Category Archives: Publishing

Formatting Your Books with Vellum on Mac or PC

I’ve been reading a lot of author blog posts lately, and Vellum keeps rearing its head. Everyone that uses it says its wonderful and very easy to use, so I thought I’d give it a go this week and see if it worked for me.

Formatting is one of those things that I was more than happy to off load onto someone else. I’ve been very happy with the results from the people that used to do mine. There is a cost to this though, and of course the cost increases depending on how many different file types you want. You’ll need a .MOBI for Kindle, a .EPUB for other stores, and each of those stores may have their own requirements, so you’ll need a generic .EPUB for aggregators like Draft2Digital, and one tailored to Kobo, B&N Nook, iBooks etc. So this cost and the short delay in receiving the files, plus the lack of my ability to then edit those files can interrupt my workflow. I appreciate that book covers should only be done by a very good cover designer, and I know I can’t (shouldn’t) proof read my own books, but formatting isn’t the dark art I once thought it was, not with Vellum anyway.

The first thing you’ll hear about Vellum is that it’s Mac only. So unless you have a Mac computer running the OS that it supports, you won’t be able to use it right?…well not quite. I made the decision that I needed to try Vellum and spent a lunchtime looking at new and second hand Apple Mac computers. Wow they are pricey, but I know they are quality too and I know that Mac users are happy users, but I still didn’t want to interrupt my workflow by switching computers, not to mention the chunk of change it was going to cost me. There is another solution for us pc users and one that many authors use Vellum with quite happily, and it’s called Macincloud.

Macincloud is a virtual Mac on your Windows pc. It sounds complicated and almost like you’d need a degree in computer science to set it up, but it’s so easy anyone can do it. Once signed up to Macincloud you choose a price plan. For me their Pay as You Go option was fine at $1.00 per hour purchased in 30 hour chunks. For that you get a zipped file, inside of which are a bunch of shortcuts. These connect you to your virtual Mac with lots of different screen configurations, for example there was one called ‘Macincloud 1920×1080’ which matched the screen resolution of my laptop and worked perfectly. Connecting is as simple as double clicking the most suitable shortcut for you and logging in with your user name and password. A window pops up which you can resize or minimise down to the task bar just like any other window, and hey presto, you are working on a Mac. The best bit is that Vellum is pre-installed and you can use it for free (only register and pay if you want to output the files it produces).

Vellum costs $199 for the eBook only version and $249 for the eBook and print version. The print version produces a print ready pdf. Considering I’m paying $1.00 per hour to use Macincloud I was interested to see how much of this time I burned up formatting a book. To my amazement I had a short story formatted with all front and back matter in about 10 minutes, and a full length novel in about 15 to 20 minutes. Truly amazing and Vellum is that powerful.

Macincloud isn’t as fast as a standalone Mac computer sitting in front of you, but it’s quick enough. You’ll benefit from having a fast broadband connection when you use it (mine is 100 Mbps).

Some great features of Vellum are:

  1. Super quick import of any Docx file which is quickly and automatically formatted. All you need is your final Docx, post editing and proof reading.
  2. A choice of styles for chapters, headers, footers, ornate page breaks etc, which make your book stand out.
  3. Store Links that you can use in your back matter to link to other books. The beauty of this is that the correct store link will be presented to the reader depending on their location and the device they use. So a Kindle reader in the UK will be directed to Amazon.co.uk.
  4. Easily copy front and back matter between books to save time.
  5. Warn if your cover artwork doesn’t meet their guidelines.
  6. Create books with pictures.
  7. Easily output a print ready pdf.
  8. Auto adding of front and back matter such as the copyright page (and many more). Just update the text to relate to you and your book.
  9. View the book on other devices (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iPad etc), from within Vellum, testing the links on each device for the appropriate store.
  10. Output a .MOBI for Kindle, plus a different .EPUB for Kobo, B&N Nook, iBooks, Google Play and a generic .EPUB for aggregators such as Draft2Digital. Each file comes complete with a resized cover suitable for that particular store. All done in seconds with one click!

I Really like Vellum. It’s quick, full of features and helps me keep my costs down. It also produces beautiful books and I highly recommend it.

Making my Book Free on Amazon and Other Book Stores

I think it was Hugh Howey who once said that one of the best things an author can do to build a brand and increase sales is to give books away. At the end of the day if you want to attract readers then free and cheap books will do that for sure. If you also have a back catalogue of paid for books ready and available, those free readers might check out your other stuff and start buying from you. Your number one goal as a new or established author is to get your books out there and gain lots of readers and fans. The rest should grow naturally.

Free books are also a great way to get people interested in a series. By giving the first book away free (or cheaply), readers may want to gobble up the remaining paid for books. It’s a tactic often applied and can work very well.

Making a book free through Kobo, Barnes&Noble, Google Play and Apple books is easy. I’ve also used the publishing aggregator Draft2Digital and the process is again, very simple. Amazon on the other hand won’t allow free books outside of their KDP Select program (where you can offer a book for free for up to 5 days out of every 90 days). They also say they no longer price match so your eBook can never be any less than 0.99…or can it?

I’ve read numerous articles where authors have asked Amazon to price match their book against other stores that offer it for free, and in most cases this has been successful. Amazon want to remain competitive and seem happy to match other retailers in this situation. The trick is to simply ask them to do it and provide links and examples to where it is free. Here’s what I did:

Email sent through KDP via this route: Help >>> Contact us (button) >>> Amazon Product Page >>> Price Matching.

Hello my book ‘The Girl in Time’ by Logan Brookfield is currently free on Kobo, Apple Books and Barnes and Noble. Could you please price match this on Amazon to make the price free. Thank you.

ASIN of my book: B01N3716Q2

Links to where it is free:
https://www.kobo.com/ebook/the-girl-in-time-1
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1130775109

I received a reply from Amazon saying that they will look into this. Nothing seemed to be happening, so after one week had passed I sent a follow up (replying to their original reply). After two weeks I sent another follow up. Each time I had an apology to say it was being looked into. Finally after just over two weeks I noticed that free downloads were being recorded in my reports, even though the price still showed as 0.99 on Amazon. Rather than questioning this I let a few days pass and sure enough, the price changed to zero. I’m guessing that the pricing information gets cached and can take a few days to reflect the actual price on the Amazon.

So if you want to offer ‘permafree’ books and are outside of KDP Select, then contact Amazon as I did above. Offer examples of where it is free and be patient, it might take a few weeks for this to happen. They’re more likely to price match the main players so make sure it’s free on Kobo and Barnes&Noble for example.

I did read a recent blog post where an author had successfully got their book made free through price matching, but then couldn’t get Amazon to increase the price when he wanted to make it a paid book again. Even though it was a paid for book on other stores and he’d set the price to 0.99 within the book details on Amazon, it remained at zero.

The above was my experience, yours may differ. Please leave a reply if you have any questions or any of your own experience.

Going Wide With Draft2Digital, Kobo Writing Life and Barnes & Noble Press

Since I first began writing and publishing online (back in 2016/2017), I’ve published directly and exclusively with Amazon. They make it so easy you can have a book uploaded and published within a few minutes. They’ve also cornered the market in many ways with over 80% of eBooks in the USA and UK being sold by them. With KDP Select (including Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners Lending Library) they also offer higher royalty rates, promotional pricing and a share of a pot of money for pages read, in return for exclusivity with them. All good right? Well maybe…it depends.

If you have a successful book that’s flying off the shelves (or flying down the wires to a device more likely), then exclusivity with Amazon could work very well for you. There are many authors who are exclusive and earn a large wedge of cash from the perks that this gives. In fact during the times that some of my books were the most successful, I earned as much in page reads as I did from the downloads themselves. It was like being paid twice, and double money is always good right? There can be no argument that Amazon dominates the market and this is why most of the best selling authors stick with them. But is this the whole story? What about all those people who download their content from other platforms? Not everyone buys their books from Amazon.

In my experience, when the going is good I have earned more when I stick with Amazon. There is a but here though, and a possible long term unseen cost. By being exclusive to one platform I’m limiting my reach somewhat and putting all my eggs in one basket. Amazon has the biggest share of the eBook market in countries like the USA and UK, but not in others such as Canada, where Kobo dominates. Kobo and Apple Books have a share of the market which grows or shrinks depending on the country you are in, and in some cases it’s bigger than Amazon. Barnes & Noble sell eBooks too, although their share of this market appears to be less than the previously mentioned three (in my experience, but it depends where you are).

One other thing that I believe is that no company will last for ever. Therefore if I don’t spread my reach wider, then I could lose everything if that single platform goes bust or even decides to drop me and delete all my books (it happens more often than you may think to authors). This came to light recently when reading the blog of Joanna Penn and reading a book by Adam Croft. Both are currently big advocates of going wide and I totally understand their approach. In fact, both are certain that they earn more wide so it’s a business decision as well as one to future proof their brand. Check out their websites and books on publishing, they really do know what they’re doing and have given me some invaluable advice.

I recently made accounts with Draft2Digital, Smashwords, Streetlib and Publishdrive to help push my books wide. For ease of use and for the sheer joy of the way it works, I ended up just using Draft2Digital, simply because it was easy and pain free. I like how they cover the stores I want to distribute to (with Google Play soon to be added), how I can preview my book before sending it off to those stores, and how they then let me download an EPUB (industry wide eBook format except for Amazon), and MOBI (Amazon eBook format) versions of those files for uploading elsewhere. In fact you can just use them to format your books and produce the file types you require and not publish with them, that’s quite a free service. They take 10% of any sale if you do use them, so I publish direct where I can.

So in conclusion, this is the strategy I’m adopting at the moment. I hope this will increase my reach and visibility and offer some protection if any one major player goes bust or removes my books :

Amazon = Direct.

Kobo = Direct.

Barnes & Noble = Direct.

Apple Books = Direct (accessed on a Windows PC using Macincloud)

Google Play (currently closed to new submissions from authors) = Draft2Digital.

Have a question or have your own experience? Please leave a reply.