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Vellum promises simpler, more elegant universal eBook authoring

updated 08:16 pm EST, Wed December 11, 2013

New development company aims to streamline production of manuscripts

A pair of ex-Pixar employees have formed 180g -- a software development company that has now released an e-book publishing tool, Vellum. The new OS X software package allows authors and small publishers to easily create, modify, and publish elegant e-books compatible with the three major US platforms: Apple's iBookstore, Amazon's Kindle, and Barnes & Noble's Nook.

Vellum has been designed from the ground up for e-books, with automatic typesetting and sophisticated book styles. The program features an instant preview that shows how the manuscript will appear on various popular e-readers. When activated for e-book creation (an in-app purchase), Vellum simultaneously generates specialized eBook files for iBooks, Kindle, and Nook formats, giving authors the opportunity for exposure to the three largest book platforms. The program itself does not submit or imply acceptance of a work on any of the digital bookstores.

The free software package allows users to import a manuscript from Microsoft Word or a similar word processor, which is then analyzed to auto-locate chapters and titles. The e-book can then be edited within Vellum, with the author able to quickly add front and back matter such as copyright, epigraph, and acknowledgments among other options.

Vellum typesets according to standards of professional book design, and updates the typesetting as content changes. The software "intelligently" formats for specific devices and using the $50 per-book activation option will export the manuscript to EPUB3, HTML5, and CSS3 on supporting platforms, with EPUB files guaranteed to pass IDPF's epubcheck validation. Discounts are available for those wishing to pre-buy multiple book activations.

Vellum is a free download, so interested writers can import their manuscript, explore styles, and use Vellum's instant preview without charge. Once activated, almost all of the book remains editable -- allowing authors to continue to make changes and regenerate e-books as they discover typos or receive feedback from early readers. Only the book's title, subtitle, and author name are locked upon activation.

Customers interested in publishing multiple titles can take advantage of the lower per-book pricing by purchasing in bundles. Three e-books can be created for $100 (a 50 percent savings) or five e-books can be made for $150 (a $100 savings from buying activations separately). Submission and acceptance of the resulting e-books is still up to the author or their agency (companies such as Smashwords, for example, act as clearinghouses for e-book submission to multiple digital book storefronts).

by MacNN Staff



  1. ElectroTech

    Junior Member

    Joined: 11-26-08

    iBooks Author can't do this for free?

  1. Mike Wuerthele

    Managing Editor

    Joined: 07-19-12

    the cross-device publishing on iBooks Publisher is... iffy.

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    Indeed, iBooks Author can do this (and more) for free ... but you are limited (as in "actively prohibited") from selling the e-book anywhere else but the iBookstore. If you're giving the e-book away for free this isn't an issue as I understand it, but iBooks Author flat-out doesn't allow e-books to be sold on other e-bookstores.

    There is a bit of a way around this, since Pages can save in ePub format -- but Vellum guarantees that it can produce an ebook fully compatible with all the major book markets (iBookstore, Kindle, Nook) for $50 or less. I haven't used the program so I can't vouch for it, but if it does what it says, the $50 is a pittance.

  1. Inkling

    Senior User

    Joined: 07-25-06

    Word import? Oh no! Has anyone ever got Word documents to import properly? Adobe's been trying to get InDesign to do that for years. I suspect these guys will have no better luck. Word is a monster.

    The Good News:

    * EDITING. Vellum claims to work well enough as an editor that a writer could "write a new one from scratch." For authors who don't need all the wonders of Scrivener to write, that may be enough.

    SUGGESTION: I would love to see them add Markdown import as an alternative to the horrors of Word. That'd let writers create their drafts in almost any app (including Scrivener) and import it into Vellum with most formatting retained, including chapters and subheadings with # and ## markers.

    * REAL BOOKS. I've complained constantly that iBooks Author and the templates that others have created for it all look like graphic-filled high school textbooks. I've been left wondering if IBA has the ability to create appealing text-only books at all or at least without a lot of hassle. Judging by their website, Vellum is designed to create attractive text-centric books. That's good news.

    SUGGESTION 1: If you've not already, add bells and whistles that others don't have. Foremost among those would be pop-up notes, iBooks style. Tables would be great too, as would be the ability to tint a paragraph's background or put it inside a box. As writers we want to be able to make our ebooks look spiffy without deal with HTML-like code.

    SUGGESTION 2: Ebook readers seem designed to make ebooks look ugly. Pages break halfway down to fit in a graphic. Books are filled with so many widows and orphans, you'd think they were Dickens novels. Is there ANY way the code could force readers to break pages more gracefully? If so do it.

    I plan to give Vellum a try but it has a high bar to pass. I create books that are both print and digital and I'm happy enough doing that with InDesign. Vellum is going to have to offer quite a bit more to get me to adopt all the hassles of two-app publishing.

    --Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books

  1. andrewbw

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 01-31-01

    Michael, there are a host of guides online showing how to import complex styles and other formatting easily and flawlessly from Word to InDesign. I can't think of a publication designer in my sphere who doesn't use these features; the two programs work together very well. It takes some effort and time to set up your templates properly, but that is true of any professional software.

    I welcome Vellum's entry into the market, although will need to evaluate it hands-on to see if it offers anything new over existing tools. iBookAuthor does some thing very well (particularly educational titles, for which it was designed), but is ultimately useless because it can't be used for Kindle books. With some of the authors I work with showing 100:1 ratios of sales for Amazon versus iBookstore, it hardly makes any sense to use software that is locked into a niche platform.

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    Inkling: good suggestion on the Markdown support. You should evaluate Vellum and let them know your thoughts. As for IBA, the templates are graphics-oriented but it is certainly possible to create an attractive all-text or mostly-text layout. LOVED the crack about widows and orphans.

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