SPS-347: The Brains Behind Beautiful Books – with Brad Andalman
How did two men, both named Brad, neither of whom are writers, manage to create one of the best, most beloved tools in independent publishing? James talks to one half of the Brads about the originating idea for the software and where Vellum will go from here.
- On Vellum’s Pixar origins
- Are there plans to make Vellum available for PCs?
- On the growing features of Vellum
- Why the Brads are still the only two people on the Vellum team
- How Vellum works to support indie authors and publishing freedom
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
MERCH: Check out our new 2022 hoodies and t-shirts in the SPF Store.
SPS-347: The Brains Behind Beautiful Books - with Brad Andalman
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Brad Andalman: They try to force their print ideas onto the ebook land. And sometimes that works, but sometimes it just doesn't. For us, both of these things are first class citizens in our app. Whenever we write a feature, we think how's it going to look in ebook and how's it going to look in print.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing, no more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?
Join indie bestseller, Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch, as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello, and welcome to The Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: We're here this week to talk about a beautifully aesthetic bit of software in the publishing world, self-publishing world. I guess it's used in publishing as well. And we're going to speak to one of the stars. It's our proper fan boy interview today coming up for me, because I'm a big fan of these guys and what they've done. That is our interview.
Before then, Mark, a couple of things to mention. We have a blog available on our sites, released every Friday. A new blog, bit of insight to help you in your marketing. And it's about the algorithm, the old algo, algorithm marketing for authors, all about kickstarting the algorithm, Mark, still a thing. A lot of stuff gets spoken about algorithms, all sorts of people claim to know all sorts of things. But in reality, we know that any organisation, whether it's TikTok promoting posts, Facebook promoting posts, Amazon posting books, lights, success, and our job, I think, is to kickstart the success and then get the algorithm to say, "Okay, this is making money. I'm going to give it a bit of a further push." Is that a good summation?
Mark Dawson: Yeah. It's huge. I think generally it's common sense, but I think what does the platform want to achieve? So looking at Amazon, Amazon wants to sell things and make money. So anything that it can see is generating sales is going to be something that gets pushed to sell more things of more of those sales.
We can speculate as to what the algorithm contains, but it is just speculation. I know plenty of people at Amazon, and I don't think any of them would suggest that they know exactly how the algorithm works and that will be the same for most places. But we can start with some, a general position, fairly broad strokes, and then speculate from there.
James Blatch: Yeah. So that blog is available on the website. I should also say that we're going to be in Florida. Is it next week? The time this is going out, this is going out a week on... It's going out this Friday, which is what date?
Mark Dawson: The-
James Blatch: It's going out the ninth. So we have a week after next, week after next we're going to be flying out to Florida. I think it's something like the 19th, the Monday of 19th, we arrive. St. Pete Beach near St. Petersburg in... As I say, near Tampa, in Florida, and we will be hosting drinks. You don't have to be attending the conference to come to our drinks at the Sharktooth Tavern, which is a little pub bar on the premises though on the space of the TradeWinds Resort. And that is going to be on Friday the 23rd from 9:00 PM. I guess people will be there a bit earlier than now. We're saying 9:00 PM. They've asked us to do that. So we're not conflicting with some of the nighttime sessions that they're running. And it's a nighttime kind of place. Is it not the NINC? I mean, stuff happens at night.
Mark Dawson: Is it a nighttime place? I think the beach is quite nice in the daytime.
James Blatch: It is. But the tiki bar and all that stuff is kind of a signature of NINC, and I have to say, a very energetic bunch. The ones who run NINC, we get emails from them a lot. They're very well organised. They've got lots of people on board, helping them out with very happy to be sponsors this year. We can be running a dinner. I'll be speaking a session on TikTok. And generally, we'll be there to press the flesh, won't we, Mark? People want to come and say hello to us.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. It's fun. Oh, at door knock. Was that your door, James?
James Blatch: No, that's me drumming my fingers.
Mark Dawson: Oh, very professional.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: I didn't think get there last year or the year before because of COVID. We're good to get back to Florida and see some old friends. I'm looking forward too.
James Blatch: Yeah. Good. And there's going to be some news coming up in the next couple of weeks about The Self-Publishing Show live in June 2023. So we're going to announce the finer details and how you can get hold of tickets at a good early bird price. So that's to come in the next couple of weeks. So just keep listening for that.
Also, I just want to say thank you to everyone who sponsored me. I'm feeling a little bit stiff. It has to be said, I ran my first organised half marathon on Sunday, which turned out to be not very well researched. We were running at Silverton Circuit, which obviously is going to be this some Formula 1 circuit, flat predictable surface. That got cancelled. One of my friends found this local one in north slopes, about 10 miles away. Fine, we'll do that. So on the next and the next day.
So we did that. It turns out 75% of this was foot paths around fields and across fields. And it was a very small crowd of 70 people running. And they were all running groups who wanted the challenge of doing a really hard, tough course. So it probably wasn't the right one for me to choose. As I turned out, as it turned out halfway through, I was thinking, this is really hard work. If you don't run, you probably won't necessarily appreciate that the energy you put in on tarmac gives you one speed. The energy you put in on a rough path gives you much slower speed, and it just feels like harder work. So I didn't get a personal best. I did it in 2.14. If anyone's interested, I was trying to break 210, but...
Mark Dawson: That's pretty good.
James Blatch: Yeah. I'm pleased with it. I came 50th out of 70 something.
Mark Dawson: Not bad. At least finishing is an achievement in itself. So that's very good. I'm back of the fitness game as well. Because I had a week off where I was away in Southport last week, heavy rain at the moment. And yes, I got back in the Peloton last night. Absolutely love it. I absolutely love Peloton. I am a massive fan of it now.
James Blatch: That's great.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. So I do prefer the bike, but got the treadmill as well, and that's also excellent. But I found an instructor who has very, very similar taste to me, weirdly similar. She picks a check for Bowhouse and from '80s goth music. It's just hilarious to work out to it. So if anyone even wants to workout with me, I am Pback Writer on Peloton. So you can follow me or follow each other. Then we can, I was going to say, get sweaty together, but yes-
James Blatch: It's quite an invite.
Mark Dawson: It's nice. Very fun. I love it.
James Blatch: Yeah. That's good. And obviously keeping mobile, and healthy, and-
Mark Dawson: At our age.
James Blatch: ... or helps. Yeah. I say, I'm feeling it today. I was all right yesterday, went for a long walk on the beach yesterday with the dogs. It was all fine. But today I've woken up thinking, "Oh my God, feeling my age a bit." Anyway, I was basically saying thank you to those people who sponsored me. And I had a couple of anonymous donations of a decent size in US dollars. So I guess from people listening to the show and that's really, really kind of you. It's a cause very close to my heart, pancreatic cancer UK, and the work done in the UK, benefits everyone. They all work together. These charities around the world. And I've been reading this morning actually about some of the work areas they're working on toughness of tough cancer to try and solve.
Okay. Right. I think that's probably it for now, Mark. We've got a few things bubbling on in the background, a lot going on in SPF world, we will slowly reveal overcoming weeks, but for now we have our star interview.
This is Brad Andalman, who is one of the two Brad's, coincidentally, two Brads who run Vellum. They created it. They run the software. They don't employ anyone. They still do it themselves. It's a really interesting interview. If you're slightly geeky about how organisations work and how software's created, it's actually quite a good interview for you as well, because I'm a little bit like that. And I was asking her about the updating and so on.
They have a background from Pixar, the animation company, of course, brought us Toy Story and everything else from the Cars. And you name it before being subsumed in Disney. And you can tell that they are an aesthetically pleasing background because that's what they've brought to Vellum. So let's hear from Brad, and then Mark and I will be back for a chat.
Okay. Brad Andalman, welcome to The Self-Publishing Show. Now I know I spoke to one of you before, was that you Brad or was it your colleague?
Brad Andalman: I think It was... Yeah. It gets confusing. I think it was my colleague, Brad West.
James Blatch: Okay. So first time onto the show, but we met at NINC a couple of years ago, and I saw you standing there and I was quite starstruck. And the reason I was starstruck is because Vellum, for me, is like a celebrity piece of the Indie ecosystem. It's just a beautifully put together bit of software. It's a software. It's not very often you hear anyone saying that they look forward to doing a task like formatting. But honestly, Vellum, and if you're not into Vellum, you probably think everyone else is a Vellum bore who likes Vellum, but that's why we evangelise it because it's just a delightful bit of software to use.
So first of all, thank you for creating it.
Brad Andalman: Thank you for saying that. We love to hear that because we obviously want to make things easy for authors, but it's also really nice to hear that appreciation for the craft of making software too. It's something that Brad and I spend a lot of time thinking about how to make it easy but also beautiful at the same time. So it's thank you for saying that. It's nice to hear.
James Blatch: Hey, no, you're welcome. I love Scrivener. I love lots of other bits and pieces, but you don't use the word beautiful about many pieces of software. I suppose the most famous organisation brand that does this is Apple.
I think Apple must have been, in some way, an inspiration to you, the way that they do approach things from an aesthetic point of view as well as a functional point of view.
Brad Andalman: Absolutely. It's one of the reasons why we're currently Mac only is that we really like their aesthetic. We like the way they approach things. There's a lot of benefits to existing in that Mac ecosystem as well. And since that we're currently Mac only, we wanted to make it feel like it was very much a part of the Mac ecosystem. We wanted to make sure it didn't feel like you were using something else that it integrated well with all the other things that you're used to using on the Mac.
Brad and I worked at Pixar for a long time working on the software there. And as a result, we had quite a bit of collaboration with Apple people as well because Pixar and Apple have had a tight relationship at the time when Steve Jobs was involved. So I think we have that in our blood in a way we want to make it look beautiful and we want to make it feel at home on the Mac.
James Blatch: That certainly is how it feels. We should address the Mac question straight away. Because it's the one thing, of course, half the audience say is that, "I can't use it because I'm a PC user. Macs are expensive."
So first of all, are there any plans at any point to have a PC version?
Brad Andalman: What we've said in the past is we don't have active plans for a PC version. And that remains, that is true today. And there are many reasons for that. One is that we started and now we have, like you said, a big fan base. We have a lot of users that who we want to make happy, and we've been adding stuff to Vellum constantly from our beginnings, almost 10 years ago, we've been just improving and improving it. And there's only two of us. So you talk to, that's it, there's me and there's Brad West. And so short of getting much bigger as a company, which is a thing we could consider. We really like the fact that we can just, the two of us, deliver a great, great product that fits in seamlessly to most many people's workflows.
We have heard from a lot of people who use Mac In Cloud. It's not what we would consider the ideal way to use Vellum, because like you said, you want it to fit in to the rest of the stuff that you do on your computer. But we wrote a guide for it and people really like it because if you don't have a Mac, that's probably the best way to use Vellum.
We try to make using Vellum fun and also fast that you don't need to spend hours learning it. And so we do think that it's possibly an economic way for people who don't want to purchase a Mac. That said, these Macs are an expensive thing. I hear that a lot. These new computers, I think, bang for the buck, are incredible with the M1 and M2 chips. They're super fast, and bang for the buck, I think, they're a fantastic, fantastic deal.
James Blatch: It's a while since I've looked at the whole range of Macs now, but they used to do the Mac mini, which I had for years before I had a laptop or an iMac. And the Mac mini was literally this about that, this big, but it was the whole computer. All you needed to do is plug in the keyboard and monitor. And so I guess they still do an equivalent of that?
Brad Andalman: Yeah, they still have the Mac mini. And yeah, that's actually really reasonably a price too.
James Blatch: I want to backtrack slightly just on this subject. I'm not going to dwell whole interview on the PC versus Mac. But for people who are on PC, you mentioned Mac In Cloud. In the old days, I think, you called it an emulator. So you'd run the emulation software on your PC and it thought it was a Mac for a bit, so you could run Mac software.
So Mac in the air is one step beyond that. Isn't it? That you don't instal anything.
Brad Andalman: Right. So Mac In Cloud is-
James Blatch: Mac In Cloud. Sorry.
Brad Andalman: Yeah, no, it's a service and it allows you to basically rent time on a Mac that you can use remotely. And so you have an account and you can open it up in your browser or you can open using the... I don't even know the right name. I don't have a PC-
James Blatch: A Window.
Brad Andalman: Like a Window. There's like a Windows virtual desktop that you can open up this Mac on. And then you just use it as if you were using someone else's Mac through another window. It can be a little bit confusing because you're using a computer on your other computer, but for a lot of people, it works out great for them. And we hear from a lot of people that this is how they've chosen to use Vellum. And then we also hear from a lot of people who do that, try it out and then end up buying a Mac. Which always wows us, but we're fans.
James Blatch: Apple should produce Mac in the air service. Mac in the Cloud.
Brad Andalman: Mac in Cloud. Yeah.
James Blatch: I would us that free of charge, like a drug dealer.
Brad Andalman: They should.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Brad Andalman: I really should.
James Blatch: Okay. Let's talk about the product itself then. Vellum's purpose is to take your manuscript typically you may have exported from Scrivener or even written in word, be exported into word, typically that's how I use it, and then you bring it into Vellum.
Why don't you talk us through your initial aim for it and what it does today features?
Brad Andalman: Our initial aim when we started, was to do that for people to write in whatever word processing software they want to write their book in, it can be... We love Scrivener, we think Scrivener's fantastic. And Scrivener has a Vellum export that makes it even easier, but you can also use word or pages export to a docx file and bring it into Vellum.
Vellum will analyse the content and try to divvy it up into chapters. It allows you to add front matter, back matter, makes it really easy to do that. We hope. And then initially it was really just all about generating ebook formats for the variety of online retailers. So it generates a Apple version. It generates a Kindle version. It generates et cetera, Kobo, Google Play, et cetera.
And then about five years ago, we added the ability to generate a print edition as well. So you can create PDF print interiors, that'll be accepted at all the major print on demand services like Amazon KDP, IngramSpark. And then this whole thing that I left out is once you get it into Vellum and it's divvied up into chapters, you've added your front and back matter sort of that fun thing that, I think, you were talking about earlier, is Vellum has dozens of styles that you can then apply that we've laboured over, and we think are fun and beautiful.
You can choose the one that speaks to you. You can dig into those options and customise it a bunch. Recently, we spent a lot of time on the print side of things. So you can really make your print edition sing with full bleed images, with heading backgrounds that can go behind to the first page of a chapter, behind the text of the first page of a chapter. Vellum is really your last stop before you generate all of the final files that you then would use to self-publish your book online.
James Blatch: Yeah. And I'll mention, again, that it's a very pleasurable with a software to use, very easy to use importing word and even does clever things that works out where your chapters are, as long as you've used something relatively recognisable to divide yourself up. And I have to say even creating box sets, which I did think, where do I start to create a box set, but actually you literally just drag and drop on three novels into one and that could not be easier either.
And the other things, I'll just mention, I find very useful is having the same page twice in it that will get exported for print. So you might have ISBN for print ISBN for ebook. And even if you don't have those two, there may be subtle differences in your back and front matter. And you can actually mark pages for print only for ebook, and then just have this one Vellum file. You export it. And it appears on all its sub folders practically with only that correct page for ebook.
I think that was only a couple of years ago, you added that. Well, maybe a little bit longer, but that was a really useful thing, I think.
Brad Andalman: Yeah. Actually, I'm trying to remember when we added that. I think it was actually a little bit ago where we added the ability to mark elements as print only or eBooks only. More recently, we've added the ability to mark sections of text. Maybe this is ebook only or print only. So if you have a call to action at the end of your ebook, that doesn't really make sense in print. You're not going to say, "Click here." Right? Someone's flipping through their paperback book-
James Blatch: Starting it.
Brad Andalman: Nothing's happening.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Brad Andalman: But maybe you want that block of text at the very end of your last chapter to have of a call to action. We added a way to say, "Hey, this block of text should be an ebook only not in print." So that's something that happened a little bit more recently, a few years ago already, and kind of still.
James Blatch: When you export to the different formats, which you can select or deselect. So for instance, a web link, can you mark that specifically for Apple or mark have a version for Kindle?
Brad Andalman: Sort of. In the Vellum vernacular, web links are specific links to a page on the internet that isn't store specific. So if you were just like, "Hey, look at this YouTube clip." You would want that to be in all of your books. But there's something we call a store link, which is like a web link. It's in, but it's a store link allows you to say, "Hey, for the Apple version of this book, you want to go to the Apple store. For the Amazon version, if you want to buy the Kindle version of this book, you're going to go to the Amazon store." So that store link allows you to specify for each format that Vellum generates, what store it should point to. And that's super handy because Apple doesn't want your ebook to include links to Amazon.
James Blatch: No, in fact, they will reject it. And so will Draft2Digital and the aggregators, if you accidentally do, which I did this week. So I know that they do pay attention to that. Okay. So the changes we've seen recently have been that customization. And I think the only reason I still find, and that probably you tell me a way around this, I still find only 200 files for the hard back version of my novel because I have a separate ISDN. ISDN?
Brad Andalman: ISBN.
James Blatch: ISBN. That's a different thing, ISDN. A separate ISBN for hardback, paperback, and Kindle edition. And my work around was to have a duplicate Vellum file for that.
Is there a way around that?
Brad Andalman: Well, sort of. So that's a thing that is on our long list of possible enhancements, is to make it easy to specify, even within print, perhaps to say, "Hey, this is something for hardback. This is something for paperback." Until then, if you have significant changes between versions like that, the best way is to do as you did, which is to use a separate Vellum file. It's not amazing work around, we totally understand.
For something though, like ISBN what we recommend. And I think there's an example of this on our help page too, that I can point you to after. Most copyright pages just list the ISBN and then, after it, indicate the version. So you could actually just have a single copyright page that goes into your ebook and both print editions, and it will just have one ISBN ebook, list the other ISBN paperback, the other ISBN hardback, hardcover. And that's an accepted way in the publishing industry to just list all the ISBNs for a particular version.
If that was your only change to your hardback version, I would say it's not worth having a separate Vellum file. But we hear a lot of people are making special additions, say, using some of the new features that we've added to Vellum, where you have lots of different images or you have vastly different content. And really, at that time, that feels a little bit like a separate Vellum file because you've got all of these images and you want to... Maybe you have more elements, a different... An author's note about the special edition and other stuff like this, or author commentary or things like that. So, in that case, we recommend creating another Vellum file for that.
James Blatch: Actually, in the multiple ISBN, a perfect solution, which I shall get onto.
In terms of enhancements and changes, then what contact do you have with users, with authors? You have a regular personal contact with them? You get a feel for what people are after?
Brad Andalman: Yeah. So there's only two of us at the company. So we answer every single email that comes in. I think in that way we understand, "Oh, this is coming up a lot. What can we do to address that?" So that's not always the best way to get, because if there are happy people who aren't writing us, but they still have some suggestions. Those people tend not to reach out to us as often. So sometimes that can be a little bit biassed because you're getting a lot of help me with this kind of thing. Not like, I want to do this in a better way.
We do go to a lot of conferences. You mentioned we met at NINC a while ago. So we try to get out to all these two to five [per year]. It's been a little bit weird the last few years, and really touch base. We like to meet with Vellum users there and see what people are doing. And then there's certain user groups that we check in on or that we hear from online to really keep abreast of what people want and what's going on with our users. And people should feel free to write us using our contact page, and you'll know that we'll see it. So that's another way. Don't hesitate, please write us. We love to hear from people.
James Blatch: And in a reflection of the convenience of using Vellum, we just have to say, "Dear Brad." At the top, because one of the two, Brad is going to answer. That does seem amazing to me.
There is just the two of you still in the company. You must have hummed and hahed over the years about taking on a team.
Brad Andalman: We have. And there's a trade off. We've both worked on bigger software teams, and there's definitely a trade off. We like the personal experience we have with our users and hearing all the feedback. Not that it couldn't be done to grow the team, but at the same time, we feel like we're able to make changes fast. We know Vellum really, really well, and we feel like we've been in it a long, long time.
I think it's a constant debate. We just have never quite gotten there yet. We may bring on a few more people. Our goal is not to become the next Microsoft, obviously.
James Blatch: Yeah. Customer service, for instance. You at some point would like to go on vacation.
Do you have to separate your vacations or do you not get 100 a day that you need to deal with?
Brad Andalman: We try to separate our vacations. We actually haven't been that good at that lately. So there have been times when we've just divvied up on our vacation. Brad will take a couple days and then I'll take a couple days. We're pretty good at it. We know people tend to write about similar things. So it doesn't take us that long. It's mostly we get up early in the morning and can knock it out pretty quick.
I think bringing someone on to as support would be a good thing, but like I said, there's some extent we'd miss knowing what's going on, keeping our finger on the pulse, as you said.
James Blatch: Yeah. It's obviously an important factor in the company. But by the way, you're not allowed to fly together.
Brad Andalman: Yes. Exactly.
James Blatch: We rely on it. It's too much invested in that, it's not the Royal Family, the president, vice president. And that's amazing to me, that's just the two of you, which is obviously a great part of it. And in terms of the company's size. So normally the metric as I would use is what we started with the services now at the team of 250.
What metrics can you use to describe to me: your user base or something? How you've grown since you started?
Brad Andalman: Our user base, I think, has grown significantly. And I think includes people who would never have thought about self-publishing maybe in the past. I think our goal was to try to make this very, very easy. So with the more stuff we've added, I think really the barrier for entry is lower. So I think we see a lot of people, I had a friend of mine who was like, "I wrote this book and now I don't know what to do with it." And she didn't even know, she was a friend of a friend, and I was like, "Well, let me tell you." And suddenly she's finalising her book and we'll get it published. And what was of this solitary thing. And then maybe it would've years ago been of cast aside is now she can put it out there, give people a chance to read it. And that's really exciting for her. I think that's what we've seen.
James Blatch: So you are growing, I think we can say without a shadow of a doubt. There is something about, I think, that particular process, authors we write our books, we full of self-doubt about them. Think they're horrible. Think they're good. Think they're horrible. Go through that. But when you take that and export it in Vellum for the first time, that for me is the modern equivalent of the publisher sending you a book you hold in your hand.
I know people still like that. And I've got book behind me there. But honestly, looking at that, particularly the print export, the PDF, looking at that, suddenly all that stuff you've been doing haphazardly and ringing your hands over for six months, a year, 10 years, looks like a professional book.
It suddenly looks like a book that visualisation of a novel. I think it's a really important moment in the process.
Brad Andalman: I agree. And to be honest, I don't know that I realised that 10 years ago, when we started it was like, "Let's just make this easier." It seems hard. But this friend of mine, when she brought her manuscript in and to Vellum, she didn't even have to print it out. She saw it in the preview pane, she saw it formatted and it looked like a book. What she expected a book, and you could tell that, that was really important. And it's not something that I personally would've expected 10 years ago, but now it's a thing that I hear from a lot of people. And it's wonderful. It's great to hear that
James Blatch: Either you or Brad write books?
Brad Andalman: No.
James Blatch: So how did you come up with the idea? Why did you enter this particular field?
Brad Andalman: Brad and I worked together a long time before this, we knew we wanted to start a small company and that was of creating software for creative professionals. And we didn't have a solid idea of what we were going to work on, we had a bunch of different ideas. And actually Brad's wife was reading a lot of independent authors on her Kindle, and the books had a lot of errors in them, had a lot of formatting mistakes. And then she started reading about these blogs as well, following the authors on their blogs. And they were complaining about the process of making these books.
Brad was like, "This is a thing that we'd actually probably be good at." Because the whole technology stack, to be nerdy about it, that's something that we knew we could do. We had experience writing animation software for animators at Pixar. We knew we could write books for creative people, or we could write an application for creative people to use. And we're both avid readers and we both really liked design. And so it just seemed, it ticked all the boxes. And actually, Brad whipped up a really early, early quick prototype of what this might be. And we're like, "Yeah, we think this might work. Who knows? Let's try it." So that's what happened.
James Blatch: Yeah. It did work. And funny enough, I think the formatting errors I see more often are in traditionally published books now on the Kindle, I think for some traditional publishers, I'm certain, and maybe this is a couple of years ago, it seemed to be a little bit of an afterthought getting the ebook together.
Probably because of you guys, the indie sector has got that bit right.
Brad Andalman: I agree. For better or for worse we started with eBooks and added print later. When we started there were all these articles, "Are print books dead?' and we never thought print books were going to die, but we were like, "Oh, eBooks are on a tear."
We started with eBooks. And so we always have that focus. I think you're right. Traditionally published books, often, it's totally an afterthought and they try to force their print ideas onto the ebook land. And sometimes that works, but sometimes it just doesn't. And so for us, both of these things are first class citizens in our app. And whenever we write a feature that we think how's it going to look in ebook and how's it going to look in print.
James Blatch: It definitely feels that way.
So just very nerdy and I might not even understand the answer, but what do you write the software in?
Brad Andalman: When we started, we wrote mostly in Objective-C, which is, basically, what most programmes 10 years ago on the Mac were written in. Since then, we've started adding in a little bit of Swift, which is their next generation of programming language that Apple has been promoting for the last five or so years. So it's a combination of Objective-C, Swift, with a few other programming languages here and there that probably not worth mentioning.
James Blatch: I've heard of a Objective-C, but I haven't heard of Swift. I was a computer programmer a long time ago in the days of COBOL. So that's how old I am.
Brad Andalman: It's not probably necessarily for your audience, but Swift is fun in that it's like Apple's is making a drive to make it a little bit more accessible to a lot of people. So actually, if you're interested in playing around with programming languages, Swift is a good one to dip your toe into.
James Blatch: Yeah, that sounds sensible. It's not always the Apple way to make everything accessible to a wider audience, but-
Brad Andalman: No. They've open sourced it.
James Blatch: Okay.
Brad Andalman: It's fun.
James Blatch: Good. Okay. Well, look, we better tell people where they can find the software and how much it costs.
Brad Andalman: So you can find it vellum.pub and you can download it. Vellum is actually, you can download it and play with it, use it to format your book, see what it's going to look like in the preview pain. And you only need to purchase a licence when you want to generate those final files we were talking about.
So it's the thing that both Brad and I felt really strongly about is we want people to try this out, see if it works for them. We think it's going to work for you, but we don't want to make those assumptions. And we know that spending money, especially these days, it's a big effort. So play with it. See if it works for you.
Once you decide that you love how your books look and you want to publish, you'll need to purchase a licence. And we offer two licences. One is Vellum eBooks, which only allows you to generate eBooks. And that's 199.99 in US dollars. And then a Vellum press licence allows you to generate eBooks as well as PDF print interiors, and that's 249. 99. And once you own a licence, you own the licence. It's good forever. And there's no limit to how many books you can generate, et cetera.
James Blatch: Did you think about a subscription model at some point? I'm sure you must have done it some point.
Brad Andalman: Yeah, we did. Back then, both Brad and I, when we first started, you know this, we really felt like you should own the software that you have. And to some extent, we still feel that way, though the world has moved away from that. And I have to say that I've softened a little bit. It doesn't bother me to subscribe to services that I love and use all the time. So it's a thing we've talked about, but for now it's like, "You own it. You've got it. You don't have to think about it. It's not a recurring charge." But we often toss about ideas about way to change things up.
James Blatch: And I think Scrivener is the same as, I think, you buy that. I don't think they've got any plans. As author, it's... Well, anyway, I can tell you I'm a fanboy of Vellum and I don't begrudge the money I spent on it for one second. I use it for myself and for Fuse.
Brad Andalman: That's great.
James Blatch: It's a great pleasure talking to you, Brad. And keep up the good work.
How often do you go in and tinker with it? How often do you make changes? Because it feels such a stable platform.
Brad Andalman: We change it every day.
James Blatch: Really? That's amazing.
Brad Andalman: Yeah. We change it. We're often tinkering with it, as you say, but we only do releases so small, minor releases that we're really well... That are maybe bug fix releases every once a month or so. And then our larger changes, which we release, I don't know quarterly say, we really test the heck out of it because we know how stressful it can be. You're putting the finishing touches on a book and you hit an issue. We hate that when we encounter that in other software. We don't want to be that way.
James Blatch: Yeah. And I guess the other pain of your life is the operation system changes. You have to do a load of testing without. And I have to say they don't always come out. Well, I guess they're huge to thoroughly test, but they don't always come out perfect. Do they already? No?
Brad Andalman: No. Yeah. That's a big amount of work for us. Every year Apple release is a very big update, and sometimes we get lucky and it can take a little bit of testing, and sometimes it can take weeks and weeks of work and testing and you got to deal with it. So it's just a cost, but...
James Blatch: Good. Okay. Well, look, the PC users have either switched off for their Googling, Mac in the...
Brad Andalman: Mac in Cloud.
James Blatch: Mac in Cloud the name or they're looking at mini Macs. Because I think it's a great way to software, as you know. Thank you so much indeed, Brad.
If people want to meet either you or other Brad in person, where are you going to be this year?
Brad Andalman: We're going to be at NINC. I think that's probably the best way to see us. So come to Florida, St. Pete's, and please say, "Hi." And thank you so much for having us on your show, or me on your show.
James Blatch: Hey, you're very welcome. Well, I'll see you in NINC again, I'll buy you a beer this time and say thank you in person. But yeah, brilliant work.
Brad Andalman: Can't wait.
James Blatch: Thank you so much, Brad.
Brad Andalman: Thank you.
James Blatch: There you go. I think it's fair to say, we are both big fans of Vellum, right Mark?
Mark Dawson: Yeah. I said to you off camera. I've been using it today. Actually, I just finished a new Milton book yesterday. And so today I formatted it and it is just, I don't know, I love Vellum. I remember back in the day before Vellum, BV, if you like, I'd send the manuscript off to my formatter guy in Australia that I used, and he would maybe two or three days later, send it back to me as a formatted epub and mobi file.
But then if I went to change anything, which happened, I have to send it back to him, ask him this section here, please change this to this. It was just really, really faffy, but now it takes seconds. Vellum is so good to use. Now, we should say there are other alternatives. Vellum is not the cheapest of the alternatives that you could choose. And there are some free ones that are pretty good. The Reedsy editor is recommended. Atticus, Dave Chesson's new formatting software. Again, I see lots of people in the community who like that. But for me, just speaking personally, I can't really imagine not using Vellum now. It's a very important part of my process. And the two of them have done a fantastic job.
James Blatch: Draft2Digital and others all have formatting options for you. And lots of people will use them. And even Scrivener, you can format in Scrivener. Atticus, I suppose, is slightly different ballpark. And we could probably catch up with Dave actually about it. I think maybe we're going to record an episode of the show live in NINC in Florida. I think maybe Dave could be a candidate for a live guest because I'd like to catch up with Atticus and its progress. But the Atticus thing is more than just formatting. Isn't it? It's about a kind of process, a project management process where you're all in one organisation. And I think that is why people are liking it so much.
Okay. Anyway, thank you very much, Brad, and all for coming on. And we will see you and NINC, for sure a beer with you, hopefully because I think the Brad's are both going to NINC as well. So we'll catch up with them there. Right. Marcus, I think that is it from us for this week. Thank you very much, indeed. Thank you again for sponsoring me in my half marathon run. And if you want to see Mark, sweaty. What is it again, Pback writer on Peloton?
Mark Dawson: Pback writer, yes, exactly. And there is actually a hashtag this #teamSPF, as well.
James Blatch: All right.
Mark Dawson: #teamSPF
James Blatch: Is John in that? Because John has a Peloton.
Mark Dawson: I don't think he is. No. He has one. Does he use it?
James Blatch: Well, I don't know. He has one. I think he did use when he first got it.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, yeah.
James Blatch: Yeah. Oh, maybe I'll look into Peloton, and I have a Watt bike, which I really like, but I would happily swap to Peloton. In the road bike community, what bike is a bit more for road bike? To really work on cycling. Whereas Peloton's been more of fitness thing, but in the winter, you need a bit of fitness stuff.
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: Okay. Enough of our fitness obsessions.
Mark Dawson: So if you want to buy a Peloton, go to SPF forward slash Peloton-
James Blatch: Affiliate deal.
Mark Dawson: ... and we'll give 50% on. No, no affiliate deals with Peloton, but I recommend it without hesitation. Very good.
James Blatch: Yeah. Good. Okay. Thank you very much indeed. Thank you again to the team in the background who led by John, and for getting this on air and appreciate it. We'll speak to you, I guess, this time next week. Thank you very much indeed. All that remains for me to say, is it's a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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