Choosing a Layout Application

One alternative for generating your eBook from your manuscript is to have a service do it. In that case, you send your Word (.docx) manuscript to the service, and they take care of formatting the eBook and paperback.

If instead you want more control over what your book looks like, you’ll want to use an application that will convert your manuscript into distributor-ready Kindle (.mobi), Nook and others (.epub), and print (.pdf) files. Such applications are called Layout applications, Typesetting applications, or Digital Publishing applications.

You can search the net for plenty of reviews of layout applications. I’ve tried two different ones: Jutoh and Vellum. The following list of pros and cons are based on my experience; your experience may be different.

Vellum Pros

  • It makes it simple to quickly produce a well-designed eBook and paperback from your manuscript.
  • It can produce a .pdf file for your paperback edition that has the same design as your eBook edition.
  • It supports Store Links, which enable, for example, your Apple iBook to have a link to a book in the Apple iBook store and your Nook book to have a link to the corresponding book in the Nook store. Store Links can save you a lot of time if you want to promote your large backlist of books in your new book.
  • It embeds fonts into the eBook, so the book looks the same on all eBook reader devices.
  • It supports Drop-Capital initial letters as part of the book style. Drop-capital initials are frequently used in fiction, and give a professional look to your book.
  • It provides a live preview of your book as you edit. This feature makes it easy to experiment with the text and settings, and immediately see the effect.
  • It produces separate upload-ready files for Kindle, Nook, iBook, etc.
  • It  uses a number of traditional typographer’s methods to make the PDF book look right. For example, it adjusts the space between words and the space between lines to avoid Widows and Orphans.

Vellum Cons

  • It runs only on Macs. As of this writing, Vellum’s maker, 180g, has expressed no plans to create a Windows version.
  • It has a fixed set of layout styles, which – as of this writing – cannot be extended.
  • As of this writing the Store Links use a – currently free – redirection service rather than pointing directly to your Amazon, iBook, or other platform’s retail pages.

Jutoh Pros

  • Available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Raspberry Pi.
  • Gives you explicit control over the formatting of the book.
  • I imagine there are more Jutoh Pros, but I haven’t yet taken a book all the way through the publishing process with Jutoh.

Jutoh Cons

  • PDF support is indirect: to produce a PDF file for your paperback, Jutoh creates an OpenDocument text (.odt)  file, which you then use in a tool of your choice to produce a PDF file. I imagine the resulting design will differ from your eBook’s design – but I haven’t used this feature.
  • If you want to create drop-capital initial letters, for example, at the start of each chapter, you – as of this writing – need to manually format each drop-capital.