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Vellum Software Review: How to Use Vellum Book Formatting

Written by

Scott Allan

https://selfpublishing.com/author/scott-allan/

Published on

2019-10-10

Vellum software is one of the newest book formatting choices available to self-published and independent authors, but is it right for you? 

Book formatting can be costly, and a headache, depending on how complex your book’s formatting requirements are, and how tech-savvy you are with file formats, software programs, and the like. 

If you’re new to self-publishing, you might be wondering which route to go: Do you pay for a book formatter, or do you invest in a program that allows you to format your book by yourself?

There are a number of book formatting programs available for you to choose from, including Microsoft Word, Kindle Create, Adobe InDesign, and many more (which we’ll cover later). 

To help you narrow down your focus and choose a book formatting software that fits your specific needs, we’ll take an in-depth look at the Vellum software.

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Here’s what we’ll cover in this Vellum review: 

  1. What is Vellum? 
  2. Vellum book formatting requirements
  3. Can I format my own book using Vellum software?
  4. DIY book formatting software options
  5. How much does Vellum software cost? 
  6. How to use the Vellum book formatting software: Step-by-step
  7. Vellum Review: The Pros and Cons
  8. Book Formatting with Vellum: Is Vellum for You?
  9. Vellum Resources
A Note To Our Readers:

We want you to make informed decisions when it comes to how and where to invest your money. That’s why our mission is to help educate authors on the various self-publishing companies and services that are on the market today.

Our reviews are meant to be unbiased, 3rd party reviews. In full transparency, we are part of the Self-Publishing School family, an online education company for authors and entrepreneurs looking to write and publish a book.

#1 – What is Vellum software?

Vellum is book formatting software that is used to create and format aesthetically pleasing eBooks and print books. You can use the Vellum software, which was designed specifically for Mac users, to professionally format your book yourself. Once you have uploaded and formatted your book to Vellum, it is ready for publication to most platforms in a variety of available book styles. You can download the free version of Vellum to start importing your files and crafting a professional manuscript. However, to export and generate the actual book, you need to purchase the full Vellum software package. We will cover pricing in the next section.

Related: Self-Publishing Costs

Vellum has many great features that sets it apart from many of the free templates or cheaper formatting tools available. Vellum has attractive book styles, sophisticated exporting capabilities for publishing to most platforms, an advanced previewing tool and user friendly software that does not require high tech capability.

vellum book formatting

#2 – Vellum book formatting requirements

Before you start using Vellum, you want to be sure you have everything you need to get started using the program correctly. 

Before you decide whether or not to purchase the full Vellum software package, it’s important to make sure that your computer system meets Vellum’s requirements, since it was specifically designed for Mac computer users. There are two main requirements to be aware of: 

#1 – First, Vellum is designed specifically for Mac users. 

If you don’t have a Mac but still want to use the Vellum software, it’s possible to use it on a PC if you sign up with Macincloud services. 

Mac system requirements for Vellum: 

Is Vellum available for PC?

At the time of this article, Vellum is not directly available for PC users. This means that if you use a Windows computer, you will not be able to directly use Vellum software to format your book. 

The Vellum site states that there are not any immediate plans to develop a product in their help center article here:

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However, if you want to use Vellum and you do not have access to a Mac, there may be a workaround available for you. You can use the MacinCloud service, which allows you to access Mac in a cloud version. This enables you to manage and access a Mac server from your PC, as long as you have Internet access. 

You can use MacinCloud when you want to access software that requires a Mac, such as the Vellum software. This is not a free service, and will require you to pay for a plan, which varies depending on your needs and usage. There are some flexible packages, such as the Pay-As-You-Go plan, where you can essentially pay by the hour. 

Can you use Vellum on an iPad?

At the time of this article, you cannot use Vellum on an iPad. Although iPads are Apple products, they operate on iOS, and not macOS. Vellum currently only works directly on devices that operate on macOS. 

#2 – Next, you must have the final version of your manuscript ready in a Word .docx file. 

Although you can make (limited) additions to your text inside, this is cumbersome and the software doesn’t allow for big editing changes once imported. 

Therefore, it’s very important for the sake of ease and convenience that your manuscript is ready to go in the proper file format. 

To recap, here are the main requirements to use Vellum to format your book: 

  1. Access to a Mac device that runs on the accepted versions
  2. A final manuscript .docx file
  3. The paid version of Vellum when you’re ready to export your formatted book

#3 – Can I format my own book using Vellum software?

Yes, you can format your own book using the Vellum book formatting software. In fact, this is specifically what many self-published and independent authors use to format their own books. 

The question of formatting your own book is something a lot of aspiring self-published authors ask. The answer varies depending on how much time you can dedicate to formatting, and if an author can deal with the various tech issues that arise with formatting.

The more complex the project, the better you need to be when it comes to formatting your own book. Of course,  you can always hire a professional to work on your novel to have it digital and print ready within a few days. 

Keep in mind that formatting can be simplistic, or…your worst nightmare, depending on the level of complexity your formatting needs.

If you are sure formatting is a skill you want to learn, the good news with Vellum is, you don’t need to be a formatting professional to use it. 

Vellum book formatting has enough built-in functionality that you just need to make key decisions on how you want the style and content to appear in published print. 

I have tested many of the formatting tools out there and would recommend a few of them to start with; however, if writing a book and DIY publishing is your thing, cut right to the chase and get Vellum.

But, before you decide…

I will introduce you to several resources for formatting so you can try out various software before you commit to a personal favorite.

Questions to ask when deciding whether to use Vellum to format your book: 

  1. Do you plan on publishing multiple books? 
  2. Do you have the time to learn how to use another software? 
  3. Is book formatting a skill you really want or need to learn? 
  4. Does it make sense to hire a formatter? 
  5. Does your book require complex formatting? 

#4 – DIY book formatting software options

Before deciding if Vellum is for you, I’ll dive into the book formatting options available to you, and break down each one. 

Vellum is, I must admit, my first choice amongst everything else I’ve tried, but if you are new to this software, you might need some convincing. 

Here are the additional methods to format your book:

#1 – Book Designer Templates

Joel Friedlander at BookDesigner.com offers up a great product here for DIY formatting. 

In fact, next to Vellum, the Book Designer Templates are my next favorite. They offer pre-formatted book templates for Word and Apple Pages or Adobe InDesign. The templates are available for fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, poetry, and picture books.

The formatting is easy to implement by copying your text from the original edited document directly into the template. After this, it is a simple matter of uploading directly to the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform. Using 2Way design technology, it allows authors and publishers to print for both eBook and paperback using a single template.

#2 – Adobe InDesign

This professional desktop publishing software application has become the standard for graphic design professionals to create flyers, brochures, magazines, newspapers, and books. InDesign is a very powerful app that gives you unlimited design capability.

The downside is, there is a steep learning curve required to master just the basic functions, and requires many hours of practice. If you are looking for something to format your book quickly, this isn’t it. You also have to pay a monthly subscription fee.

#3 – Kindle Create

Kindle Create is Amazon’s solution to providing free book formatting software for authors to format their books for direct upload to Amazon. For the hassle this is worth to do it for free, you’re better off buying the previously mentioned Book Designer Templates

This works best for authors with a simple book that doesn’t require advanced formatting, but beyond that, forget about it.

Related: KDP Guide

#4 – Calibre Software (E-Book Management)

Calibre is a cross-platform, open-source suite of eBook software with a powerful punch. 

You can easily create mobi and EPUB files for uploading to Amazon. The Calibre software allows users to sort and group eBooks by metadata fields pulled from many different sources. 

More on the tech software side of things, Calibre is a nice substitute for DIY book formatting but is favored by programmers and not authors with specific formatting needs.

#5 – Smashwords Formatting Style Guide

Smashwords is an online book aggregator that distributes your eBook to online retailers. Smashwords also has book formatting capability. 

And, if you can spare three hours to read through the formatting style guide, you might be ready for formatting on Smashwords. 

You can download the style guide by founder and CEO of Smashwords Mark Coker right here: Smashwords Style Guide

#6 – Reedsy Book Editor

As free software goes, the Reedsy Editor app is by far better than most. It is efficient and Reedsy claims you can set up your print and eBook in just six simple steps. 

You can check out How to Format a Book with the Reedsy Book Editor for the step-by-step process.

#7 – Scrivener Formatting

Anyone writing a book has probably come across Scrivener software. If not, Scrivener is an elite writing app that is considered by many to be the “writing bible” when it comes to…well, writing a novel.

But, unlike most writing apps, Scrivener does just about everything, including book formatting. 

If you already paid for and use Scrivener, you might want to stick with it to format your book. After all, the formatting is included in the price. 

Now that we have a good idea the select choices available [and there are many more but I’m just covering the most popular] let’s take a look at Vellum to see how it stacks up against the rest. 

#5 – How much does Vellum software cost?

With Vellum, you can use the tool for free with limited function, and choose from two main pricing packages depending on your intended use. In order to export your formatted book from Vellum, you will need to purchase one of the plans, which start at $199.99 for eBooks.

If you hire a professional book formatter, you could end up paying anywhere from $150 upwards to $2000 depending on the complexity of your book. On average, for a book around 30k words and made up of text only, you can expect to pay $130 for eBook conversion and another $100 for paperback. But prices vary depending on the market, the service, and/or the professional.

We mentioned formatting options and, although there are several formatting programs that are free to use, when you run into tech issues (and you will) it could cost you hours to sort out. 

With Vellum, you can use the tool for free to try it out, but will eventually need to purchase a plan if you decide to use it. 

In order to publish your formatted book, you’ll need to export the manuscript from Vellum. And to export a manuscript, you will need to pay for the Vellum software depending on if it is eBook or print.

vellum cost

Here are the price options for purchasing the Vellum writing software: 

#1 – Option 1 for Vellum eBooks costs $199.99. This package allows you to create and export an unlimited amount of eBooks.

#2 – Option 2 for Vellum Press costs $249.99. This package allows you to create and export unlimited eBooks and paperbacks.

We recommend you pay for the package with both eBook and printing combined. Most authors publish with eBook and print because it creates another format for readers and an additional income stream. If you buy Vellum, go all in and get both.

This pricing seems high compared to other book formatting tools that are cheaper or free. But, you are being given access to a  very sophisticated software that is both beautiful in design and easy to use. Having worked with various formatting software, this combination is worth it.

Here is a cost comparison of Vellum to other formatting tools: 

Note: We gave it a complexity rating from 1-10. The lower the rating, the easier it is to work with in terms of function and learning curve. This rating is based on the formatting aspects of the tool and functionality.

SoftwarePricingComplexity
Vellum$199 (eBook) or $249 (Full package)2
Scrivener$456
Book Design Templates$60 (single license) / $120 (Multiple license) per set4
InDesign$120/year9
CaliberFree6
ReedsyFree3
Kindle CreateFree6

In testing various formatting tools, we settled on Vellum as the best choice in terms of best formatting experience. 

This includes the overall speed at formatting the book, as well as design flexibility.

#6 – How to use the Vellum book formatting software

In this section, we’ll walk you through the steps for importing, editing and choosing the aesthetics of your book in Vellum’s book styles, as well as formatting.

Before starting anything, be sure to check out Vellum’s Help Section for Importing your manuscript. 

Broken down into steps, you will be able to follow along and by the end of this post, your book will be ready for uploading to Amazon’s KDP.

For simplicity, I will cover the basics of the formatting. For a clean step-by-step tutorial, you can visit Vellum’s Help Overview.

#1 – Download the Vellum software

You can download the free version of Vellum here if you want to test out the software first before purchasing.

You can download the paid version when you’re ready to commit to the software. You will need this access the export capabilities and generate your book.

#2 – Import your book as a Word .docx file to Vellum

In the Vellum software, import your document by clicking on “Import Word File” and upload from your desktop (or Dropbox). 

Vellum will open your Word document, analyze the content to locate title information and chapters, and then convert it into Vellum’s format.

Note: The importing feature is not always what you expect. I had to clean up some of the chapter headings and other elements.

import manuscript

#3 – Add Title Page details

Fill in your book’s title, author name, publisher press name (if you have one) and import the book cover. This should only take a couple of minutes.

vellum guide

Note: As Vellum automatically generates a Table of Contents and Title Page, remove this from your manuscript before uploading.

#4 – Add an eBook cover

To upload a cover image for your ebook, first select your book’s title in Vellum’s Navigator. Then, select the “eBook Cover” tab.

Click on the blank cover and you will be prompted to select your image to use.

ebook cover for vellum

Note: If the book size does not comply with the minimum requirements for the book cover size, Vellum will recommend the size needed. You can make these changes to the cover and import it again.

error message

If you get an error message from Vellum that states your file is not large enough, you will need to contact your cover designer to fix this up. Don’t try resizing the image on your own, as it will affect the image quality and result in a low resolution image.

In order to publish to every store supported by Vellum, it is best to start with a cover image that meets the largest size requirement, which is an image at least 2560 pixels tall.

#5 – Choose a Vellum Book Style

One great feature of Vellum is the 8 book styles to choose from. Your options are: Meridian (default), Trace, Oxford, Artisanal, Kindred, Sudo, Parcel, and Chroma

Click on the book styles tab and at the bottom Vellum offers up a variety of styles. Scroll through and select your style.

When it comes to books styles, Vellum has everything you need. You can create a title, chapter headings, or drop caps. 

Also, any formatting you had in your document before importing—italics, bolding—are carried over into the Vellum software. You can make changes to the manuscript right in the app and these changes show up instantaneously in the preview window on the right.

To change the total look of your book, select Book Style and whip through the pages shown in the Style Carousel to choose the best one that fits your book’s’ theme.

vellum template styles

Your Vellum template options are: 

  1. Meridian (default)
  2. Trace
  3. Oxford
  4. Artisanal
  5. Kindred
  6. Sudo
  7. Parcel
  8. Chroma

#6 – Format your chapter headings/titles

To indicate a new chapter,  I recommend using a page break, followed by a centered and bold chapter number (ex: Chapter 1). If you have a chapter title, center and bold this, too.

Now you can go into your content and, using Vellum’s formatting functions, make the pages look the way you want.

You can use bold, italics, and insert links where needed. Format subheadings and work through the book until it looks exactly the way you want.

#7 – Insert ornamental breaks

An ornamental break is the symbol used to indicate a “scene” break for fiction, but can also be used in nonfiction books. 

Note: Ornamental breaks will always appear in the text editor as a cluster of three asterisks. But in the previewer will show up as a symbol as you can see here: 

Nonfiction authors might use these at the beginning of chapters to separate the chapter title from the beginning content. Or, to separate the beginning of new subheadings within a chapter. 

To add an Ornamental Break to your book, select where you’d like to insert the break and choose the Ornamental Break item from the text feature menu.

text feature menu

#8 – Choose your book’s header and footer style

Under the Book Style section, use the Header and Footer style carousel to choose what’s shown at the top and bottom of each page in your print edition. 

This is the area to place the title of your book and author name. This runs uniform throughout the book.

header style

#9 – Use the Vellum Previewer to proof your book

This feature lets you check the formatting as it will appear on any device such as Kindle Fire, PC, Kindle Reader, iPad, iPhone, Android Tablet or Kobo Glo. 

This is an amazing feature of Vellum as they have consolidated access to all online previewers for every store right here in one location. You just click on the tablet icon in the toolbar to access the preview tool for each.

Another feature of the previewer is its ability to display your book as it appears in a print book. This is important because you need to know exactly how the layout appears for that upcoming speaking event you intend to order 200 copies for.

#9 – Export your formatted book from Vellum

If Vellum’s importing capability is impressive, its exporting capabilities are equally matched. Before you consider exporting, remember that you must purchase the full version of Vellum software before taking this step. 

Once done, check over your content to make sure everything is good to go.

You can export your ebook in several formats and print is available in four sizes up to 6×9. 

What you see in previewer mode mirrors the quality of print you can expect to receive as a final hard copy. Be sure to check through all of the pages in the previewer before exporting.

vellum trim sizes

#7 – Vellum Review: The Pros and Cons

Now that we have looked at all the features of Vellum, let’s compare with the pros and cons of this software. 

Vellum Features: Pros & Cons

Vellum writing software includes a number of features that make formatting your book a seamless process, which we’ve covered extensively in this article. 

While the features make it one of the leading book formatting software options for self-published and indie authors, it’s important to consider the pros and cons in order to make an informed decision before purchasing. 

Let’s quickly recap on the features Vellum offers, before diving into the benefits and disadvantages to the book formatting software. 

Here are the main Vellum software features worth noting:

#1 – Professional looking, aesthetic book styles. The pre-designed book templates are included with the software, and you’re likely to find a beautiful design that fits your genre. Instead of having to pay for book templates, you can simply choose from one of the available book styles that Vellum offers, which saves you money, time, and the hassle of importing a design. 

#2 – Interior design tools. From customized headers and footers, to ornamental breaks, and block quotations, there are a number of interior design tools at your disposal, in addition to the included book styles. There are also specific tools for inserting vese, photographs, portraits, captions, and  more. 

#3 – Versatile importing function. Vellum makes the importing process seem less technical and scary. Although your manuscript is required to be in a Word .docx file format in order to be imported initially, once your file is imported, the importing functions are super versatile. Vellum imports your manuscript and converts it with lightning speed and minimal tweaking needed. The book formatting software will automatically include chapter breaks, depending on how your original document headings were entered.

#5 – Vellum Previewer tool. Use this tool to preview how your book will appear in several different formats, depending on the device the reader will use. You can check the formatting as it will appear on devices, such as Kindle Fire, PC, Kindle Reader, iPad, iPhone, Android Tablet or Kobo Glo. 

#5 – Powerful exporting function.  When you’re ready to take your formatted manuscript and export it to your computer, Vellum’s powerful exporting function will make your work minimal. You can choose from a multitude of different file types to export your book to, depending on your eBook publishing needs. For example, you can instantly export your book file to EPUB or mobi with the click of a button in Vellum. If you’re formatting for print, there are several different trim types to choose from when exporting. 

In addition to the powerful features and functions that come with a paid Vellum plan, there are a number of advantages to using the book formatting software. 

Here are the pros to using Vellum book formatting software: 

  1. Aesthetically beautiful interior design that gives your book that professional look it needs. 
  2. Unlimited usage that allows you to use Vellum again and again for as many books as you have. 
  3. Professional Book Style options. You have a choice of various book styles to choose from depending on the style of the book you are formatting. There is something for everyone here
  4. Preview Function to check formatting across different devices. Just as Amazon has a previewer installed in KDP for authors to view the final product before publication, Vellum has a previewer so you can see how the book will appear on devices.
  5. Create beautiful Box Sets. If you have  a series of books and want to wrap them into a bundle, Vellum is a great tool for setting this up.
  6. Instant turnaround. As soon as you upload to Vellum and everything is working, the wait is over. You can upload to stores or begin sending copies to waiting readers.
  7. Total control of your formatting. If you need to make any changes or additions to the book, you have direct access to your formatting tool. Make changes to your manuscript immediately and update your book instantaneously.
  8. Advance Reader Copies feature. You can send out an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of your book to a select group of readers—known as a launch team—for early feedback, proofreading, or an initial set of reviews for your book.

Here are the cons to using Vellum for your book formatting software:

  1. The price tag. Velum isn’t cheap, with a price tag of $249.99 if you plan to use it for both eBooks and print. If you plan to only write one book in your career, it’s probably not worth the investment. If you are creating a series of books or you write and publish multiple books, Vellum will work best for you.
  2. For Mac only. Vellum is only available for Mac users. Sorry Windows but, the next best thing could be using Scrivener. There is a workaround that you might try if you’re adamant on using Vellum with a PC, which we cover in more detail here.
  3. Font style importing not an option. Although I think the fonts included with Vellum are enough, you might prefer to use a font  that Vellum doesn’t have. If this is the case, you’re out of luck. You can’t import your own font styles.
  4. Text edits are tedious in Vellum. The second requirement for using Vellum that we mentioned was to make sure your manuscript is finalized and in the proper file. This is because making text edits in Vellum is not convenient, and is more of a hassle than not.  Therefore, it’s not a friendly option to use as a Word processor. 

#8 – Book Formatting with Vellum: Is Vellum Right for You?

Vellum isn’t the cheapest option to format your book, and if you are only writing one book and that is it, this wouldn’t justify the cost of buying Vellum. In this case, it might make more sense to hire a professional eBook formatter through websites such as eBook Launch.

But if you have a plan to write more books, by all means, Vellum can become one of the best investments for your self-publishing arsenal of author tools. In fact, the pricing is a no-brainer.

As a self-publishing author, formatting my own books is the one area I can excel at. The Vellum software allows you to take control of how your book will look.

Once you master this tool, you won’t have to format with any other program. The software is regularly upgraded with newer versions being released that makes it even easier to work with.

You can try out the free version here: https://vellum.pub/

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#9 – Vellum Writing Software Resources

If you’re ready to learn more about Vellum, there are some helpful resources to help you do more research. Stay tuned into the Vellum community by keeping up with the links and resources made available to Vellum users. 

Here are the top resources to learn more about Vellum software:

  1. Vellum Updates. Get the latest in Vellum updates here: https://help.vellum.pub/updating/
  2. Vellum Blog. Check in with Vellum’s blog for an up-to-date newsletter: https://blog.vellum.pub/
  3. Vellum Help Overview. Questions or issues with Vellum? Here is the overall help forum for Vellum: https://help.vellum.pub/
  4. Purchasing FAQs. You can download the FREE version here or purchase the Vellum package: https://help.vellum.pub/purchasing/
  5. Joanna Penn’s Youtube video. How to Format Your eBook and Print Book with Vellum
  6. Uploading to Stores. Here is how you can upload your book to stores after formatting s complete: https://help.vellum.pub/uploading/
  7. Vellum on Social Media. Connect with the Vellum community here on Facebook and Twitter
  8. Vellum Email List. Sign up for Vellum’s Email List here: https://vellum.pub/#email-signup

Now that you have a better understanding of Vellum’s capabilities, features, and requirements, you’ll be able to make an informed decision before investing in the book formatting software.

The formatting step is just one step in the self-publishing process, and while there are a variety of options available to you, it’s ultimately your decision whether you choose to outsource the formatting process to a professional, or whether you decide to do it yourself with a professional software like Vellum.

If you’ve used Vellum in the past, what was your experience like?

Scott Allan

Scott Allan is a bestselling author who has a passion for teaching, building life skills, and inspiring others to take charge of their lives. Scott’s mission is to give people the strategies needed to design the life they want through choice.