoted price was too risky to accept without seeing an example of her working style.

I also still hadn’t heard back from the fifth editor, though it was past the date I’d specified for responses. Things were starting to look grim.

I responded to editor number four, taking her up on her offer for the sample edit. It meant I’d have to wait longer before I could make my final decision, which meant less time for me to get it ready for publication following editorial feedback, but I was running out of options.

A day passed without an update. Then another day more. I started getting an uneasy feeling in my stomach about this entire process.

Then something lovely happened. People who had been reading my updates over the past few weeks reached out, offering direct assistance, or referring me to their preferred editorial service providers.

Suddenly, I went from having one option, to more than one fitting my schedule as well as my budget. This means, *fingers crossed* my project just may find its way to print yet.

Reedsy Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • It is easy to find a number of editors based on your genre who have several years of industry experience
  • It offers a fast and streamlined proposal process, giving you the ability to contact multiple editors all at once.
  • You aren’t required to sign up with anyone if the bids you receive aren’t in line with your expectations
  • Reedsy takes care of all the payment processing, which can protect your banking details and only includes editors who have been verified
  • Cons:
    • There is no way to filter potential editors by estimated cost or availability, which can cost everyone their time
      Reedsy’s marketplace vetting system requires editors have a certain level of experience, which makes it more difficult for authors using the service to identify and connect to hungrier or less experienced (aka lower-cost) professionals

    The final verdict

    Overall, I think Reedsy is a service with great potential and provides a value to self-published writers who want to employ the same professionals as those who follow the more traditional publishing route. That being said, it may be cost-prohibitive for authors who don’t have a backlist of profitable titles or those who aren’t backed by a successful crowd-funding campaign.

    While I will likely give it another try in the future, I think I’ll wait until I have a new series opener so there is the greatest potential return. Until then, the never-ending quests continues.

    To those who reached out, thank you so much for your comments and support. When (not if) this book is finally released, please know I couldn’t have done it without you.

    Reedsy and the editorial quest, part two: the initial response

    Reedsy and the quest for an editorial partner - www.alliepottswrites.com

    part two

    Last week I announced I was once again on the hunt for the elusive editorial partner for my WIP. The following is the results of my experience with Reedsy, a database of freelance professionals with a focus on the publishing industry.

    This post contains affiliate links.

    Using Reedsy’s filters and resulting profiles as a guide, I submitted a brief summary of An Uncertain Confidence to five potential editors. In my brief, I made sure to include a deadline for when I would like responses back as well as my manuscripts first few pages.

    I suppose I could have picked any part of my manuscript for sampling, but I figured it made the most sense to send the beginning as those pages will also be the most important for attracting would-be readers in the coming weeks and therefore, need to be as polished as possible.

    I received my first response within a day of hitting the send button and nervously hit open.

    She wouldn’t be able to meet the schedule as defined in my brief but was willing to provide a quote if I had some flexibility. I did the math in my head. If I said yes, I might as well say no to publishing this year. It was an option, to be sure, but not one I was comfortable with, especially knowing I had four more responses to go.

    I declined her offer but left the door open for future collaboration as I appreciated how quick and professional she was in her response.

    The next day I received my second response. It was a no-bid with an explanation that the editor was not taking on new projects at this time. It was disappointing but understandable. At this time, Reedsy offered to send my bid out to additional freelancers if I so choose.

    Just as I was beginning to feel like an idiot for not lining up my editor in advance, I received the third response, and this time it was a quote. I hit the open button.

    I might have been more prepared to expect had I read a recent Reedsy blog post on the costs of self-publishing before I’d sent my brief.

    On the positive side, she’d included a sample edit of my early pages, was professional, and supportive. It was easy to envision how much better my writing would become as a result. However, it was the kind of price that forces you to have a serious heart-to-heart with yourself about your book baby and its potential for return on investment.

    There’s still a chance, I told myself, staring at my response dashboard like a person playing a game of Russian Roulette. I still have a few more bids to go.

    To be continued …

    Reedsy and the never-ending quest for editorial partners

    YReedsy and the quest for an editorial partner - www.alliepottswrites.comou’ve written your manuscript and re-worked it from end to end more than once. You’ve even had a few brave readers provide preliminary feedback. Now what?

    (This post includes affiliate links)

    If you are like me and going the self-publishing route, it may be time to start considering a professional editor. But where can you find one?

    My latest work in progress, An Uncertain Confidence, has been sitting in my virtual desk drawer for the past two weeks while I attempted to answer that exact question. I’d had a less than stellar experience with my first book when it came to editing. Being the wide-eyed new author, and not knowing what I didn’t know, I signed one check without doing nearly enough research. That mistake eventually forced me to sign another.

    I knew then that I would never use that particular group service again, so when I started preparing the first book in my next series for publication, I asked my personal network for referrals. I thought I was in luck when one of their sources had an opening. Once again, I sent my book baby off with a check.

    Weeks passed and then weeks more. When I finally got my project back, the notes weren’t exactly confidence inspiring. In short, the feedback was the manuscript needed a lot of work, more than he was willing to provide at the previously quoted price. Even worse I learned my story was in a sub-genre he didn’t like, even though had said he enjoyed sci-fi.

    It was another expensive mistake and one that taught me the value of beta readers (and tools like Grammarly, EditMinion, Hemingway, and Fictionary). It also taught me why it is so important to thoroughly understand the nuances of sub-genres, particularly with regards to speculative fiction.

    I re-wrote that book from end to end and from end to end once or three times more. I sent it off to beta readers who helped me find the story’s holes. I found yet another editor who enjoyed my genre and was recommended by other authors. She was an author too, which meant I could read her books to make sure I liked her style first. Even better, her posted services fit my schedule as well as my budget too. I signed a check (I may have crossed my fingers too).

    Unfortunately, life can get in the way of all of us, especially when an author who edits on the side, has books of their own to market or other personal matters to worry about too. It also doesn’t help when your new book is in a different genre.

    Which brings me back to how do you find a reliable, recommended, and quality editor, when you have a checklist of 1,000,000,000,000,000 other things to do?

    I’ve decided, this time, to give Reedsy a try.

    Reedsy is a website marketplace for freelance editors, designers, marketing professionals, and publicists (you can also find book bloggers and format your ebook to epub and pdf for free there too). Simply sort by the type of service you are looking for. Then you can refine your search by things like genre, languages, or specific keywords.

    My specific search for fiction, copy editing, women’s fiction, English (us) and “self-published” returned thirteen professionals who have all been verified by Reedsy and each profile includes a portfolio of work as well as author recommendation and response ratings.

    To say there were more than a few impressive credentials is a mild understatement.

    After reading through their profiles and reviews, I then was able to identify five potential editors who looked like a good match for my needs, style, and project. From there, all I had to do was write a little bit about me and my project and upload up to 3,000 words of my manuscript as a sample and wait for the editors to respond back to me with their bids.

    Reedsy manages the payments and contracts and, as a result, does take a percentage of the quoted price, so I am bracing myself for sticker shock, but considering the time it has potentially saved me and the quality of talent, it may still be worth it.

    There is still a lot I don’t know about publishing, but the one thing I know for sure is sometimes all I can do is wait and see.