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.


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How to support an indie author for free – a first experience with the Kindle Scout Program

A way to support #indieauthors for free and an Introduction to #KindleScout - www.alliepottswrites.comThis is the launch week for a young adult science fiction book called Joan the Made written by Kristen Pham. While I always enjoy celebrating my fellow indie author’s bookbirthdays, this one is special as it is the first book I helped bring to market through Amazon’s Kindle Scout Program.

I say that like I put in a lot of work.

For those who aren’t as familiar with the ever mysterious world of independent publishing, the Kindle Scout program is a way for authors to get a little financial and marketing boost from the all mighty Amazon without sacrificing all their creative control or signing away their rights for future works in the worlds they create under the guise of non-compete terms.

As I am still in the midst of rewrite, I have yet to try my hand at gaining access to the program with one of my own books, but that didn’t prevent me from seeing first hand what it can do for others.

Enter Kristen.

A few months ago, around the time I was launching my last book, I discovered she’d uploaded a sample of her latest book as well as it’s cover to Kindle Scout. Now all she needed was nominations. I read through the description:

On Joan Fasces’ eighteenth birthday, she discovers that she is cloned from the famous Joan of Arc. But being cloned in America comes at a steep price. Segregated and oppressed, clones are forced to act as docile servants to the rest of the Evolved population. Joan can either run from her fate and spend the rest of her life in hiding, or she can join a Throwback rebellion populated by clones of the greatest leaders in history.

I was intrigued.

I opened the sample. The first chapter caught my attention. I am a sucker for dystopian young adult, even if I know there is bound to be things like a selection ceremony gone wrong and an angst-laden love triangle. Tropes are tropes for a reason. I saw nothing in those sample pages to make me think this book was unworthy of being considered by the powers that be. (I also happen to know that Kristen has had a short story selected as a top ten submission on Wattpad by Margaret Atwood so it was an easy bet.) I pressed a button – Nominate Me.

That’s it.

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A few weeks later I received an email from Amazon informing me that Joan the Made had been selected for publication. Yay for Kristen! A few weeks after that I received another email from Kindle Scout. They were sending me a free advanced copy of the e-book. Yay for me!

I also saw that I’d been given a Scout Score. 10 points for nominating a book. 10 points for having a book I nominated get selected for publishing. 20 points for redeeming my free book. They weigh these points like redeeming the free stuff is the harder part.

Unfortunately, I did not think to sign up for the program using the email associated with my Amazon account which meant, I would not be able to gain an additional 40 points for reviewing the book. Oh, well. I’ve reviewed it anyway, noting I’d received an advance copy as is proper, but my review doesn’t show the coveted verified purchase tag. The unverified status of my review was one of the exceptions.

I noticed that she’d already amassed close to 30 reviews on the US Amazon site, even one from an Amazon top reviewers, and the book wasn’t even live yet, providing authors aren’t the only ones benefiting from this program. I, on the other hand, am still begging and pleading for reviews months after publication. Clearly, once again, I’m doing things the hard way.

I’m not sure how well it would work for later books in a series, but overall, based on what I have experienced, it is a program I will have to seriously consider when its time for me to branch into something new.

Until then – nominate, read, review, and repeat. It’s free!

You may just make an authors year.


Follow-up note: Within days of posting this I received the following note from Amazon: “April 3rd, Kindle Scout will no longer accept new submissions, and you will no longer be able to start a new Kindle Scout campaign. Once the current campaigns end their voting period, you will have until May 31st to log into your Kindle Scout profile, redeem free copies of your selected nominations, and save any info you may want.”

This is obviously disappointing as it was a neat way for emerging authors to gain additional reviews and exposure. I’ll update this post if and when I hear of any potential replacement for the service.