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. It also offers a tool for self-certifying your content does not contain certain taboo subjects, which increases the chance those who publish more risqué material can distribute their books to a larger audience.
  • 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. There is a reason you can find people to hire on Fiverr to get your file ready for you. 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.

It is worth however noting that Smashwords announced in February of 2022, that it has been acquired by competitor, Draft2Digital in March and that moving forward the company would operate under that brand name. This leads me to the next option:

Draft2Digital

Draft2Digital (affiliate link) 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 distribute with them.
  • Con: Draft2Digital does not allow you to edit your file once it has been uploaded. Therefore, if you see a typo or a weird chapter heading, you have to go back to your original document, correct the error on the word doc and upload again.

As mentioned above, Draft2Digital and Smashwords are combining forces. Per their press release, the combined company will allow users to either take advantage of Draft2Digital’s existing, more user-friendly, but less customizable formatting tool for ebook conversion, or allow braver and infinitely more-patient authors the option of creating more unique ebook’s using Smashwords’ tool.

This merger will eventually make all Smashwords users, Draft2Digital (D2D) users, so if you are debating which of the two is best for you, I would recommend going ahead and signing up with D2D.

Kindle Create

Kindle Create is still 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 chapter headings or resize images 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 ProlificWorks, 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 great, but its editing capability is limited compared to Kindle Create. For example, while you can correct a typo in your text without re-uploading, you can’t resize an image. I also had a very difficult time getting the program to properly format my character point of view sub-headings without messing up drop caps.

  • 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 does not allow you to select chapter-specific settings. For example, if you say you want to feature drop caps at the beginning of each chapter, the program inserts drop caps in every chapter—even in the glossary at the end, which can be distracting to the reader. Downloads aren’t as instantaneous as the other options either. You have to wait for an email and can only request a download every ten minutes. There are also only three templates to choose from. The service also makes it extremely difficult to delete a book from their service once it has been uploaded. You can archive it, but not delete it. Therefore, it is not recommended for those who aren’t yet sure they want to trust the security of other people’s servers with their manuscript just yet.

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: Now available

Box Sets Vs Omnibus Books: What’s the Difference?

Box sets are what we in the publishing world refer to as a collection of multiple books packaged together. However, while they are sold as a single sellable item, the end consumer is able to remove an individual book from the set at their reading pleasure. An omnibus edition, on the other hand, combines multiple books into a single bound volume that can’t be separated unless you were to slice through the book’s spine (the horror!).

Both options allow publishers a way to offer a complete series, or at least a larger portion of a series, to readers at a lower price than the cost of purchasing individual books. The terms can also be used to describe ebook collections. However, while the term box set is the trendier way to describe consolidated works, it is worth noting that Amazon, and other ebook distributors, frown on publishers describing ebook collections as box sets as there is no physical box around the set.

That said, while a publisher should not describe their ebook collection as a box set in its retail listing, a publisher can still use a 3D image of a box set on most sites. Apple’s ibook store is the notable exception here. The same cannot be said about listings for physical copies. Publishers must use an image that matches what a print consumer will physically receive once they place their order.

For example, this is how I am displaying my upcoming publication: Project Gene Assist: The Complete Series (which is available for pre-order now in ebook format and will be available in both paperback and ebook format after November 16, 2021).

3D rendering of multiple books titled Project Gene Assist: The Complete Series featuring a woman's face on the cover and a DNA strand on the back. There is also a tablet featuring a box containing three books.

Of course, with anything, box sets and omnibus editions have their pros and cons:

Box sets vs Omnibus Books: Pros & Cons

Box SetsOmnibus Editions
ProsMake great giftsMake great gifts
Save readers moneySave readers money
Allow you to take a break from reading a series without the guilt of leaving a bookmark in the middle of a volumeTake up less room on your bookshelf, allowing you to fill that space with more books
ConsForce you to take even extra care of individual book’s bindings in order to keep the book from warping or swelling and thus being unable to fit back into its boxy sleeveThe sheer size of these volumes can intimidate the casual reader
Take up more room on your bookshelf than individual books unless you throw away that beautiful box sleeveLess travel-friendly. The weight alone could force you to pay the oversized baggage fee at the airport.
Cost more than omnibus editions to produce and so are typically more expensive than their omnibus cousinsHave I mentioned how big these are? Seriously, I worry it is bullying the other novels on my shelf when I am asleep

Does a series have to be complete To Be Combined?

Does a series have to be complete to be offered as either a box set or omnibus edition? The answer is no, but it helps from a marketing perspective. This is because readers are more likely to buy a book (or a set) if they know they aren’t going to have to wait an age to learn how the series ends. Additionally, because a publisher does not have to include every book in the combined edition, sets can also serve as a convenient launching pad for later books in longer series.

Image of 4 books: the Bad Guys 1-3 and the fourth, fifth, and sixth book in the series

For instance, my youngest son, LT, is a huge fan of sharks and humor books, so I got him the omnibus edition of The Bad Guys Books 1-3 by Aaron Blabey, which features a shark (among other characters) who decides he’s tired of being stereotyped as a bad guy and goes on missions to save the world along with other often maligned characters.

I felt confident he would like the series based on the premise, so buying a single volume that offered 3 books in one just made sense to me. It then turned out the series is much, much longer. I immediately had to go out and buy additional books in the series one by one. In this case, I guess you could say that the omnibus acted as a gateway drug. (Absolutely worth it though to hear LT laugh with each page)

The same thing happened when LT and I read the Wayside School 3-Book Collection by Louis Sachar. The only difference was instead of being an all in one volume, the 3 books were offered together packaged in a cardboard sleeve. We then had to run out and get the fourth book in the series.

Picture of the box set of the Wayside School Complete Collection in front of the hardback edition of Wayside School and the Cloud of Doom

So which is better? A box set or an omnibus edition? The answer, of course, comes down to the preference of the individual reader, but I am happy to say I’m making the move to give readers like you this option.

Image of books in the Project Gene Assist series, which includes The Fair and Foul, The Watch and Wand, Lies and Legacy, and the Complete Series omnibus edition stacked upright together.

5 Reasons Your Book Takes Forever (and a Day) to Launch

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — writing the book is the easy part. For the past several weeks I have been practically chained to my desk getting Lies & Legacy ready for its big debut. Why does it take so long to publish a book after announcing the manuscript is done? I’m glad you asked.

If you are going to market via the traditional, or in some cases, the small press route, this is because the publishing house only wants to release a certain number of books at any given time so as not to compete against themselves. It’s an understandable concern, but frustrating from both the reader’s and the author’s perspective who are eager to get their hands on the book.

If you are publishing independently, it’s because of the following reasons:

1. Title Setup Forms

To independently sell a book, in a bookshop or online, it needs to first be setup in a retailer’s database. This means there are forms. So many forms. You have to register your book’s ISBN, which is an identification number used in the US and other markets by booksellers to ensure that books with the same title or author name don’t get mixed up on orders.

Then there are retail setup forms that need to be to filled out. If you are feeling masochistic ambitious, you can set up your book on each of the retail platforms individually. WideWizard is a browser extension that can help speed up this process. However, a distributor like Draft2Digital (affiliate link) will do this for you (but some take a portion of your sales, so there’s that).

2. Author Proofs

If you’re only interested in publishing an ebook, you can skip this step. However, if you are like me and want an actual physical book to gaze at lovingly, place on display like a trophy for all the world to see, or simply read, there’s the proof stage.

Technically, you can approve a book on Amazon or IngramSpark without ever actually laying your hands on a physical page, but I don’t particularly recommend it. I’ve learned the hard way that gremlins delight in sneaking in last-minute typos — the type you can’t catch in electronic format, no matter how many times you run your manuscript through editing software.

Unfortunately, this means you have to wait for your book to be printed, bound, packaged, and shipped to your door before you can move on to the next step. That said, there is something magical about receiving that first proof copy — even if it is has a big banner on the cover making it clear the book is ‘not for resale’ or if it does contain more than a few errors.

3. Revisions

As I mentioned, there are gremlins in publishing. I’ve received proofs with my name cut off on the spine, page numbers missing, length too tall, and random blank pages inserted in the middle seemingly with no sense of rhyme or reason. Seriously, NEVER publish a book without requesting a physical proof.

This means your files will require a round of revision. You’ll have to update your files and make sure that this time you REALLY take the time to visually inspect each and every single page (all 300+ of them, in my case). I don’t care how sick you are of reading your own story. DO IT.

4. Buzz Building

Superfans are awesome. Superfans count down the minute to your launch. They add your launch date to their calendars in permanent ink and put in a request to take the day after your launch off of work if only so they can stay up all night reading. Unfortunately, most people aren’t superfans — no matter how much they say they love your work.

excerpt of Lies and LegacyYou have to build excitement while reminding people you have a book coming out. There are a number of ways to do this: post repeatedly on Facebook (but not too much or you can get yourself reported as spam. You can hop around other people’s blogs or post sneak previews on your own. (Psst – You can see an excerpt of Lies & Legacy on mine).

You can pay to get featured in a newsletter or negotiate a swap. You can also signup with a service like BookSweeps.com to be a part of a giveaway. Just note, you often have to schedule these at least six weeks in advance.

5. Reviews

While there’s no one way to launch a book, you’ll have the most success if you have reviews to go with it, as apparently few people (outside of the superfans) enjoy being the first to give your book a try. But it’s getting harder and harder every day to ensure your book has reviews when it is time to go live.

Amazon will flag reviews it deems as coming from a potentially biased connection. Sure, occasionally a real-life friend or acquaintance’s review will still get past Amazon’s quality checks, but I know of reviews being reduced to digital ether simply because the review came from an author’s Facebook page follower.

I’ve reached out to known book bloggers in the past, and will continue to do so in the future, offering an advance copy in the hopes they might provide an honest review. However, they are under no obligation to do so and there is always the risk Amazon won’t accept the review, which is why they also are free to post it when and wherever they want. It’s totally up to them.

This is why I have also started using BookSprout.co to handle my advance review requests. It takes me out of the equation. (It also has a sales report and keyword research tool if you are interested).

All I had to do was give them my ebook files and links where I’d like to see reviews posted. They take care of all the rest.

I worried about pirates the first time I used them, but the site seems to police itself. I also worried about the quality of the reviews, but all I’ve thus far received have been thoughtful and well-written. Unfortunately, they no longer offer a free plan for their services, but its entry-level paid plan is more affordable than what other review services charge.

I just wish they offered the option to purchase one-time review campaigns rather than a monthly subscription as months (or years) can go by between my publications. Even so, I’ve found it to be a worthwhile service overall for people who are trying to get reviews on other distributor sites (not just Amazon) or gain followers on Bookbub.

Speaking of which, you can click on the button below to follow me on Bookbub to see what I’ve been reading in between writing.

follow-me-on-bookbub-1

Lies & Legacy: Project Gene Assist Book 3 launched March 26, 2020

Imagine working the cutting room floor: a simple trick for editing your early draft | Dan Alatorre – AUTHOR

Ready or not - the Watch and Wand - www.alliepottswrites.comThis is it. The big launch week for The Watch & Wand and a few wonderful members of the blogging community have been nice enough to help spread the word.

I’ve turned off comments on this post but would encourage you to click on the link at the bottom and maybe poke around on some of the other posts you see there.


From time to time we like to feature insights by other authors here on the blog. This time, Allie Potts, a friend of the blog and victim of our internet show Writers Off Task With Friends, pays a v…

Source: Imagine working the cutting room floor: a simple trick for editing your early draft | Dan Alatorre – AUTHOR

Framing Your Story – Book Formatting Basics: The End – Guest Post by Allie Potts… | Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog

monkey toys
LT’s friends approve

Today I am visiting with Chris Graham, The Story Reading Ape, talking about formatting books for print using Microsoft Word. For those who aren’t as familiar with Chris, I encourage you to check out his site – not just because he was kind enough to turn it over to me for a bit but because it is full of great information about the indie publishing industry as a whole, author highlights, as well as jokes anyone in any profession could enjoy.

I know that not everyone who reads my blog is an author, aspiring author, or uses Microsoft Word, but I hope that you might still be able to find a time-saving tip or two you can use in the future.


You’ve been toiling for hours upon hours. Edited to a glossy shine, your manuscript is finally complete. Unfortunately, a complete manuscript is not the same thing as a book interior. The difference…

Click here to read the rest: Framing Your Story – Book Formatting Basics: The End – Guest Post by Allie Potts… | Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog