Vellum 2.2 Review: Making eBooks (and Print Books) Effortless


I have two serious complaints about Vellum, 180gFormatting software for electronic books and printed books.

  1. It costs between $ 200 and $ 250, depending on whether you only want to create crisp, professional-looking eBooks, or also create crisp, professional-looking files for printing physical books. That’s a lot of money for an app these days. If 180g wanted to charge that much, they could at least have had the decency not to make their app as good.

  2. It’s too strong. How am I supposed to format a book when a choir of angels keeps singing hallelujahs every time I open the app?

OK, there is no choir of angels. But – and I promise you, I’m only exaggerating slightly here – using Vellum feels that way. (In case you were wondering, no one at 180g suggested me write this or gave me any kind of financial compensation for it. And the review copy they kindly sent me in response to my request is limited in time, expiring a few months from now on demons.)

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An instantly updated preview pane shows you what your book will look like on many popular devices.

stairway to Heaven

I’ve always wanted to publish my writing professionally, but creating beautiful eBooks has always been a big hurdle. Open source Seal never worked well for me, nor did Scrivener’s otherwise superb ePUB export. Apple’s Pages, free with all Macs, now offers a great set of ePUB authoring tools, but with no live preview and more than a few formatting hiccups, it definitely has its limits. And I just don’t have time to learn the XML secrets of hard-coded ePUB formatting.

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Vellum and its creators seem to understand my frustration and that of potential authors like me. Judging from my experience using Vellum, they found almost every obstacle in the process of creating an eBook, and just… made them go away. In her previous review of iMore, Serenity Caldwell raves about the skill with which Vellum manipulates the images. Almost four years, and a full version and a change, later I was blown away by the way Vellum handled all.

From the moment you import a .docx file into Vellum, the program starts working to make your book as beautiful as possible with minimal effort. The most tedious chore I had to do in formatting two different test manuscripts was manually adding chapter breaks to a manuscript that didn’t already have one (Vellum looks for page breaks and others). clues to separate your work into chapters; adding or changing them is as easy as a menu command).

Navigate and edit your text in a single pane – Vellum lets you correct or edit text on the fly, if you spot typos that you’ve previously missed – and see your edits instantly reflected in the preview window to the right. From a drop-down menu at the top of the preview pane, Vellum can show you what your prose will look like on Kindle Fire or Paperwhite, iPhone or iPad, Kobo Glo, Nook Simple Touch, or Android tablet (or good old-fashioned print, by the way. We’ll have to print in a bit). You can also change the text size, switch to sepia or night mode, or switch between a host of common e-reader fonts.

Browse and apply text styles in a snap with Vellum's style gallery.

Style for miles

Do you wish your book had a really cool style? An elegant title page and chapter headings? Maybe drop caps at the beginning of the chapters? Vellum can do it. Vellum probably already has. And if not, a quick navigation through its styling menus will allow you to apply that kind of fuss with just a few clicks. Text ornaments? Vellum automatically detects anything you’ve already added, adds new ones easily, and if you don’t see any variety you like in its style gallery, you can just add your own from any graphic you download. .

How about a dedication? A prologue? Epilogue? Foreword or afterword? A cool quote at the start? Blurbs where other people are saying nice things about your book? Add some or all of them to your book from the menu bar; an “Add Multiple Items” feature lets you go through a checklist of possible additions, select the ones you want, then fill and style them all at once. Vellum supports multi-volume compilations and nested structure layers (Book I, Chapter 3, etc.). Don’t even ask if this will create a table of contents for you. You will only be insulting Vellum, because of course you will, and this table of contents will look great.

My wishlist is missing something Vellum doesn’t support embedding your own fonts. However, it can be a blessing in disguise. Some stores, including iBooks, discourage authors from embedding custom fonts in their eBooks. Vellum’s built-in font list instead offers many attractive options, including many popular and frequently used electronic printing and reading fonts.

Vellum cannot design covers for you, but it does will will tell you if the image you’re uploading isn’t sized properly to work with the myriad of competing eBook formats, and suggest a better size. It will also convert this image from one of the usual formats to the usual JPEG used by e-books.

Speaking of multiple formats for different stores: let’s say you want to include a link to one of your other books. Vellum is smart enough to incorporate the ability to add multiple IDs for multiple stores in a single link. When you generate multiple copies of your book for each of these stores simultaneously, with the click of a button – yes Vellum can do that – the correct link for each store will appear in each appropriate file.

I tested the files generated by Vellum in iBooks on my iPhone and iPad, and the Kindle app on my iPad, using simple instructions in the Vellum help files to load the test books on each device. Each one looked great – clean, well formatted, like a book I would buy from iBooks or Kindle stores.

When you format books for printing, you can see exactly what your text will look like on the page.

The great ghost of Gutenberg!

You get it all for $ 200. For an additional $ 50, as I mentioned, you have the added option of outputting print-ready PDFs for print-on-demand sites like Lulu or CreateSpace, all at the same time and from the same file. Vellum that you generate eBooks. (Unlike previous versions, Vellum no longer charges you per generated book. An initial price allows you to generate all the different books you want.)

Vellum’s preview pane can show you a perfectly reasonable rough idea of ​​how your printed book will look, to check formatting and spot errors, or a super accurate view that includes shifting margins on alternating pages. . Behind the scenes, Vellum strives to avoid odd words or paragraphs interspersed from page to page, so your books always look great. And its styling options for printing are, in a way, even more impressive than its eBook options.

I thought I finally found a flaw in Vellum, when it looked like Vellum could only format books printed in 5 “x8” format. But of course I just hadn’t found the Print Settings menu option, offering four different cut sizes up to 6 “x 9”.

out of 5

My verdict

180g polished every aspect of this app until it shines. Even adding a KindleGen file to create Amazon-compatible .mobi books, which could have made finding and downloading worse, took less than a minute, never leaving Vellum. And if you are momentarily puzzled, or just want to see what other incredible feats the program can achieve, Vellum’s clear and useful online help files are ready and waiting for you.

Anyway, I’m angry. I almost certainly embarrassed myself to love this insanely expensive app. And I feel like I’m pretty much doomed to buy it. It’s just that good. If you make and sell eBooks for a living – or if, like me, you dream of doing it and can muster the money to buy it – Vellum earns every last penny of its almost absurd price, and more Again.

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