Create a Vellum template for Word

Vellum is a tool that creates both ebooks and print books from a Microsoft Word .docx file. You can export to this format from Scrivener and other tools. If you work directly in Word, you can create a Vellum template using Vellum’s custom styles. This will reduce the amount of work you need to do once your manuscript has been imported into Vellum.


You have both Word and Vellum installed.

Create a Vellum template in Word

  • Download Vellum’s sample documents from this link. (This is an official Vellum link, and is referenced in their tutorial.)
  • Open the file ‘Vellum Book Style.dotx’. Note the .dotx extension, which means this is a Word template tile. The file will open in Word.
  • Click on the File menu, then Save As. In the ‘Format’ dropdown, select ‘Word Template (.dotx)’. Navigate to wherever you want the template to live, then click ‘Save’.

Note: In theory, you can put your template anywhere. I found that unless I saved mine to the default location (/Users/ username/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Office/User Templates/My Templates) it wouldn’t show up in ‘My Templates’ when I created a new document.

Using your Vellum template in Word

  • To create a new file using this template, select ‘File’ and then ‘New from Template.’ Your template will be listed in ‘My Templates’ in the Word Document Gallery.
  • You can now either write your manuscript in the new document, or copy/paste from another document into the new one. If you do the latter, make sure to apply the Vellum custom styles to your text.

The sample material Vellum provides gives clear and detailed examples of the different styles and when to use them.


Bevel and Emboss basics with Photoshop

Beveling and embossing is a way to create shading and simulate shadows that make your text look three-dimensional.

Here’s the same text without and with beveling/embossing.

And here’s a close-up so you can see how different the same text can look.


  • You have Photoshop
  • You have an existing text layer in a .psd file.

How to bevel and emboss text

  • Right-click on the text layer you want to edit, select Blending Options, and then select Bevel & Emboss.

  • Adjust the settings as desired, then click OK.
    Here are the settings used in the examples above.

  • In the layer view, right-click in the Effects section under the layer name, and then select ‘Bevel & Emboss’.


What do all those options mean?

The best way to find out is to try them out. You can see the text effects in your document if you check the Preview box.

The advantage of this approach is that by experimenting you’ll see firsthand how everything works, and you might come up with a combination of settings that you wouldn’t have found otherwise; the disadvantage is that experimenting takes time.

But never fear – here’s a cheat sheet! 🙂

There are three groupings of settings:

  1. Bevel & Emboss
  2. Contour
  3. Texture

Bevel & Emboss

Bevel & Emboss options are broken up into the categories Structure and Shading.

  • Structure
    • Style
      • Inner/Outer Bevel – applies the bevel to the inside or outside of the text.
      • Emboss – applies the bevel to both the inside and the outside of the text.
      • Pillow Emboss – applies the bevel to both the inside and the outside of the text, but in opposite directions from the regular ‘Emboss’ setting.
      • Stroke Emboss – applies the bevel only to the stroke (this only works if you have a stroke effect applied to the text).
    • Technique
      • Smooth – creates a smooth, rounded edge.
      • Chisel Hard – creates a hard, chiseled edge.
      • Chisel Soft – creates a rough, chiseled edge.
    • Depth
      Increases the three-dimensional depth. A higher value creates a larger amount of depth.
    • Direction
      Specifies whether the bevel & emboss should be extruded toward or away from you.
    • Size
      Specifies the overall size of the bevel & emboss on your text. A smaller number will limit the bevel/emboss to slower to the edges of the text, whereas a larger number covers more of the text.
    • Soften
      Specifies how soft the edges should be.
  • Shading
    • Angle
      Specifies the horizontal position of the artificial light source.
    • Altitude
      Specifies the vertical position of the artificial light source.
    • Gloss Contour
      Allows you to create glass and metallic effects.
    • Highlight Mode
      Specifies the blend mode for your highlights, as well as the highlight color and opacity.
    • Shadow Mode
      Specifies the blend mode for the shadows, as well as the shadow color and opacity.


Contour allows you to specify the shape of your bevel.

  • Contour
    Specifies the shape of the bevel.
  • Anti-aliasing
    Smooths the contour.
  • Range
    The range percentage modifies how much of the bevel the contour should apply to.

In this example, every setting is the same except for the contour shape.


Texture allows you to add a texture to your text.

  • Pattern
    Select a texture pattern to apply to the text.
  • Scale
    Increase or decrease the size of the pattern.
  • Depth
    Adjust the three-dimensional depth.
  • Invert
    Check this box to invert the pattern.
  • Link with Layer
    Lock the pattern to your text layer so if you later move your layer, the pattern will move with it.

In this example, every setting is the same except for the texture.


Photoshop version

The version of Photoshop used for this post was the 2017.1.1 Release of Adobe Photoshop CC, 20170425.r.252 x64, on OS X 10.10.5.

Formatting KDP book descriptions using Ablurb

Ablurb is a simple tool that allows you to preview the formatted description (blurb) for your book before making it live on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

If you’re comfortable with HTML, you might not need to see a preview. If you don’t regularly write HTML, or if you just want to verify that what you wrote works before making it live, Ablurb is a quick and easy way to preview what you’ve written.

Here’s what it looks like when you write a blurb in the KDP editor. You can use HTML tags, but can’t see what the final version looks like.

How to use Ablurb

Go to Ablurb, type your text in, and the formatted version will appear at the bottom of the page. The allowed HTML tags are listed underneath the text box.

Once you’re happy with it, copy and paste the text from the text box (i.e. with the HTML tags) in to the description field for your book in KDP.

There are lots of things you can do – use headers, italicize text, even change the font color. Just remember to not go too crazy. 🙂


Formatting basics: ellipses

Ellipses are used to indicate ‘omissions’ of words, sentence, thoughts, etc.


There are a number of different ways in which ellipses can be used, and there are a variety of often conflicting style rules/recommendations on how ellipses should be formatted. This post covers the basics – there are lots of situations where ellipses can be used, and a surprising amount of variations for how to use them. Refer to your favorite style guide or go with your personal preference for more complex situations.

The most important thing is to research your use cases and make sure you’re consistent throughout your manuscript.

I highly recommend creating a checklist or cheat sheet. It will only take a tiny bit of time, and it will save you from having to look up and think about grammar rules when you’re formatting a manuscript.

Ways to represent an ellipsis

An ellipsis consists of three dots. There are three ways to represent this:

  • By actually using three dots: …
  • By using the ellipsis character: …
  • By using three dots, with spaces in between the dots: . . .

The first two options will generally look the same, or almost the same, depending on your browser, word processor, etc.


These are a few of the more common use cases.

  • Spaces on either side of an ellipsis

    There is usually a space on each side of an ellipsis. For example:

    This was the last time …

    However, there are different schools of thought on this, so decide which approach to follow and be consistent.

  • When to use four dots

    Use four dots instead of three if you’re using an ellipse at the end of a complete sentence. This is technically a period followed by an ellipse, and is used to indicate that there’s a gap in between two sentences.

    Once again, she had forgotten to put on her wings…. She opened the door and walked in.

  • Handling exclamation points and question marks
    If a sentence ends with an exclamation point or question mark, and there’s an omission between it and the next sentence, use an ellipsis.

    Why did she leave …? Why couldn’t she have stayed?

    Or put the ellipsis after the punctuation mark, if the omission occurs in between the two sentences.

    Why did she leave? … Why couldn’t she have stayed?


Title capitalization tools

It’s generally pretty easy to figure out which words to capitalize in a story title, but every once in a while there’s one word you’re not sure about, or else you’ve had one of those days where you keep making simple mistakes and you just want a sanity check. 🙂

Capitalization rules

There are a variety of approaches for capitalization of English titles here are some of the major ones.

  • Chicago Manual of Style
    General style guide.
  • APA style (American Psychological Association)
    Used for writing journal articles and academic books.
  • MLA style (Modern Language Association)
    Commonly used when writing papers and cite sources within the liberal arts and humanities.
  • AP style (Associated Press)
    Created for use by news organizations, but commonly used for all kinds of writing.
  • Wikipedia’s Manual of Style
    Used for Wikipedia articles.

What capitalization tools are available?

Here’s a list of some useful tools.

  • Capitalize My Title
    Suports APA, Chicago, AP, and MLA styles.

  • Headline Capitalization
    Suports APA, Chicago, AP, and MLA styles.

  • TitleCap
    Supports AP and Chicago styles.
    Allows you to force capitalization of any word five or more letters long.

  • Title Case Converter
    Support AP, Chicago, MLA, and Wikipedia styles.
    Allows you to to specify that words in all caps should be left alone, and if you check the “Show Explanations” box it will explain why a word was/wasn’t capitalized.



Using YASIV to understand your market and improve your marketing

YASIV is a free tool that allows you to look at the popularity of and connections between books based on reader purchases on Amazon.

YASIV stands for “Yet Another Similar Items Visualization.”

What exactly does this tool do?

Here’s a screenshot to help illustrate why this is so cool. I searched for The Faerie Summer, a bundle I curated. This image shows all of the products that are related to this book – also-boughts (other titles a reader purchased in addition to this one) and titles they bought that are related to the also-boughts. If you click on this image you can see the live version of the same search.

It is a little hard to make out any of the covers in that screenshot, but here are some interesting things that I can see at first glance.

  • All five of the bundles I’ve curated are linked to one another, as are two of the other bundles I’ve been in, and the witch-themed novelette I published last year.
  • The third bundle I’ve participated in so far does not show up as linked. I drilled down and found it’s only connected to one other title.
  • My first novel links to zero other titles. 🙂
  • A lot of the links are to titles by authors who’ve had stories in these bundles.

That’s all cool, if unsurprising. But there’s quite a bit more that jumps out at a closer look.

  • A lot of the titles The Faerie Summer links to are box sets.
  • The Haunted bundle links to a cluster of spooky/horror stories.
  • Drilling down on the Beneath the Waves bundle, it turns out to link to part of that same cluster.

I stopped at that point because I could easily spend hours looking up books, but that should give you a feel for what the tool does.

How to look up a title

Go to YASIV, then enter either the name or the ASIN of the book you want to look up.

Note that I have ‘Book’ selected as the category. You can also select ‘Kindle Store’ or any other category used by Amazon. (I looked up the elephant-shaped funnel I bought recently, and discovered a lot of people who bought it also bought squeeze bottles.)

Ways you can use YASIV to improve your own marketing

Research the books connected to your book, and look up bestselling books in your genre, or books that are similar to what you’re writing.

  • Are there things that stand out?
  • Do the covers have a common look and feel?
  • Is the average price point drastically different from your book’s price?
  • Does looking at these titles change your mind about how your book should be marketed?
  • Can you use the other titles, text from their sales copy, etc. as keywords for your own books?
  • How does your sales copy sound next to that of the other titles?
  • What categories are these titles in, and should you modify your own categories?

There’s a lot you can do with this tool – these are just a few suggestions to get you started.


Configure your Instafreebie author profile

Instafreebie allows you to run giveaways while collecting email addresses from everyone who enters a giveaway. Authors can also team up and put together group giveaways.

Your authro p

One nifty feature of Instafreebie is that your author profile page exists even if you don’t have an active giveaway – and you can create your profile without creating a giveaway. This gives potential readers one more way to find you.


You already have an Instafreebie account – either paid or free.

If you don’t have one, it’s very simple to sign up. Just go to Instafreebie and walk through the steps to create an account.

How to configure your author page

  • Log in to Instafreebie, then select ‘Dashboard’ from the top menu bar. Near the bottom of the right sidebar, Look for the Author Page section and click the ‘Edit’ button.
    You can get to the same page by clicking on the dropdown on the top right-hand corner of the screen, and then select ‘Settings.’
    You’ll see something like this.


  • There are two areas to customize: Pen Names (which includes author profiles), and User Image. Click on the appropriate link to modify each.
    Pen Names/Profiles

    • Click on the ‘Edit’ button next to your name and profile page URL.
    • In the edit section, you can modify your name, profile image, Instafreebie URL, etc.
      For your URL, note that you can only set it once – after that it’s fixed.

    If you write under more than one name, you can add and customize a pen name/profile for each name. Note that the free plan limits you to only one pen name/profile.

    User Image

    This image can be the same as the one you set for your pen name, but it’s used slightly differently. This one is shown on your forum posts, and group giveaway comments.

Make sure to take a look at your profile page, using the URL listed in the Pen Names/Profiles section, to make sure everything looks as expected.


Add a border to an image in Photoshop

Here’s an example of a situation where you might want a border around an image…

This is the very first book cover I ever designed. I spent hours and hours picking the artwork, font, and colors, ordered a paperback proof, made even more tweaks, and then I finally published it. I’m not sure how long it took me to realize that the fact that there was no border around the image meant the cover blended in to the nice, white background of its sales page. Oops…


  • You have Photoshop.
  • You have an existing image in a psd file.

How to add a border around your image

These instructions will place a border on top of the existing image, like a picture frame where the frame covers part of the picture. If you’d instead like to have a border but not cover any of your image, you can resize the image or canvas size and then add the border.

Note that this is only one of the many ways to add a border to an image.

  • From the top menu bar, choose ‘Select’ and then click on ‘All’. A line of moving dots will appear at the edges of your image. This line is often referred to as the ‘marching ants’ because it looks like a bunch of tiny, electronic ants are walking around your selection.
  • From the top menu bar, choose ‘Edit’ and then ‘Stroke.’ A dialog box will pop up.

  • Select the desired color and width, but leave the location set to center. (See below for examples using different widths.)
  • From the top menu bar, choose ‘Select’ and then ‘Deselect’.

These instructions also work to put a border around a layer – the only difference is that you should select the layer, not ‘All’.

Examples of different border widths

After experimenting with border sizes, I went with a 2px black border. Anything thicker than that looked a little too hefty on some of the platforms I tested it out on.
Here’s how it looks on Amazon.

For comparison, here’s the same cover with no border, then 2px, 10px, 20px, 30px, and 40px.

I didn’t resize the canvas/image, so if you look closely you’ll see that as the width of the border increases, it covers that much more of the image. That’s easy to fix, just remember to keep this in mind.

Photoshop version

The version of Photoshop used for this post was the 2017.1.1 Release of Adobe Photoshop CC, 20170425.r.252 x64, on OS X 10.10.5.

Making a background transparent in Photoshop

There are lots of reasons why you might want to make the background of an image transparent.

Perhaps you have an image with a white background that normally appears on a white page, but you know it might appear on a page where the background is gray. Or maybe you’re combining multiple images into one, and you need to remove the original backgrounds in order to make the result look seamless.

For the cover for “To Be a Monster,” I combined two different images: one was a drawing of a Greek ship, and the other a drawing of an octopus.

The octopus image originally had a white background; I made the background transparent so that I could work just with the octopus itself, not the blocked-out rectangle. Then I was able to drag the octopus around, moving it pixel by pixel, until I found the right spot for it.

I could have changed the background from white to black, but then would have had to be careful that I didn’t accidentally cover up a corner of the ship with the black portion of the image.


  • You have Photoshop.
  • The background of your image is a solid color.
  • Your image is stored in a layer in a psd file.

How to make a background transparent

To illustrate how this works, I’ll use this lovely image I created. 🙂

  • Select New/Layer/Layer From Background.
  • Select the Magic Wand Tool from the left panel in Photoshop.
  • Click on the image area you want to be transparent using the Magic Wand Tool. A line of moving dots will appear around your image and the edges of the layer, depending on where your image is. This line is often referred to as the ‘marching ants’ because it looks like a bunch of tiny, electronic ants are walking around your selection.
  • Once selected, click ‘Delete’ on your keyboard.
    The solid background color will disappear, and will be replaced by a white and gray checkerboard pattern. This is to indicate that there is nothing in the image where that pattern appears.

There are other variants that will achieve the same result as well. 🙂

Photoshop version

The version of Photoshop used for this post was the 2017.1.1 Release of Adobe Photoshop CC, 20170425.r.252 x64, on OS X 10.10.5.

Manage your Instagram account via your Facebook page

Managing your Instagram account via your Facebook page links your two accounts.

Note that it does not mean your Instagram posts will show up on Facebook – that’s a completely separate topic.


  • You have an existing Facebook page (note that you must be an admin or editor of this page).
  • You have an existing Instagram account.

Why set this up?

Allowing your Instagram account to be managed via your Facebook page gives you the ability to do the following from Facebook:

  • Edit your Instagram account details.
  • Manage comments on your Instagram posts. This means that comments will show up in your Facebook Notifications, and if you’re using the ‘New Inbox’ on Facebook, you’ll see something like this where you can quickly go to messages sent via Messenger, comments posted on Facebook, or comments on your Instagram photos.
    Here’s a peek at how easy it is to distinguish between post types using Facebook’s new inbox.

    You can also manage comments via the Pages Manager app, which is available from Apple’s app store and the Google play store.
  • Create and manage Instagram ads.

How to manage your Instagram account via your Facebook page

  • Go to your Facebook page and click Settings in the top right-hand corner.
  • Click on “Instagram” in the left-hand sidebar. The Instagram management options will appear on the right side of the screen.


    • To connect your Instagram account:
      Click on “Log in,” enter your Instagram account details in the pop-up window, then click “Log in.”

    • To edit your Instagram details:
      Click “Edit,” modify your Instagram details, then click “Save.”
    • To disconnect your Instagram account from your Facebook page:
      Click the “Disconnect” button at the bottom of the screen.