Episode 166 – Vellum 2.0, Six-Figure Audio Contracts, and Saying No

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Question of the Week: How much have you paid for print formatting in the past? Are you willing to fork out $250 one-time to let you format all your future print books?

Bryan’s back and he’s brought five news stories with him! After thanking their patrons The Final Arrangement, Taking Charge, and Shadow Raiders, Bryan and Jim tackled tips on saying no, saving up for your book, and hiring an assistant. News stories included a bump up for trad pub, more fake books on bestseller lists, ACX in Ireland and Canada, Vellum 2.0, and a six-figure audio contract for an indie. This week’s Question of the Week: How much have you paid for print formatting in the past? Are you willing to fork out $250 one-time to let you format all your future print books?
What You’ll Learn:
  • How to say no to too many commitments
  • What authors should consider when hiring a personal assistant
  • How authors can get into the marketing mindset with “ninja tactics”
  • What prices authors can expect to pay when self-publishing their books
  • Why we think some trad pubs are having a nice 2017
  • Where Audible Creation Exchange (ACX) is expanding its services
  • Why one author says fake ebooks on Amazon are stronger than ever
  • What new updates are available on Vellum’s interior design software
  • How one indie author is breaking records with his latest audio-only deal
Question of the Week: How much have you paid for print formatting in the past? Are you willing to fork out $250 one-time to let you format all your future print books?

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  • Heather Senter

    Fake books can just be basically gibberish. The point is that people aren’t necessarily buying these. Click farms are going through the pages to scam KU. This hurts authors if so many of these end up reducing the per page payout or take up the Author bonuses. If KU gets bogged down with these and cases to be a valuable service for readers, this will hurt all of us who benefit financially from KU.

  • Wee, today’s question of the week is something I’ve been musing over all week, so got me going before I even listened to the episode LOL Apologizes if this post is way too long.

    I pay $0 for my print formatting. I do it myself using Word, which I’ve had for as long as I’ve had a computer.I don’t find it hard to do at all and this leaves me free to make changes down the line without having to pay a formatter to update the PDF every single time. I have also experimented with Adobe InDesign, since I have CS6 (yay no stupid subscription version), but I haven’t felt a real need to switch. I’ve used Word to format paperbacks, hardbacks, and am experimenting with large print editions.

    And nope, I’m not willing to fork out $250 for Vellum 2.0 to produce what I would consider seriously inferior print books for a significantly higher cost. From all I’ve read about it on KBoards, FB groups, and their own FAQ, it has WAY too many limitations, including:

    * only 10 font choices, including no sans serif (so can’t format large print books at all); can’t even use industry standards like Minion or Caslon; can’t think of any good reason not to at least allow full access to the fonts a user has (and if you are gonna limit it, Times New Roman should so NOT be a choice!)

    * the entire book appears to be limited to one font, I mean seriously? I use at least three in my regular formatting: main text (usually Minion Pro), headers match or near match title on the cover, and the CTA and book list in the back in a sans serif font. I also will sometimes use a different font for letters, text messages, or other special bits within the story.

    * font sizes are a “slider” with no actual identifiable numbers, so you just have to make your best guess as to which one you have. It also appears as if you can’t change chapter headings to be a different size.

    * no kerning options for the fonts that I could see

    * line spacing is likewise a slider, versus more nuanced controls and cannot be modified individually by paragraph

    * limited margin controls including no ability to set the outside margin and margins aren’t properly mirrored

    * only “auto” fixes widows, ignores orphans

    * no real control over hyphenation, just on or off

    * can’t handle any kind of non-standard formatting or foot/end notes (this was an existing flaw in Vellum though an even bigger one for print or non-fiction authors)

    * only 7 layout “templates” and only 4 trim size options (4 most common, but still extremely limiting)

    * can only do black & white books

    * it sounds like you cannot do any special formatting for individual chapter or sections, or even individual text other than bold, italics, and centering.

    For me, these limitations were enough that while I recommended Vellum as an option for e-book in a recent talk I gave on indie publishing, I strongly recommended it NOT be used for print.

    I do get the appeal and some people’s joy over it, even beyond the more rabid Vellum fans. It’s an “easy” button and from the general gripping and lack of paperbacks, it seems like quite a few indies seem to hate dealing with print anyway, so a couple of clicks and done gets rid of the “chore.”

    Vellum’s output seems passable enough from what some people are saying. But for me, Vellum just cannot produce a print book that would meet the quality standards I set for my books. Good formatting is almost undetectable to a reader, but poor formatting, particularly in print, can cause eye strain and mental fatigue. In the worse cases, it can make a book nearly unreadable. I actually saw one done by a vanity press at a used bookstore…good god was that thing ugly and the page headers practically ran into the text.

    Sure, it takes me a few hours to format my print books versus 1-2 minutes, but its worth taking the time to me, same as it is worth taking the time to revise and edit a book before just publishing it, or taking the time to get or craft a professional quality cover versus just slapping some random picture on it and calling it done. And part of my time is books with footnotes, special formatting for letters and the like, and for my second book I used different chapter decorations for each POV character (thank you SPP guys for that idea LOL). Looked awesome, took awhile. For books without footnotes, formatting time drops dramatically, maybe an hour or so depending on number of chapters. To do what Vellum is reportedly doing? Would take maybe half an hour.

    As for learning curve? Meh, I spent a few hours studying up on the design principles found with traditionally published books, looked at the actual books on my shelves, and then came up with my standards, blending what I felt were the musts with my personal touch where flexibility was good. No different from learning other stuff on being an indie author and something I think any indie doing print SHOULD do anyway even if they are paying a pro to format, so you know what you’re getting is actually a good format.

    While indie authors often eschew traditional publishing norms, this is one area where it just doesn’t make good sense to do so. They may suck in many ways, but they do know how to format print books to provide an optimal reading experience!

    As a semi-aside, I have seen some folks note Vellum is cheaper than professional formatting…and yes, that is true. But Word is way cheaper than Vellum. $109 versus $250 and doesn’t come with the need to buy a computer you didn’t want (for an extra $300-2,000) or pay to rent via Mac-in-Cloud if you are a Windows user. And Word is perfectly usable on a Mac if that’s what you have. Plus as most people already have Word, it really is generally no extra cost. 😛

    Reedsy is also cheaper (free) and while also very limited, it has good potential and can at least produce something similar to Vellum. It’s biggest drawbacks are no import from file and no font choices at all, but if people are willing to accept Vellum’s limits, the import would seem to be the only one that should be a deal breaker there.

  • I was on the Beta team for Vellum 2.0 and while it has some stylistic limitations, it has huge benefits, especially for the unlimited lifetime license (not yearly, as Jim said).

    1. Insurance. Vellum stays abreast of file requirements from the different vendors so I don’t have to worry about changes – more important for ebooks, but still a consideration. Ingram Spark is especially fussy to work with and every change you make costs money. Knowing a file will work is a relief.

    2. Having one file to produce both ebooks and print is priceless. It eliminates duplication and confusion when updating books and makes updating books fast and easy.

    3. While some people seem to have tamed the beast that is Word, Many of us encounter gremlins introduced in invisible formatting that are impossible to find and eradicate, especially when dealing with footnotes, section breaks and page numbers. Friends and I have wasted days wrestling with Word files given to us by other authors. In contrast, you can have Vellum e and print editions finished in an hour for a simple book, less than 3 hours for something complicated.

    4. I write in Scrivener. My Vellum print license will pay for itself very quickly because it allows me to ditch both my Word and Acrobat subscriptions.

    5. You get a consistent look for your e and print versions.

    6. No, you don’t have the freedom with Vellum that you would have with InDesign, but the options are suitable for more than 90% of print books. The Vellum folks are very responsive and pro-active. I don’t doubt that we’ll see more styles and font options in the future.

    For me, Vellum 2.0 is a no-brainer.

  • I don’t know that Vellum will drive formatting prices down. I think is it more likely to force formatters to produce more stylish custom results outside Vellum’s capabilities.

  • Laura Martone

    Although Dan and I finally released our first book a couple weeks ago, we have yet to publish the print version… so perhaps my answering this question is a bit premature. But I will say that I would definitely be willing to pay an upfront cost of $250 to format all our future print books. After all, we aim to produce a crap-ton of novels (and nonfiction books), so $250 doesn’t seem like a huge investment in the long run, especially if it saves us untold amounts of time and, therefore, allows us to write even more books!

  • I paid a week of my life to format my first book for print. Having cut my teeth in a medium-sized academic trad. publishing house, I knew I could do it on my own. And I did. And it looks fabulous. And I vowed never, ever to do it myself again. What a pain in the neck. I will gladly pay the one-time Vellum fee for print and ebook formatting of their quality. Their product is beyond worth it.

  • Per Amma’s comments below, I have produced 3 books with end notes in Vellum. They have sub and superscript options. The notes have to be added manually, but it can be done.

    • The lack of support for foot and end notes was from the Brads (as they seem to be called 🙂 ) themselves. Having to do it manually is not, to me support. Also, it was my understanding that you can’t add internal links so are you saying you were able to link the endnotes so that readers can tap/click the superscript, jump to the note, and then jump back? And if that’s the case, did you also have to add all those links manually as well?

  • I’m a graphic designer with plenty of experience in multi-page layout, but even I leaped to buy Vellum 2.0 with print layout. I was already an owner of a lifetime license for their ebook version, and the experience was so painless that there was no way I was going to miss out on the print layout.

    There are subtleties that could be improved, but for the casual reader and a 300- to 400-page book, it is more than adequate. And as a writer, the money and (current) style limitations are more than a fair trade-off for getting to spend that time writing instead of laboring with InDesign (and I’m saying that as someone VERY familiar with the program, not even the beginners I’ve spoken to who are lost in Adobe page layout minutia).

    I’m sure Vellum will take the feedback from their users and the print layout will only improve. I’d love to be able to pick my own fonts, but if I’m going to be particular about which serif font I choose, I’m also likely going to be picky enough to move back to InDesign and control my own kerning and tracking. Sounds like they need to focus on the needs of the nonfiction folks first, and I’m willing to be patient.

  • Jennifer Willis

    Regarding the question of the week . . . Save for my first novel, which came out in 2001, I have done all of my own print formatting. It’s been a tedious process, and as a result the print versions of my books have often lagged behind the digital releases by months. I was quite happy to upgrade my Vellum license to include the print capability and can now do in a matter of about two or three minutes what used to take hours. It’s true that there aren’t as many style options as I’d like, but what’s included in Vellum is sufficient.

    Now I’m intrigued by Jim’s idea of selling formatting services using Vellum. I might look into that myself.

  • I would gladly pay that – but I don’t have a MAC at the moment, so I’m using other options for now. But – since I write Christian devotionals, about 50% of my income comes from paperbacks – so it’s essential they look/feel as good/better than their digital counterparts.

    ABOUT EPISODE 200 – why don’t we have an event somewhere in Cleveland and invite J Thorn (since he’s local). I’m sure there’s a venue we could get for an afternoon and do a live audience show or something similar. If my math is right – show 200 will be on Jan 31, 2018 – plenty of time to plan 🙂

  • Blaine Moore

    I’m planning to play around with Vellum for print. I currently use InDesign which gives you a lot of control but is time-consuming and doesn’t translate well into digital. They used to sell single-book licenses for $30 for an ebook edition (which is now no longer available) so I think that $50 on the bargain level and $75-$100 for a simple print formatting wouldn’t be too unreasonable. You could offer a $75 print and $50 digital or $100 combo-pack.

  • I think $250 is reasonable for the tool if it works really well, fast, easy, and makes good looking books.

    To be honest, I barely care what my fiction books like. I don’t mind the flourishes and drop caps, but when they are not there, I don’t notice it.

    So far, mine have been all non-fiction with charts, graphs, and lots of images, so I’ve done them myself. I don’t know how Vellum would handle all that.

    I have a background in the printing industry, so I don’t expect most people to be able to do them on their own using Word, much less Creative Suite.

  • On the fake books.

    1. The KU payout is a pot, so every dollar going to the fake books means a dollar not going to a real book/author. Less payout to authors.

    2. The scammer doesn’t want the book to be bought or read by REAL people, because then it might be reported and they’d lose their payout when their KDP account is cancelled before the next pay period.

    3. If one believes that books are found and read in KU because they are high in the ranks, then fake books high in the ranks push legit books down, where they are not seen, and therefore not purchased/read. Less payout to legit authors.

  • The contest sounds great, Bryan.

    The rules are epic. Or quote Dr. Hfuhruhurr, “Damn your drunk tests are hard.”

    • Bryan


  • I’m a virtual Luddite when it comes to the formatting question. What I need is to see examples that speak to me of what enhanced formatting will actually do for my writing. Nothing I’ve heard or seen to date has made such a lasting impression on me.

    I do remember how much trouble it took to format a print ready image for Createspace. Help on that level would be appreciated. How much I’m willing to pay remains up in the air.

    As for the scam books issue, I think the question is how many copies are going to real readers and how many are the result of click farm accounts? I suspect the answer is almost all click farm since readers are going to be quick when it comes to complaints. As mentioned elsewhere, this does eat into the pool actual authors are getting paid out of.

    • Bryan

      Yeah, if a bonus goes to a scammer, that’s when the real negative effect takes place.

  • Unless you make $50 an hour and it takes you more than 4 hours to format your book, it is not worth the money to get Vellum when Scrivener can do all of your formatting. Also, you can do your writing in Scrivener, and it works on MacOS and Windows.

    • Is it really this complicated?


      I confess I haven’t tried Vellum yet, so maybe it’s a lot of steps, too.

    • Bryan

      Remember though, it lets you format all your future books :). Does Scrivener do a good paperback format?

      • You can set up header font and settings, text font and settings, page numbers, etc. then save that into a configuration file, that you can then load for future books. I’ll admit, it’s a bit more techy: certainly not drag and drop, and you can’t see your changes until you export it to a word doc or whatever, but my point is just that learning to do that is worth the $200 difference in cost. Also, it helps that I use a PC.

  • Crissy Moss

    I’ve never paid for formatting print books. I learned to do it on my own. It was a pain in the big toe, and I have a number of proof books that look terrible, but now I’m pretty good at it. I use word and a PDF stitcher to get everything set, and it looks pretty good. It does take a day or so to format everything though.

    If I had a drag and drop system that let me do all the formatting in one place I would love to buy it, but $250 is a bit steep. I don’t sell enough print books to ever make that back. The fact that they are mac exclusive is a huge turn off too. I happen to love my PC and have no plans to switch.

    • Bryan

      What a pain in the toe! 🙂

  • I’ve never paid to have my print books formatted and can’t understand why people think it’s such a big issue. I download the relevant Word template from Createspace and carefully cut and paste my chapters into it, amending the front and back matter as necessary. It’s much simpler than people think.

    • Bryan

      Maybe you have more patience than most (i.e. me :)).

  • Anmarie

    I bought templates to format my print books at around $40/piece. My first book was nonfiction and difficult, because it had tables, charts and images to deal with in formatting, so it wasn’t a flowing text for ebook. I can’t tell you how many countless hours I spent struggling with that blankety blank template and redoing a million times. As far as the ebook version – I ended up paying well over $250 to have someone else mess with it.
    Print formatting is no fun, even with a template and flowing text, so yes I would definitely pay $250 one time if it made the job easy, quick and good design. As a side note, I hated Scrivener.

    • smbshow

      I’m no longer accepting email at this address. Please resend this email to me directly at jimkukral@gmail.com and update your records as I probably won’t get this email. Thank you.

    • Bryan

      I’m not a fan of formatting either. Happy to pay to get that off my plate.

  • Jeff Geoghan

    I don’t think I’d spend any money on formatting my book to print. I did my first book myself and if I had budgetary money to spend I would spend it on editing at a cover first.

  • Sheenah Freitas

    I’m a couple weeks behind and just listened to this episode. As a freelance book designer specializing in formatting books, I can say that most of the people that inquire about my services come to me because they’re not tech savvy at all. They don’t want to deal with learning how to format. Or they did format their book and it looks awful and they had an awful experience with it. Or they’re newbies and they want the extra guidance I can provide.

    I’ve even had a few clients tell me that yes, they could do the formatting themselves because they know how to do it, they just don’t want to put in the time or effort. I allow them to put more time into marketing or writing. And there’s a lot of subtle things I can add into their print edition that either they didn’t think about or know about and it thrills them to know I can put that extra professional touch because the more pro a book can look, the less a reader might judge it on first impression.

    Would one of my clients use a service like Vellum? Absolutely. It’s easy for them to go in and fix the book themselves instead of coming to me with a list of changes. But most of them don’t churn out book after book after book after book, so forking out $250 at once might seem overwhelming, and for most of my clients, it’s just not in their budget.

    • Well said.

      I’ll caveat this by saying I’m a non-fiction health and fitness author, so print counts for my readers.

      I formatted five out of six books myself. I have a printing industry background, so I have above average skills in the tools. Still, I’m not a designer, and when I saw what my designer did with my sixth book, I was pretty pleased.

      My other books still look fine, but her design holds it’s own with the Big 5. There are things she did that I never considered, thought of, or even though possible.

      With non-fiction, particularly when there are charts, graphs, sidebars, and exercise photos, design matters as much as mere ‘formatting.’

    • Bryan

      Great points, Sheenah. Thanks for commenting!