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I want my ebooks to look great but I don't want the technical hassle of having to care about formatting issues. So when I discovered Vellum, I quickly became a convert and then an evangelist! Today I get my geek on with Brad Andalman.
In the intro, I go into some pertinent publishing news: Kobo has become Tolino's tech partner, which makes it a much bigger player in the growing German ebook market; Amazon is opening a bookstore in New York City; while Barnes & Noble reported a 9% decline in sales over the holiday period, there's discussion on the impact of the All Romance Ebooks closure, and once again, I talk about the importance of multiple streams of income, as well as multi-currency/multi-country income in order to weather the changes undoubtedly ahead and hedge against potential economic changes.
I also discussed Jane Friedman's post on some things authors should know, including the reports that Data Guy will be sharing at Digital Book World in the US adult fiction: close to 45 percent of all books purchased in the US in 2016 were digital, sales in the US are nearly 71 percent digital with 30 percent of all US adult fiction book purchases are by self-published authors. The US is several years ahead of the other book markets. What will it mean for the rest of the world when it follows the same model? What will it mean for your author business?
The US is several years ahead of the other book markets. What will it mean for the rest of the world when it follows the same model? What will it mean for your author business? I also talk about the potential ramifications of there being no blockbuster for publishing in 2016 – are we (finally) in the long tail model?
I also gave a personal update on my projects, including asking for your thoughts about what kind of journal I should be creating. Please add your thoughts here. Plus, if you want to plan for success in 2017, check out my free webinar replay with my tips for how you can make the most of your time in order to achieve your creative goals.
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Brad Andalman is the co-founder of 180g which has produced the incredible formatting tool of Vellum. And before 180g, Brad worked at Pixar Animation Studios.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- How the two Brads met at Pixar and the got interested in helping authors format their ebooks
- Why Vellum has focused on Mac users only
- The future for Vellum, including formatting capability for print books
- Brad's thoughts on VR and AR and how they will affect reading
- On leaving an amazing company like Pixar to become an entrepreneur
You can find Vellum at Vellum.pub.
Click here to watch my tutorial on how to format an ebook and a print book with Vellum
Transcription of interview with Brad Andalman
Joanna: Hi everyone I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com, and today, I'm here with Brad Andalman. Hi, Brad.
Joanna: It's great to have you on this show, just a little introduction.
Brad is the co-founder of 180g which has produced the incredible formatting tool of Vellum. And before 180g, Brad worked at Pixar Animation Studios. So just all round cool tech guy.
Brad: You know I try.
Joanna: Thanks so much Brad. Let's first talk about Vellum because eBook formatting has been really kind of awful and I converted to Vellum back in October. I emailed you guys, and I was like a true convert like within minutes of using it. And it made it really fun and so I wanted to just take you back a couple of years.
Why did you build this tool in the first place? Where and when did you see the need first?
Brad: We didn't start out knowing that we were going to build a tool for authors to self-publish. The other co-founder of 180g his name is Brad West. So when I talk about Brad, I'm not talking about myself in the third person.
Brad and I both worked at Pixar a long time and we both decided that we were done. We wanted to do something a little bit smaller to create professional level tools, and we just knew we wanted to do that. We didn't have any idea until after we quit, and we talked a lot and we threw out a bunch of different ideas. They ran the gamut. They were all over the map and so at one point Brad's wife Amber was reading a lot of eBooks and Brad got interested. We're both book lovers and book design nerds, and he was wondering how hard could it be? These eBooks that my wife is reading don't look amazing. And how hard could it be and he looked into it.
I was on a motorcycle trip to Seattle to found this company with him and he was looking into it, and when we got together and talked, he was like, “This is actually pretty hard. There's a reason why books look different on different devices and stuff like this, there's no one standard way to do this.”
This seemed to fit really well with our skill set. We like writing professional level tools, that's what we did at Pixar. But we also write tools for creative people and that's also what we did at Pixar. And so we thought this is something where we can make a difference. There's a real need for this.
I finished up my motorcycle trip. We started 180g and we just started writing Vellum and we didn't know whether it would succeed or not. And then it’s sort of amazing that three years later we're still working on it and people seem to be enjoying it. And it's been really fun for us too.
Joanna: It is fantastic. I worked on a software package called SAP which is one of these enterprise level really boring software compared to like Vellum. But one of the things I see with software, I see first of all people think that it's finished like, “You've built it, it's done,” or I now output ePub format, and that will be the same forever for the rest of time. And compared to a print book for example, which is, “Oh here is the print book, it is finished at this time.”
Maybe you could explain for people who don't understand how software or IT stuff work.
How do the iterations work? How are you making sure the things are feature proof or backward proof with devices?
Brad: That's a really big challenge for us because it's not just that the software has features that we wnat to add, but also that new devices come out all the time that we need to test on.
I get this a lot. “Hey, you wrote Vellum, what's next?” And were like, “We're still in Vellum.” We stay abreast of the standards, like the ePub standard and we want to make sure to adhere to that so that new devices if they come out, if they support that, our books will look great.
One of the things Vellum does is it tailors eBooks for particular stores as well. And not all of those stores have really great documentation sort of maybe purposely so for how best to create books so that they look great on those stores and devices. And so we're constantly testing.
Brad and I both have an array of devices. Also when we first released Vellum a couple years ago, it wasn't everything that we had planned out. The right way that we felt to release this was to get it out there, because we felt that it served a purpose and it solved a problem.
We have a bunch features as well that we've been slowly rolling out over the past couple of years and stuff that still to come. We've got a list of stuff we wnat to do and we're also constantly testing and staying abreast of indie publishing to make sure that what we generate still works everywhere that we want it to work.
Joanna: Let's get a bit more specific. You've talked there about multiple devices. So talk a bit more and also about the artistic side, creative side, which I think is great too.
What are some of the problems that it solves with formatting?
Brad: The creative side is kind of fun. There are a lot of things that are really hard to do that print books have been doing for many, many, many years. For instance, like, drop caps, we really like drop caps and we noticed that not a lot of eBooks were using them, and that was really sort of fundamental part of a lot of book design.
One thing we wanted to do is make it easy to add in these different design elements whether they're drop caps, ornamental breaks, attractive heading styles. We wanted to make them easy to put in, and easy to personalize that as well.
We started with this idea of having a book style and Vellum ships with eight different book styles, but within each one you can customize. You can choose a different heading style, you can choose a different first paragraph style. So that was really kind of a fun thing from the creative side to be able to really work hard on that, and it gets easy for an author who should really be focused on writing the book and the styling should be a really fun thing to do.
Like, “Hey, I'm done writing the book, I'm almost there. Let's add some personality, my own personality, whatever is right for the author, for the genre of the book.” And so that was one thing we wanted to do.
In terms of more nerdy kinds of things, different stores have different image requirements and that's really a pain for us to go research. What do I have to do to each of my images to make it satisfy all the requirements of all of the stores? And certainly you could do the lowest common denominator.
But then it means that your book is not going to look as good on every store as it could. And so that's another thing that Vellum makes really easy is you hit generate, and then it creates those tailored eBooks for every store. You can still create a generic ePub and upload to a variety of stores. So those are just like a couple of examples I think that.
Joanna: I love that you're so geeky about this because I do not want to be geeky about formatting. And what I found particularly amazing about Vellum was the user experience that it's actually really fun. I tell people, “Once you try it, and you'll have fun and you'll love it and you'll never do anything else.”
You mentioned images and those ornamental breaks, and I have some nonfiction which I've put images in and I've used the ornamental breaks. The one question people have around images is that obviously affects the file size which affects the delivery costs on Amazon.
Is there something in there that compresses or makes that better?
Brad: Delivery cost is a question we get a lot. For Kindle, Vellum creates a MOBI file and a lot of people think that the file size of the MOBI file is what determines delivery costs, and that's not true at all.
It turns out that a MOBI file contains a couple of different file formats inside of it. One is an older much smaller file called Mobi7, and then there's the more advanced formatting file that we call KF8, that's the newer Amazon format.
Delivery costs are actually based on the smaller file format inside that MOBI file, and there's no easy way actually for me to explain right here. I could send you the documentation, but there's no really easy way to like explain that. Like, hey, when you look at this file, the delivery costs are based on this much, much smaller portion inside that file.
Joanna: Is that related to images? I guess that was the question.
Brad: Yes, certain things like the ornamental breaks won't appear in that file, so that's okay images though will, but they'll be much lower resolution than… and we do that on purpose. They'll be much lower resolution in that smaller portions.
Yes, images are the main contributing factor to delivery costs, but it's nowhere near as big as the actual file size when you look in the finder at the file size the MOBI.
However, if you do use multiple images, Vellum will only include that image once in your MOBI file, for instance. The ornamental breaks we use this file called SVG. It's small, it's a vector based format and so it's… anyhow, see geeky that's a very small. We really do a lot of things to try to keep those delivery costs down, and it's important also not to make that decision like I've tried to hit based on the file size that you see on the desktop.
Joanna: No, I love it. You're solving all the problems so we don't have to worry about it.
Brad: That's the goal.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly. The other thing that really impressed me was the ability to do a boxset so much more quickly. I usee to use Scrivener, which is terrible for formatting. Or people are paying for pretty expensive to format eight books into a boxset for example. It can be very expensive to pay a formatter because they'll do it by book size or whatever.
Tell people how the boxset creation works and how easy it is.
Brad: Yeah, that's great. It's very easy if you've made all of your books that you want to include in the boxset in Vellum already. You can just create a new Vellum document and you can drag a Vellum book basically into the Vellum document that represents the boxset. It will create a volume that will put everything that's in that Vellum book into the new boxset.
You can drag your 3 or 20 books into one Vellum document then you're done. And we have specific table of contents features to make it a little bit nicer to view the table of contents of a boxset versus a regular book. But pretty much that's it.
We'll also import the covers if you want. Speaking to file size, when you're creating a 20 book boxset you are going to run up against file size limits and delivery cost because that's just a lot of text. And then if you have book covers for each book that's also a lot of images. So that's something that we do know that people run into, but you're also creating a 20 book boxset.
Joanna: Which is going to be complicated. I just do you generally my own boxset as a three book and then I've done an eight book, and the eight book was so much easier with Vellum. I just like went ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, and then just got a cover designed.
And for people listening who haven't done a boxset I think this is a good enough reason on its own to invest because I make so much more money on boxsets from Kobo and iBooks because you're allowed to do premium pricing and they aren't trained to buy for cheap. So you can make a regular $5, $8, $10, $14 sales on those platforms with boxsets that you just wouldn't get otherwise. So that to me is a real selling point, so I just wanted you to know.
Brad: That's useful thanks.
Joanna: And it's really awesome, and I think so many people forget that.
Are there any other really cool or geeky features that you wanted to mention?
Brad: Store links is pretty cool tool. We have a facility so that you can add a link to your book for sale on a variety of stores. So you just add one store link and then when you hit generate Vellum will use the link for Amazon, when it builds a Kindle book it'll use the link to the iBook store when it builds the book for iBooks.
That's really handy because it encapsulates all that information in one store link. If you put all of your books on an also buy page, one really fun feature is that if you have that in your previous book, you can just drag the also buy element from one Vellum document to the next, and then you're all set for your next book. So that makes sort of like you were getting out with boxsets, it makes reuse really, really easy and that's a fun feature. I think yes, store links, images, boxsets, the styles, yeah. I think those are the major kinds of things.
Joanna: And just the ease of use. I think also the preview. At the moment even with them KDP seems really buggy, so I will upload a new file into Kindle and then you click the preview button within KDP and it won't work.
Is that a known problem right now?
Brad: That is a known problem. It’s actually been a problem for most of this year and it happens more often with Vellum books than other books because Vellum uses some advanced formatting. There's a bug in their online previewer where it decided not to work. We reported it, they said they were aware of it. They were working on it, they haven't gotten around to it. But yeah, their online previewers have notoriously been not great.
Joanna: Pretty bad. But Vellum has a previewer, right?
Brad: Yeah, and so that's really great because, for instance, if you have a cover you can view the cover in Vellum, you can look at it on the iPad, but also a lot of readers are reading on Kindle for instance. You want to make sure the cover reads for instance.
You can switch to Kindle and Vellum will do a pretty good job of trying to emulate exactly what the reader will see. And so we also have heard from authors who we didn't anticipate this use they write their book, and then they turn on the previewer. They just find it much easier to read and sort of like think about edits when they're looking at it in the Vellum preview as opposed to in for text edit.
Joanna: Yeah, because it's in the document and you can preview on like an iPhone versus iPad or a Kindle or whatever, which is cool. And then when you mentioned bugs there.
The main reason I switched to Vellum was that there also seems to be a bug on Amazon with the with the Kindle look inside, do you know about that? Like what happened there?
Brad: I do. Well, there's a bunch of bugs with the kindle Look Inside, but so the one thing I think you might be referring to is the Scrivener issue.
Brad: It's not really a Scrivener issue.
Joanna: That's not a Vellum issue.
Brad: Right, so that's not a Vellum issue. The Scrivener issue is just that the way that it constructs eBooks it creates a bunch of different style sheets, for every chapter. And what the Look Inside does is it takes your entire book and it compresses it down to one file for easy viewing on the Amazon website.
As a result, those stylesheets that Scrivener creates are sort of like all mashed together. And because of that, unexpected formatting happens, it's not really a Scrivener bug, and it's not really an Amazon bug, it's just that these ways that it has to do to create this thing results in unexpected formatting.
The thing about Vellum is Vellum uses one consistent style sheet for the whole book, and we do that on purpose. Because we also believe in book design and that's a tenet of book design is that is that things are consistent across the entire book. And so we in a way locked out that, but also that's kind of the only way that Amazon is going to do this is it's going to take the whole book and put it up on the website it needs to combine all these things.
Vellum books will look great in Look inside. The other thing we do here though is that it can take a few days for a Vellum book Look Inside to update. So people get nervous like, “Oh, it doesn't look like the way that it looked on Vellum.” That's because of the thing I mentioned earlier that the thing that Amazon does is the first thing it shows in Look Inside is that smaller older Mobi7 format and then it decides to update to that more advanced Vellum formatting a few days later. We're not sure when it decides, I think it just puts it on some queue and it waits.
Joanna: It just happens. Well, that's why I decided to move to Vellum and then I redid all my books really quite fast and stacked them all up and the Look inside it's all fine now. And I'm really now happy that you guys are focused on that. Because I loved Scrivener, I'm a huge Scrivener lover, but it's designed for writing software. It's not designed to be a formatting software and I think the tool should be best suited for purpose and that's why I think Vellum is great. Now, one thing that is a problem is it's for Mac.
Brad: That's not a problem
Joanna: That's not a problem for you and me.
Joanna: But for the listeners, any chance of a PC version?
Brad: Well, not right now. We get this question a lot and we’re really focused on improving Vellum and there's still a lot to do.
One of the problems for us focusing on PC is that we then stop doing all of the stuff that you asked me about earlier, which is like how you make sure that your future proof and back proof is that we basically have to start over again. And certainly we've solved a lot of problems on the Mac side that we’ve learned from, but the PC is very different.
And a lot of stuff that we're leveraging on the Mac and not to get into too nerdy stuff, but we're leveraging a bunch of stuff on the Mac that would make it hard to do on the PC. And so we wouldn't want to leave our Mac users on some version for some amount of time. And so while we never say never, it's something that's not in our plans because there's still so much we want to focus on for the Mac version.
Joanna: I know and I appreciate that. And if people are listening are like, “Well, now, I'm really annoyed.” It's like well get a Mac, I mean, come on.
Brad: You said it not me.
Joanna: We're now design geeks, right? When I left my day job as in the old business world, one of the things I said was I'm switching to Mac because I never want to do what I used to do in my day job.
Brad: We both have Macs, Brad and I. And we knew that it would be this was where we wanted to start. It made certain things easier we designed for the Mac. One of the things about the ease of use and everything is that it's designed to be used on the Mac. We didn't think that we would get this question as much as we’re finding.
Joanna: So much.
Brad: But what's interesting is that we've also heard from people who've bought Macs just to use Vellum which blows our minds. We're super thrilled and we're really honored that people would do that. When we first started, we didn't expect that would happen. So that's great.
Joanna: And of course, the other question I know people have been asking you is, and you mentioned book design and you're a book design geek.
People are like, “What about print version? What about like a CreateSpace?” Is that on the list?
Brad: That's on the list. We've actually been working on that for most of this year, and we're hoping to release in spring summer of 2017.
Brad: So hopefully that's soon enough, we'll see.
It's funny because when we started it was obviously all about eBooks, why, you know, eBooks are the wave of the future. Three years ago, I feel like there is way more interest in eBooks we didn't see a lot of authors with print, and now I feel like that's changing for a variety of reasons.
Not that eBooks aren't the wave of the future, but it seems to be a little bit more balanced now, people definitely want both, whereas three years ago it felt not quite there. And we love print books that's why we started and we got into this. And so we wanted to make the experience of creating a print book be just as easy and fun as creating eBooks with Vellum.
Joanna: I'm excited about that. I'm thinking about more and more print products myself. I think the reason why is because print-on-demand has been around a good number of years, but it's becoming much more cost effective. It used to be in print-on-demand it was barely worth doing. It was just for marketing and it was just for that price comparison, but now it looks like the cost of print-on-demand is coming down so much that it might be worth more authors doing it.
I've only used Vellum really for fiction, nonfiction, mostly plain text type books. One of the questions I get a lot is from the children's book authors who do mainly illustrations or text book authors or people who really want to do much more image heavy books.
Forgetting the file size argument, more about book design for eBook or print, is that something that you think Vellum is good for or is that coming?
Brad: There are some things in there that I think Vellum is good for and there are some things that probably without massive changes, we're not quite suited for.
I think the things that we're good for is Vellum creates what's known as sort of reflowable text eBooks, and that’s so that these books look great on a variety of devices from like the smallest iPhone to the iPad Pro, or to Kindle Fire. All of these, we want it to look good on all of those devices.
Children's books or some of these photography books where you want complicated layouts and that's really not what Vellum was designed to do. And something like iBooks author, which is designed a little bit more to do that is something better.
Obviously, the downside there is that if you generate in iBooks author, it's going to be hard to get on Kindle. That said, the great thing about Kindle is that you've got so many different kinds of devices, including e-ink Paperwhites and stuff and that's not the best way to view a children's book either. So it's unclear that if you're doing that you want to be able to sell those on Amazon.
Joanna: But you will want to do print though.
Brad: Yes, you will want to do print, exactly. As far as nonfiction and those books, that is something where we know that we've got some features that we wnt to do and we don't have that on our schedule because we've been focused on print and what it means to do print. Everything from the features that print needs to how that pricing is going to work into Vellum. So we've been focused on that and not on some of the other features, but once print gets out there then we're going to take a step back and really take a look at some of those features.
Joanna: I think you're right to focus on print, it really is the big thing that a lot of people want, and you're running a business you have to choose the things that make people want to buy it.
Thinking about looking forward in eBook design, there's been a sort of gifts on covers and embedded media and video. Where do you see eBooks going? Even though Amazon's latest Paperwhite “The Voyage” is an even more perfect black and white reader.
Do you see it staying like that or becoming more weird?
Brad: Maybe both. I think books have been around a long time. Our goal was to bring great book design to the eBook world, and for a lot of people that's really just making it look fantastic in a black and white e-ink world.
But also we're from Pixar, we get excited about these new things and so we're definitely keeping an eye on embedded videos. We think it would be cool to include in a fantasy novel some animated maps. We've seen a couple of compelling animated just covers as well and all of those things are really interesting.
But because we want to make sure that Vellum creates books for a variety of platforms until they gain a bigger foothold really, I don't think that will be supporting them super soon. But to answer your question, I think there's always going to be a place for just the standard books.
Because once you're in the story, it's great to have music playing. It's fun to see videos, but once you're in the story, that's really I think what matters for. I think for the vast majority of our authors too that's what they're concentrated on. So that's what we want to do, we want to make the design serve the story and not distract from it and still look beautiful.
Joanna: Yeah, I know, I agree. And you mentioned that 180g, so the company is not called Vellum?
Joanna: Vellum is one of its products, which I think is very well done on that because you’re thinking forward. But there's two more things that I would like, so I'm just throwing them at you. The reporting sales and income across the different stores which is now available, is the only really available, there's a PC one that I bought a PC for tracker box, but I hate using the PC, it's awful.
And also a collaboration engine a bit like ACX for co-writing that splits the payments. I think certainly that collaboration engine I can see that actually being a lot of money, but it's like escrow type payment thing which could be complicated. One is a tool and one is a kind of engine.
Do you think those types of things are in your future or what are your thoughts on those?
Brad: Yeah, maybe. Like I mentioned, we're sort of heads down on Vellum and certainly in print right now. But yes, we started 180g to write tools for creators, and we sort of fell into eBooks. And the indie publishing world as a whole that's not where we started.
When our first few ideas, we had ideas for apps all over the map not just in indie publishing, but that's not to say that now that we've spent some time here and we’re meeting wonderful people and we understand some of the problems in this field that we wouldn't… we’re certainly not opposed to doing… to try and help people in this regard as well…
Brad: Those aren't on our list right now, but honestly, print is the only thing on our list right now which we're staying pretty focused.
Joanna: Yeah, I get that. And it's funny, I keep talking about these two things that I want in the hope that somebody will eventually sort them out, or I'll just have to stop talking about it and do it myself. But as I said having worked in software, I have no desire to get into it, you have to have a mind like yours and it kind of yours and Brad's. You have to be geeky.
Brad: Yeah, we’re geeky.
Joanna: You are and I love it, it’s brilliant. I wanted to ask you briefly, we’re coming to the end of our time, but you worked at Pixar and everyone's like, “Oh my goodness, that's like a dream job,” but you left, you and Brad left. I'm sure it's a job still and you're now doing your own thing and many authors are facing this decision too. Should they stay at their day job whether they love it or not, or become an entrepreneur?
What have you found surprising about the shift, what are the pros and cons that you found about this?
Brad: Brad was there a little bit longer than I was. We stayed there around 15 years. This is a long time at Pixar and it's a great place to work. When you leave, it's a big decision and we made sure that we could actually deal with trying to start this company, and not have any income basically for a year or more.
That can be really, really hard to do. We were lucky that we prepared for this, we knew we were going to do this, so that's hard. There’s some of the social things are also hard and I'm in my warehouse space, I wake up, I’m sitting at my computer, 6:00 p.m. comes around, I'm done. Whereas at Pixar I used to talk to dozens of people and is a very social kind of thing.
That said, I would say, “Yes, quit your day job and become an entrepreneur.” It's been fantastic and the control that I have over my job is obviously much, much different than what I had at Pixar.
Brad and I worked on the next generation animation system at Pixar, and we put a lot hours into that and feel like we both contributed a huge amount to that piece of software, but that's still Pixar's thing and this is our thing.
There's just like a different feeling when you're working on something that's your own. I wouldn't trade my experience at Pixar for anything, but this is something else and I get a lot more satisfaction out of this success we have with this than what occurred at Pixar.
Joanna: That's great. It's great to hear, and it's funny that social aspect, isn't it? Because I'm an introvert and I imagine you're an introvert too.
Joanna: A lot of techie people are as well, but even when you're an introvert you kind of miss having people around and just the casual chat and you kind of have to force yourself into. I call it like sort of social dating, you actually have to have asking people in your network out for coffee.
Brad: Yeah, exactly and that’s too introvert it doesn't necessarily come naturally. Whereas I think that just sort of happens when you're around a lot of people, and so I find myself being like, “Oh I should see someone today or this week.”
Joanna: I should leave my flat.
Brad: I should leave my house, yeah.
Joanna: But now I think it's good and it's one of the things that people really forget. I mean, yeah, you've got to have some money in the bank, but actually, you have to have some humans around sometimes. Even if you're with someone like being married, my husband would come home and I'd be like because I haven't talked to anyone else. I think you need to maybe find some friends or something. So that's great, but I guess having a co-founder means that you guys are in touch quite a lot as well.
Brad: Yeah, we talk all the time. I guess that's another thing that has been great about this is that having a co-founder having someone else to bounce ideas off of. I see a lot of people doing this as authors, but also I understand why you might not necessarily need or want to co-author, but at least do with software and that it's been great.
Obviously, we can go twice as fast sometimes, but also just to bounce ideas off of it's important to have that sounding board. And so yeah, working with Brad… I knew it at Pixar and I know it now yeah, he's incredible. So it's really great that we've got this. That we formed this little team.
Joanna: That is great. That's why I want this co-collaboration engine because I think there’s so much that can be done when people do stuff together. But if you have to form a company every time you want to do something with someone, it becomes kind of crazy.
Brad: Yeah, that's overwhelming.
Joanna: Yeah, it is, but just a final kind of general geeky question in terms of stuff that I'm sure we read some of the same blogs and some of the same stuff, and I'm really interested in the VR, the AR for storytelling. Having been at Pixar and this obviously has nothing to do with Vellum, just in terms of your own interest:
Do you see storytelling moving into this AR, VR space and anything you're excited about in that way?
Brad: I see that getting bigger certainly and some of my friends both from Pixar, probably actually many from Pixar have left to do VR stuff. I know a couple of other people who’ve started VR stuff and it's really, really interesting.
Do I see all of storytelling moving that way? I don't, and it's a different thing. I get a lot of questions from people who are like movies are going to be all VR in the future and I don't think that's gonna be the case.
Just like movies didn't kill books, VRs aren't gonna kill movies or books. But it is interesting and I think the combination of storytelling and video game and this immersive sort of world, I think is really, really ripe for new and interesting kinds of storytelling, and so I'm excited to see where it goes. I've seen a couple, I’ve put on the goggles a few times. It has a way is to go, but the strides they've made in the last few years is really interesting.
Joanna: It is incredible. The Kindle when it came out 2008, 2009 and changed the eBook world and changed the world for authors. I imagine it was when MP3 for music it was like radical shift.
Do you think we are at that 2008 stage for VRs yet or are we still in the sort of before then?
Brad: I think we're in the before then. I remember hearing a lot about VR in the 90s, we're definitely beyond that point now it's more interesting. Actually, AR; I got my brother's kids addicted to Pokeman Go for which I'm eternally sorry. But AR seems to have crossed that threshold from being just this thing that people would talk about to actually in everyone's hands. Now Pokeman Go seems to have sort of like that excitement has died down a little bit, but I think people intuitively understand that. I still think that a lot of people still are not exactly sure what it means to put on the VR goggles and immerse yourself in that world. I think we still have a little bit ways to go before we get there.
Joanna: Yeah, most of the people on the planet don't know what an eBook is. More talk about that at the moment, but I'm okay, well this has been super interesting, tell people where they can find you and Vellum online.
Brad: Yeah you can find Vellum online at vellum.pub. And so Vellum is free to download and you can play with it. You can format your book and you only need to pay when you're happy with how the book looks in the preview and then you can pay and you have the ability to generate your eBook, so go to vellum.pub and see what it's about.
Joanna: Get the free version, and I think that's great to give people a chance to play with it first is a really good idea. So yeah, I really urge people to check it out, so thanks so much for you time, Brad that was great.
Brad: Yeah, thank you, it’s fun.
Henry Hyde says
Amazing stats on book sales at the start of the show. And as a Mac user, how refreshing to hear that we’re not the ones at the back of the queue for a change. Yay for Vellum!
The current problems with ebook formatting take me back to the days when I first became a web designer and there was the conflict between Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer. Anything that makes the job easier is to be welcomed. I’m also happy to hear that Vellum is aimed at doing a limited number of things extremely well, rather than faffing around with gimmicks.
However, I shall be sticking with Adobe InDesign for more complex, normally non-fiction, book design (or iBooks Author, as Brad said).
I’m interested in disabling Page Flip with Vellum. Has that worked for the ebooks you’ve reformatted with Vellum?
I don’t have a Mac, but anyone can use http://www.macincloud.com/ and use a virtual Mac instead of purchasing expensive hardware.
Adam David Collings says
Mac In Cloud is an Interesting idea.
Connie B. Dowell says
Has anyone looking in the comments actually used macincloud with Vellum? Did it work out?
MacinCloud works with Vellum. I’ve heard feedback from PC friends that it’s slow and they all end up springing for an actual Mac, but the connection through the browser is slow – it’s faster when you actually download the connection files.
There’s a video tutorial by Paul Teague on how to use them together (it includes Dropbox). MIC’s cheapest option is $1/hour and Vellum itself is a free download – you have to pay to generate books, but the software download from vellum.pub is free. It’s worth playing around with Vellum and not generating any ebooks just to see the ease of use and what you can do inside of Vellum (a lot).
Love Vellum and excited to hear they’re pursuing print formatting. I’m sure it will be fantastic.
I’m thinking the same as you for dictation – skip all the formatting commands in the first run, add them in future edits. Probably start with just period, comma, and new paragraph.
Are you using Dragon Dictate 6 for Mac? I’ve read that some say that they recommend running Dragon Naturally Speaking 13 on the Mac in PC partition.
Joanna Penn says
yes, I’m using Dictate 6 and it’s awesome – but then I have gone simplified.
Jeremy Bouma says
Great interview. But I didn’t catch whether you chatted about why footnotes aren’t supported—which I found surprising and odd. Since most of my existing nonfiction catalogue is footnote heavy, I can’t yet spring for Vellum. If you’re watching this comment thread, Brad and Brad, please add footnotes in coming iterations!
Jeremy Bouma says
BTW I didn’t find “surprising and odd” that you didn’t chat about footnotes. But that Vellum doesn’t support footnotes. Wanted to clarify since that sentence structure sounded like a swipe against the interview and interviewer 😉
At any rate: why no footnote support, Vellum?
Brad Andalman says
When we first released Vellum, we primarily targeted the needs of fiction writers. Eventually, we’d like to add more features for non-fiction authors, and footnote support is definitely part of that. (We don’t have a timeframe at the moment, however).
As a work-around, it is possible to add endnotes manually by inserting a superscript number in the main text of your chapter, and then listing your endnotes either at the end of the chapter or book. But, as of now, there is no way to link to these notes.
Jeremy Bouma says
Thanks for the response, Brad. Totally understand the need to iterate, and glad to know footnote support is in the works. Didn’t know about the superscript option, and see that would be a decent workaround for lightly footnoted works—not the more academic books I put out.
Regardless, thanks for the superscript hack, and for keeping footnotes in mind for the future—and thanks for a beautiful, engaging ebook formatting app!
Danny Dover says
I am in the same situation as Jeremy. Vellum is very valuable but for my style of writing, I need footnotes or endnotes. I used the aforementioned hack in my latest book but have received feedback from readers that they are displeased. I completely understand the necessity of iteration and look forward to having this feature added in the future (sooner rather than later)!
Adam David Collings says
If they ever get that Windows version onto their radar, I’m in.
(As a developer in a very small team myself, I understand their answer, even ifI don’t like it.)
Gary S says
Now I really want a Mac. I just wish they weren’t so costly.
Rachel Morgan says
Yes! I second the desire for a reporting tool that accepts sales reports from ALL retailers and that works on a Mac (and that is offline so I’m not required to enter all my passwords). I have an old PC laptop, so currently I use TrackerBox like you, Joanna (and that’s the only thing I use that laptop for!). But I’d love it if there was a Mac alternative that was as beautiful and easy to use as Vellum 🙂
Well done, Brad and Brad, for creating such great ebook formatting software. I’m so excited to hear that print formatting might be coming soon!
Jay Artale says
I’ve been using Vellum for a while now and love it’s simplicity. I’ve been helping other authors by formatting their books in Vellum, and even though it’s a simple application it is really versatile. 180g get a Big Thumbs Up for Customer Service, they have always been quick to respond and resolve and questions or issues I’ve encountered.
I hope once they get the Print version going … my #1 request is internal links. I’ve asked and it’s on that list of there’s. Interesting podcast Joanna .. and the bit about the Kindle Look Inside and file structure challenges was really insightful.
ALESHIA ROBINSON says
I absolutely love your long intros Joanna. I don’t have time to keep up with all the publishing news so your sharing what happened during the week is very helpful as I think it important to keep abreast of current affairs. I also dig your writing and publishing journey as well. I can’t wait to read your post “From Indie to Small Press”
Just curious… are listening to your podcasts back to back and commenting considered sand? lolol. I just thought of that.
Ava Greene says
Does publishing ebooks through Vellum mean we’d have our own separate accounts with each retailer?
Joanna Penn says
It’s not a publisher – just a formatter. You upload the files yourself.
Interesting! I’d never heard of this software before. I also don’t have a Mac, so unless there’s a Windows version, it’s not for me, alas (No, I’m not forking out the money for a Mac just to use this software, sorry…) Even Scrivener eventually made a Windows version, so I’m hoping they’ll go the same route. 🙂
Actually, among my writer friends, virtually everyone uses Windows–I only know one person who uses Mac.
Gary Miller says
Help! Vellum seems to have moved it’s url address and I can’t find it anymore.
Does anybody know where it can be found?
Joanna Penn says
You can find Vellum at my link: http://www.TheCreativePenn.com/vellum and I have a tutorial at: https://www.thecreativepenn.com/format-ebook-print-with-vellum/
Pete Blyth says
I bought an iMac second hand purely so I could use Vellum (although I’ve since started using it for photoshop, scriv, and a bunch of other stuff as well.). Vellum requires El Capitan, Sierra or High Sierra, but updating the operating system from an older OSX mac is a doddle (the one I bought was running Yosemite), and I only paid in the region of £300-400 for it (off ebay I think or may be facebook market place).
I tried mac in the cloud first but it was like a geriatric sloth wading in treacle – its so much better on the actual mac.