My old process for releasing short stories used to be very simple:
Write, edit and export to .mobi (Kindle file) on Scrivener.
But then a funny thing happened … I uploaded Twenty-Seven to Amazon in December and the formatting on the Look Inside preview screen was completely screwed up.
It looked like this:
Looks like I’m attempting some freeform poetry there.
It explained why the free promo I did in January for the story yielded about a quarter of the downloads compared to my previous promos for other releases.
Would you really even bother cluttering your Kindle with something that might be formatted terribly? Of course you wouldn’t.
The actual .mobi file itself was okay, and when read on an iPhone, iPad, laptop or Kindle, it looked perfectly fine. It was simply Amazon’s Look Inside feature that wasn’t working.
It might seem inconsequential if the final product your readers receive is formatted perfectly, but when you consider that Look Inside is of the first things many people will see when considering whether to download your book, it’s pretty damn important.
I did a little digging around the various KDP forums (there really are a lot of insufferable know-it-alls who seem to have nothing better to do than add condescending crap to message boards).
Anyway, I got there in the end, and it turns out that some stray html in the file was causing the issue. Scrivener likes to add little invisible things that usually wouldn’t be a problem, but Look Inside is very sensitive when it comes to html.
Happens to a lot of people, apparently.
One solution was to use a program like Sigil to remove any extraneous html that’s causing the glitch. But I’m no website developer. I don’t want to be dicking around with code when I could be writing about a spurting jugular, a drug-fuelled orgy or ghosts or whatever.
So the long, winding path led me to a program called Vellum.
Now, Vellum was created specifically for the design of ebooks. It was built by two guys who used to work for Pixar. They noted that eBooks, in general, were lacking a certain aesthetic beauty. And they were right.
I downloaded Vellum and started to play around with it. Christ, it’s gorgeous.
It makes laying out your eBook fun. The templates are sensible. The fonts and design options are beautiful. And it’s really easy to use.
The one pitfall is this: It ain’t cheap. $30 to publish one book, $100 for ten or $200 for unlimited. I liked it so much, I bought the unlimited package. YOLO, right?
In 30 minutes I had created a template for all my monthly releases and re-jigged the 3 titles I currently have on Amazon. Tthey’re in the process of being re-uploaded and so if you already have them, you should be able to get a new version of the file in the next week or so.
Anyway, the final test: Look Inside.
Well, here’s Twenty-Seven’s Look Inside after I had used Vellum to build the eBook.
I suppose it doesn’t spit out weird code in the way Scrivener does. Whatever the reason, it looks great now.
For me, Vellum’s not a word processing tool – I’ll still use Scrivener to write on as there’s nothing out there that beats it, but from now on, the final products will be put together using Vellum. (And that includes Perfect Anastasia, out 14th Feb 2017. Have you pre-ordered your copy yet, kids?)
So not only have I fixed my Look Inside problem, but I have wonderfully deigned eBooks now.
Here’s a brief overview of Vellum from one of the happiest men alive:
And here’s a really interesting interview with one of its designers, Brad Andalman, from the inspiring and wonderful Joanna Penn. (Whenever I’m stuck on an eBook publishing issue, her website is usually my first port of call.)
Note: Vellum aren’t paying me to write this, I’m just sharing the knowledge because I can be nice like that. Occasionally.
Also note – Vellum is Mac only. Sorry PC guys 😦