Awesome New Vellum Feature: Reuse Elements


screenshot of two Vellum files open

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I spent the last week of this year watching sessions from the 20Books Vegas conference. It’s a slow time of the year where nothing much is happening, which means it’s a great time to get caught up on learning new things.

One video I watched was Brad Andalman’s presentation entitled “Your Vellum Workflow” and man, was I glad I had. The latest of version of Vellum (version 3.6) has a brand new feature allowing you to reuse elements from other Vellum files. This new feature is a game changer for self-publishing authors with a growing backlist.

If you’re unfamiliar with Vellum, it is an application that helps you easily format an ebook or print book for uploading to retailer sites. Vellum is available only on a Mac OS. However, you can use it on a PC by creating a virtual Mac machine. (There’s a great article by Ron Vitale on how to do this.)

The Problem: Growing Backlist for Back Matter

You know when you read a book and the author has included a list (either in the front or back) of his or her other works? Did you ever think about how those needed to be updated? 

Consider a series of five books. When publishing book one, the author doesn’t need to list any other books because they’re not completed yet. When publishing book two, the author needs to update book one’s series list to show there is another book in the series. With each new book published, the author must update the growing list in each book in the series, then republished.

Whew! That’s a lot of books to update and republish each time you publish a new book. Have you ever been in a room with other authors when someone mentions updating the back matter? A collective groan arises throughout the room. Can you imagine how daunting a task that is for authors with nineteen-book series? Or those with multiple series of four or five books each?

What is the Reuse Elements Feature?

The Reuse Elements feature lets you create a source file for those elements that are repeated in each book. For example, your About the Author page or your list of other works.

Once you’ve created this source file, you can link these source elements to your other books. When it’s time to update your author bio or your list of other works, you change it in one place (the source file), then click an update button in your other book files before regenerating them to be uploaded.

Other ideas for reusing elements include creating box sets or chapters/teasers from the next book in your series.

How Reuse Elements Works

Create the Source File

The source file is a just a regular Vellum file, so to create one, you simply do File > New Book and give it a meaningful name. (Vellum suggests using My Front and Back Matter and marking it as a Favorite.)

You can have an unlimited number of source files. Reasons you may have more than one include:

  1. You write under multiple pen names.
  2. You publish in multiple languages.
  3. You have multiple series which require different back matter items (list of characters, glossary of terms, etc.)

Add Reused Elements to Book Files

After setting up your source file(s), you can add them to your existing Vellum book files and any new books you create in Vellum.

Appearance of Reused Elements in Book Files

When you use Reused Elements in your book files, there are several ways Vellum lets you know where they are. First, at the bottom of the Navigator on the left, a Summary button with a blue checkmark will show this book uses reused elements. And any pages that are Reused Elements will look dimmed or grayed out, and you won’t be able to edit them.

The image below shows two Vellum files. The one on top and to the right is my book, Left Turn, and the file behind it is my LM Front and Back Matter Vellum file. Both are focused on the About the Author page.

screenshot with two Vellum files open on desktop showing reuse elements
Screenshot by Lancy McCall

Notice in the book file (on top):

  • The Navigation pane on the left has a blue checkmark at the bottom. This is the Summary button that tells you which elements are reused.
  • The text on the About the Author page is dimmed or grayed out.
  • A Reused button appears at the top of the About the Author page.

Notice in the source file (behind the book file):

  • There is no Summary button on the Navigation pane. (It’s not reusing any elements from another file.)
  • The text in the About the Author page is white and available to edit.

When Changes to Source Occur

When you change the Source file, the book files which use the Reused Elements have ways to let you know.

  • The Summary button with the blue checkmark at the bottom of the Navigation pane changes to a purple notification bell.
  • The REUSED button on the Reused Element changes colors and says CHANGED to let you know it needs to be updated.

Updating Reused Elements

There are multiple ways to update the Reused Elements in your book file. To be clear, you must open each book file affected by the update. That part hasn’t changed. But you were going to have to open these and regenerate the publication files anyway, so it’s not an extra step.

Ways to update the file:

  • Click the Reused Element page and click the CHANGED button, then select Update.
  • If the book contains multiple Reused Elements, you can click the Summary button on the Navigation pane to see what needs updating. Then click the Update All button.
  • When you click Generate, Vellum checks to see if any Reused Elements in the book need updating before creating new upload files. If so, you can click the Update button to update at that point.

Personally, I really like that Vellum has built in multiple ways to get my attention if I haven’t updated everything.

Detaching a Reused Element

Vellum also gives you the ability to detach a Reused Element. This allows you to create templates you bring over, detach from the source, and customize for one book only.

A perfect example of this is the Copyright page. You can make the Copyright pages for all your books look the same by creating a Copyright page in your source file with placeholders for the ISBN number(s), cover artist, and various items unique to each book.

Once you add it to your book file as a Reused Element, you can detach it (or break the link to the source file), then type in the information specific to this book.


I’m looking forward to using this new feature when I publish my next book. I’ve already created my Source file and linked my Left Turn vellum file to it.

For more detailed information, check out the Vellum help files at this link:

If you’re not familiar with Vellum, check out this previous article on how I use it: Formatting with Vellum.

What do you think? 

If you’re a Vellum user, does this feature sound like good news to you? If you’re not a Vellum user, does this feature make you want to try it?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Happy Writing!

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