Enter Vellum… the closest ePub's got to WYSIWYG

I put up a new short story earlier today, formatted more professionally than anything I’ve ever self-pubbed before. I don’t pretend to be a self-pub expert. If something suits that medium I’m happy to do it. But conventional publishing — sorry I won’t call it ‘legacy’ because that’s plain daft — remains my bread and butter and I’m happy for it to stay so.

Technology primarily interests me through what it makes possible that couldn’t be done before. I love short stories but the conventional publishing market for them isn’t great. Delivering some now and again direct makes a lot of sense.

What held me back before? The hassle. I like my work to look good, and that’s not easy with ePub and Kindle. Yes you can go through the format routine with Word. Scrivener, Pages and Ulysses will alll publish direct to ePub too, and do competent jobs. But the finer points of publishing — custom design, drop caps, handsome styling — are hard to get unless you dirty your hands with code. That’s beyond me and it will stay that way.

And then along came a remarkable OS X app called Vellum.

Vellum is the easy way to look good at digital book publishing without the hassle. I’m not going to give you a detailed review here — just show you the workflow that I went through to publish Last Exit to Fuengirola. There’s a full version of the app for free at the link above and in the Apple App store. You only have to pay for it if you want to use it.

Here’s how it worked for me.

  1. Fill in the title details for the book.

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 21.27.08

  1. Insert a cover — note that Vellum will tell you if it isn’t of sufficient resolution.

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 21.27.43 3. Drag in a Word file of the manuscript. I’ve already marked chapter numbers in it and put in ### where there should be scene breaks. So Vellum divides the book into the chapters accordingly and sets up the scene breaks. Plus I can preview what it looks like on an iPad, Kindle or Nook in the right panel. I can edit and spellcheck the text here too.

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 21.38.19


  1. Pick a style for the book. This will be the general format for it. There are currently eight, ranging from classical designs to more modern ones.

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 21.41.31

  1. Pick a format for the headings.

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 21.43.24

  1. Pick a format for the first paragraph,  block quotation, ornamental break and how paragraphs will look after the break (I’m only showing the first paragraph here but you get the idea).

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 21.45.50

7. When I’m happy with the way everything looks export the ePub files and covers for the publishing services I want to use. The iBooks export can easily be proofed in the OS X iBooks app. Once you’re satisfied just upload them. Last Exit went up to iBooks, Kindle and Nook without the slightest bleat from any of them about errors.

And… that’s it. You can’t load images into Vellum at the moment so this is primarily for text-only books. Boy do they look good though. It’s as easy as using a word processor too. In fact a touch easier than some. And seeing a plain manuscript turn into a properly-formatted book is a real pleasure.

Can’t say e-publishing has ever been that before.