Tag Archives: formatting

Vellum for Ebook Building

One of my projects for this year is to update Future of Memories with new technology and new projects. When the first edition was published, there were few applications to support custom book layout for ebooks. I found the booksellers’ automated conversion results very disappointing – especially for a book with lots of graphics. Since then we’ve seen a lot of improvements to both book conversion and reader apps. Although PDF remains the best option for custom layouts with lots of graphics and images, there are a lot more options available for ebook formats today.

Recently I stumbled onto a lovely app called Vellum [Mac – free]. Its purpose is to provide a visual method to work on your book’s layout and preview the results. It is NOT a writing platform although you can add and edit content in the app. Once your manuscript is finished, the text is imported into Vellum and you begin styling. Using Vellum, you can assign headings, block quotes and alignment. You can also add images, ornamental breaks and links. At any time, you can use the preview panel to see what your project will look like on an iPad, iPhone, Kindle Paperwhite and Simple NOOK (see the gallery below for examples).

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When inserting images, Vellum provides a panel for selecting options and will warn you if your image is too small for the display size you’ve chosen. You can also assign a link to the image.

Image Panel in Vellum

In addition to your manuscript and any added images, Vellum includes a title page form where you input the title, author and other needed information. You can also add additional elements like forward, copyright, dedication, about the author and more.

Once everything is ready, click the Purchase icon at the top of the screen to begin the build process. Although the app is free, Vellum charges $29.95 to make the generation process accessible. Once your in-app purchase is completed, the generation feature is activated for this book. You can use it to create book packages for Kindle, NOOK and iBooks. (Note: you will need to install the Kindlegen app from Amazon before generating the Kindle version with Vellum. See Vellum instructions for details.) You can proof your books, make corrections and regenerate as needed. When everything is the way you want it, you upload your book packages to your author accounts at Amazon, NOOK and Apple.

Vellum is a gorgeous app and quite easy to use. It gives me control over the conversion process – especially proofing the conversion results – and I can insure that my book will look great before I send it to the booksellers. My manuscript is still has a long way to go before I’m ready to start working on the layout, but Vellum will definitely be part of that process.

Formatting for Tablets

My family has discovered the joys of tablets – which has given me an easy and effective way to share our family stories. Thanks to platforms like Scribd and it’s associated mobile apps, along with apps like Documents by Readdle, I’m discovering that I can create some amazing publications full of text and graphics to share with my family. It’s all a matter of formatting.

My two favorite apps for these projects are Apple’s Keynote presentation app and Pages, the word-processing app. I am using the older version of Pages (v 4.3) because it has the layout capabilities not available in the version 5 app. Windows users can use Word and PowerPoint to do the same things. Keynote is my app of choice for publications heavy on photos and graphics. With it I can create scrapbooks, picture books and even photo documentaries – and all will fit comfortably on a tablet’s screen in landscape view. For text-heavy publications, I use Pages. I’ve created a template with a page size of 6″ x 8″ and ½” margins on all side. Combine that with a 12pt font size and I’ve got a very comfortable read in portrait view and a readable two-page spread in landscape view.

While most of us have used presentation and word-processing software for years, few of us use the features that will make a family history project extra special. Learning to use features such as styles, table of contents generation, image placement and metadata will take some time, but that investment will result in a better quality publication with less effort. If you have used a scrapbooking app to layer papers and graphic elements on a page, you’ll find that you can do many of those same things with your presentation software – it’s just the commands are different.

The Future of Memories at Scribd.

The Future of Memories created in Pages and published at Scribd.

Once a project is finished, it’s exported to PDF format and posted on Scribd. My family can use the free Scribd app to read it there or download it and read it with the app of their choice. Using apps like Documents [iOS -free], family members can read all kinds of files and move files between a number of popular cloud storage systems. I have also set up a shared folder to make my storybooks easily accessible to those who prefer that method.

One last note . . . Scribd is not only an impressive publication-sharing platform, it also has a bookstore and subscription service so you can make publications available for sale through it. I’ve found it a great place to publish my Moultrie Guides series of how to books. The 80% earnings per sale is very nice too.

A Paper Dodo Bird?

For decades I’ve been creating documents based on the 8½ x 11-inch – letter size – sheet of paper. Throughout most of that time, the document would actually wind up being distributed on printed sheets of letter size paper. Even when the final result would be in a different format – a magazine article for example – the original manuscript was still submitted printed on letter-size paper.

In the digital era, we seldom submit printed documents. Thanks to email, the word-processing file makes the trip to the editor in its digital form. Not only does that make editing and layout much easier, it saves time and money moving those words back and forth between all involved. With the growing popularity of e-readers and tablets, people are using them to carry and read the “stacks” of business information they must absorb on a daily basis. Yet, in many cases, those documents are still created for letter-sized paper – even in situations where they will never be printed.

Kindle PDF Sample

Kindle PDF Sample – click for larger view

The fixed layout of words and images on the printed page is also a dinosaur of the paper era. Tablets, e-readers and smartphones come in all shapes and sizes – most of them much smaller than “letter size”. And, today’s documents contain more than just words and images. Now there’s hyperlinks, audio and even video. The design elements that have made the Web such an enjoyable experience are being adapted to do the same for documents presented on these devices. That content automatically adjusts to fit on whatever device is used to view it and the reader has control over things like font type and size to insure the best possible viewing experience.

Although many ebook readers are trying to present something as close to the traditional book-reading experience, other developers are embracing change. Applications like Flipboard use Twitter to collect and display content published on the Web in a beautiful graphic layout. Other apps like Pulse News take news feeds to a new level. More of these types of platforms are coming online daily.

While many pundits love to tout the so-called demise of blogging, it continues to thrive and frequently serves as the basis for much of the content these new apps display. We genea-bloggers are well-placed to take advantage of them to build our own publications based on the content already published in our blogs. Your content can be re-organized and re-purposed into an ebook using platforms like PressBooks.  If you aren’t already announcing each new post via Twitter, now’s the time to start. It’s an alternative to RSS distribution that is getting a lot of attention from application developers – well beyond those mentioned above. Services like TwitterFeed and Feedburner (for Blogger sites) can make it happen automatically. You’ll also find Twitter users – like my @genBUZZ account – are creating very effective news services using Twitter.

Even if you want to create a more traditional document, may I suggest that you look to building it to tablet or ereader dimensions rather than letter size. The sample above shows a PDF document displayed on the Kindle Touch ereader. PDF documents don’t “flow” to fit the ereader’s screen like ebooks so a PDF designed for the small screen not only makes it easier for those readers to enjoy your creation, it’s still a pleasant read on larger tablets and even desktop screens. My guess is a good number of your readers will thank you for it.

Don’t know how? Check out Layout Tips for Kindle and NOOK Readers for help.

Tablets and ereaders will continue to grow in popularity. Old habits die hard, but my guess is letter-size documents will soon go the way of the buggy whip. Are you ready to make the move away from letter?

Scrivener Presets

Since I spend a lot of time in Scrivener working on writing projects, I want to make it as comfortable as possible. For me that means large fonts that are easy on these old eyes. Fortunately, the only formatting options that can’t be overridden in the compile process are bold, italics and underlines. That means I can set font styles and sizes in the workspace that make it easy for me to see what I’m doing but have the final product set in more platform-appropriate type. I’m loving that!

If you’re like me, you probably won’t even think about doing something like this until you’re well into a Scrivener project. In my case, I recently imported my first book, The Future of Memories, as a Scrivener project so I can bring it up to date. It came in with all the fonts, styles and colors used in the PDF edition of the book so now I want something that’s easier to work on. I’m doing a review to define which areas of the book need more information/updated information/new content so updating the format has been included in the review process. Here’s how it works.

Scrivener Preset Menu

Once I’ve got a text element set up with the font, size, line spacing and other formatting preferences I want, I select it and choose the Format > Formatting > Redefine Preset From Selection command, then choose the element I want to redefine. In this example, I had body text selected so I would chose Redefine Body. I would do the same for block quotes, headings and sub-headings within the draft. Notice there’s also an option for setting up new presets – like maybe a caption or something similar.

Once everything’s the way I want it, I can then make them your default presets so every new project will be set up just like this one. To do that, I go to the Scrivener Preferences panel (Scrivener > Preferences), choose the Formatting button then click the Use Formatting in Current Editor button.

Presets Button

Now, whenever I need one of these formatting presets, I’ll select the text to be formatted, click on the Presets button in the toolbar and choose the preset I want. It works for me.

Indents, Block Quotes and Lists

When trying to position text for the web, you’ll quickly find that spaces don’t work well and tabs don’t exist. There are three very useful options for arranging text – indents, block quotes and lists – and each has its own idiosyncrasies. Here’s a quick overview of each and how you can put them to work in your content. Let’s start with indents.


In this example, we need to have several lines indented from the left margin. This is done by pressing the Indent button in the toolbar. Once you have used the button to indent your content, the Outdent button (shown grayed out to the left of the Indent button) will light up. Use it to return your text back to its previous location.

Block quote

The block quote is used to spotlight large amounts of quoted text. The standard is to indent block quotes from both the left margin and the right. Some themes will further style them with borders, italicized text or even over-sized quotation marks. These design elements don’t usually show up on the editor – which is one reason you have a preview option available to view your content. The HTML tags also define this text as a quotation so handicapped users reading your content with a screen-reader device will be told this is a quotation. As a result, you should only use this function for actual block-size quotations. If you just want to indent several lines of text, use the Indent function.

Unordered List

In the world of HTML, this is known as an unordered list. You know it better as a bullet list. Since many people tend to scan the content of web pages, bullet lists are a great way to present information. List items (there are four list items in this example) can be a single line or multiple lines of text. Each time you press the Enter key you create a new list item. Once again, the style sheet used for the site will determine the actual styling that appears on the finished page. The amount of indent and spacing before and after each list item and the list collection is determined by the site’s theme. So are the graphic icons used as the bullet points.

One other type of list – the ordered or numbered list – is also available to you. This list presents numbered items rather than bulleted ones. It is used for text being presented in sequential order – like the steps in a process. Once again, these lists can be any length. When you press Enter, you create a new item in the sequence.

Like block quotes, lists also inform blind readers that these are organized lists so should only be used when the content justifies it – not just to indent content.