Writing a Vellum-Friendly manuscript

In Installing Vellum on a Mac, I outlined the 4-step process of creating an eBook: Write your manuscript, Import it into Vellum, generate the eBook files, and publish those files to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press, Apple’s iBook Authors, and other electronic and print distributors. This page covers step 1: writing your manuscript so that it will be easy for you to import it into Vellum.

Unlike Jutoh, which wants you to use your word processor’s Style Sheet as much as possible, Vellum wants your manuscript to be as bare as possible of any formatting information. Instead, Vellum looks for specific text sequences to find Chapter titles and section breaks.

Text Do’s

Do precede each Chapter Title by 3 blank lines

Vellum has several ways of recognizing your chapter titles:

  • A page break before the title of a chapter, or
  • Centered, bold text, especially if it begins with the word Chapter, or
  • Standard element titles like Prologue or Acknowledgments, or
  • More than three empty paragraphs (blank lines) in a row

I prefer to indicate chapter titles by the 2nd and 4th options, used together: To start a chapter in your word processor, type 3 blank lines (that is, press the Enter key 3 times), type the chapter title, then Center and Bold that title.

Don’t worry if Vellum doesn’t recognize the start of a chapter: you can either correct that in Vellum, or edit the manuscript (.docx) file and re-import that file into Vellum.

Do mark Section Breaks with 3 asterisks

Books often contain an Ornamental Break (a small, flourish icon) to separate sections.

To indicate an Ornamental Break, create a line consisting only of *** (that is, three asterisks), then center that line.

If you prefer, Vellum recognizes other sequences of characters as also indicating an Ornamental Break: +++ (three plus signs), ### (three number signs).

Do use Center, Bold, and Italics

Vellum understands centering, Boldface, and Italics when these features appear in your manuscript.

Do add special text to remind you of other formatting you want

Vellum doesn’t recognize other, more complex formatting, in your manuscript. If you want to format some text in a special way in Vellum – such as a Block Quote or Verse – add some easily-searched text marker (such as “FMT Q” or “FMT V”) to remind yourself to add the appropriate formatting in Vellum.

Do use special Chapter Titles to indicate special sections

Vellum understands special sections (called Vellum “Elements”) by their chapter titles in your manuscript.

As of this writing, if you title a chapter with one of these sets of words, Vellum will create the appropriate Vellum Element:

  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Preface
  • Prologue
  • Epilogue
  • Afterword
  • Acknowledgments
  • About the Author

Note: you can later, in Vellum, rename any of these Elements. For example, suppose your name is Thomas Hardy. You may wish to, in Vellum, rename “About the Author” to “About Thomas Hardy” or “About Me”.

Text Don’ts

Don’t start text with tabs or spaces

Do not add any explicit indentation, such as a tab or several spaces. Doing that may cause your Vellum-generated eBook file to be rejected by a distributor – even though Vellum may not detect the error.

Instead, start each new paragraph in your manuscript by pressing the Enter key, center text using your word-processor’s Center function, and mark other special formatting you want to add in Vellum with special text you can easily find later (as I mentioned above).

Don’t use your Word Processor’s Style markers

You may be in the habit of using your word processor’s Style (such as “Heading 1” or “Title”)  to mark chapters. Although that’s generally a good habit for other purposes, don’t use that feature when creating your manuscript for Vellum.

Such Style markers can confuse Vellum’s chapter detection.

Once you’re an experienced Vellum user, you may want to use a Vellum document template – I haven’t used that feature yet.

Don’t put hyperlinks in your manuscript

Vellum has a very nice system for adding web links and store-specific links (“Store Links”) to your book.

Do not embed links in your manuscript, because these links may confuse Vellum (Caveat: I haven’t tried embedded manuscript links – they may work fine). Instead, put some easily-searched text marker (such as “FMT L”) to remind yourself to add the appropriate Web Link or Store Link in Vellum.

Don’t use multiple blank lines, except for starting a chapter

Because Vellum interprets multiple blank lines as a chapter break, don’t use blank lines for formatting in your manuscript. If you wish to add some space in part of your book, do that in Vellum.

Don’t create a manuscript title page

Vellum will automatically create a Title page for you, based on a form you will fill out in Vellum.

If you create your own Title page in your manuscript, your Vellum book will have two Title pages – yours and Vellum’s. That’s not a big problem: it’s easy to use Vellum to delete the extra Title page.

Don’t create a manuscript Table of Contents

Vellum will automatically generate a Table of Contents. You don’t need to put one in your manuscript.

A final bit of advice

Don’t sweat this; all of the Do’s and Don’ts I describe above can be fixed in Vellum with a bit of work, so concentrate first on writing your manuscript, then think about the eBook when you’re ready to import it into Vellum. As you write more eBooks, you’ll naturally learn how to make the process work best for you.