From full creative control to higher royalty rates, there are a lot of benefits to pursuing a self publishing path if you are a new or previously unpublished author. It’s also a great chance to learn a lot of the fundamental aspects of book creation and the publishing industry. One con, however, is that self publishing can get really expensive, really fast. In this article, we’ll cover some of the ways in which you can publish a book on your own with little-to-no upfront costs.
Self Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing
Before going into the process of self publishing a book, you first have to decide whether or not self publishing is right for you. While you do have higher royalties per copy sale and retain complete control over the presentation of and rights to your work, self publishing means that everything is on your shoulders, including marketing and publicizing your book (resulting in a huge time commitment dedicated solely to the sale of the book after its release). If you don’t have an existing audience and developed body of work, it can also be difficult to break through; the institutional support of a publishing house can get your book in the hands of readers and reviewers in a way that starting authors may struggle with matching. So, while the process may be faster and you may get higher royalties per sale, it can be tough to distribute the book beyond your immediate sphere.
That said, if you’re willing to put in the time and work and want to learn about the publishing process, self publishing can still be a fairly low-risk and valuable endeavor. It provides a chance to publish your book almost as soon as it is ready (as opposed to the traditional process, which can sometimes take over a year), to experience first-hand the inner workings of the book market, and to begin forging new connections with potential reviewers and influencers as you publicize your book.
With so many moving pieces in this process, it can be a lot to keep track of, so organization is key. Personally, I have found spreadsheets to be particularly helpful, but the most important thing is to find a system that works for you and keeping it up to date as your publication day nears.
Copyediting and Proofreading
If there’s two services that you should pay for if you can, it should be copyediting and the exterior design. If readers don’t find the exterior design appealing, they won’t pick up the book. If they like the design and pick it up to leaf through some pages only to find a number of spelling and syntactical errors, then they will put it back down and move on. That said, this is “Self Publishing on a Budget,” and I promised you little-to-no expenses. So, the next best option after a professional copy editor or proofreader is to enlist the help of those people in your life with whom you share drafts of emails before sending them. Ideally, try to get at least three different people to read your work and note any errors that they find. In the absence of three such people, Microsoft Word has a well-developed editing function (you can sign up for a free web edition of Microsoft Word here).
This step can be a bit tricky if you don’t have much experience in this department. Nonetheless, there are a few great resources you can use:
- Placeit by Envato: With tons of templates, fonts, and images to choose from, this site provides a great service for creating ebook and audiobook covers. To download the design, you do have to pay, but you can usually get it for less than five dollars.
- Canva: Canva provides a number of customizable templates for just about anything you may need, including ebook covers. And the best part? It’s free! Some premium features require a subscription or purchase, but you can make a great design without them, as well. It’s also really easy to use.
- Adobe InDesign: If you’re up for the challenge, InDesign is a great place to create both print and ebook covers. Adobe software isn’t free, but they do have full-feature free trials during which you could probably create a pretty good cover (just be sure to set aside some time, because there is a learning curve).
Interior design—which constitutes the formatting of the text, page numbers, and chapter headings—is another crucial aspect of self publishing. Take a look at some of your favorite books. What font do they use? How do they mark their chapters? If you are new to this process, you may want to use a template. Luckily, there are a plethora of free templates that you can download, or you can use an online book production tool like Reedsy*.
*Reedsy also has the Reedsy Marketplace, where you can connect with freelance professionals for all aspects of production.
Copyright and ISBN Numbers
If you would like to protect your work via copyright, there is no certain free way that I know of. To register your literary work, you can visit the U.S. Copyright Office and pay a registration fee of around $65.00.
ISBN numbers are unique identifiers that are assigned to every title, edition, and format of a book. You can either purchase your own ISBN numbers from a place like Bowker or have a free number assigned to you by most distributors. If you go for the free option, know that the assigned number will only apply to the edition of the book sold by the particular distributor.
While there are so many options to choose from when it comes to selecting distributors for your book, there are really two main ones that provide the best royalty rates and services: Amazon KDP and IngramSpark. They are fairly comparable in terms of print book quality and distribution potential, but each one has its own nuances that could fill a book, so I would recommend doing some research. Here are some of the main points:
- KDP: You make 40-60% on every copy sold, depending on the distribution format you choose. Going through KDP slightly boosts your Amazon ranking over books printed through other services, like IngramSpark. KDP’s printing is also cheaper, allowing you to buy author copies at cost plus shipping. This comes in handy if you are sending books to reviewers or if you are doing a reading event/book sale and need to buy a number of copies for yourself. Setup is also free.
- IngramSpark: While the setup is not as user-friendly as KDP, IngramSpark sets itself apart from Amazon by providing an opportunity to offer your book to physical bookstores. You can set your own preferred royalty rate (from 45-70%, though most physical stores won’t agree to anything above 45%) and negotiate from there. Its service is also comparable to Amazon’s Expanded Distribution program, through which your book can be made available on most book-selling websites. While there is a fee for setup, IngramSpark always has a coupon for free distribution. The code for 2021 is NANO.
Most programs, including IngramSpark itself, recommend using both KDP and IngramSpark to get the most out of your options. To do this, you have to publish on KDP first, and once the book is live, publish it through IngramSpark and opt out of sending the book to Amazon. Otherwise, there will be two different pages for your book on Amazon and the algorithm will ruin your rankings (I have made this mistake and it cost me hours of customer service calls and may be the cause of a few gray hairs).
All the Steps, and It’s Still Free
As self publishing becomes a more common and accessible practice, it is also becoming a more affordable one. With many free or cost effective tutorials, services, and programs to get you through this process, you can now release your work to the world with little financial risk.