If you’re an indie writer, or planning to be, you’ve probably been doing your research, and I’m sure you’ve seen how much it can cost to self-publish a book. And it’s true: If you’re going all out, self-publishing can cost several thousand dollars.
Maybe you have a successful career outside of writing that can afford that cost of entry, or maybe you’ve already had some publishing success, so you feel confident in the investment. But not everyone earns a lot of money from their books. The last statistic I read said that the average indie writer makes about $50 from book sales per quarter. That doesn’t make it sustainable for every writer, so it’s perfectly practical to test the waters before investing.
If you’re trying to rapid-release many books for a backlog, algorithm, or whatever other sales strategy you have, you probably want to do it as affordably as possible. Similarly, if this is your first book and you’re testing the waters, you probably don’t want to invest too much this go-round. And if spending thousands of dollars to self-publish a book just sounds ridiculous to you, that’s valid!
This blog post will share some specific strategies for producing a book affordably, from editing to marketing. Reader beware: Some of these options might sacrifice a bit of quality, but it will still be Good Enough. You’ll also invest a little more time because you’ll be doing things yourself rather than hiring out, but we’re going to keep costs below $50 and still come out with a reasonably quality book.
Can you self-publish a book for $50?
Writers can self-publish their book for under $50. They can even do it for free! Of course, the more money you’re able to invest, the higher quality product you will likely come out with, but you can still produce a decent book with a modest budget. Let’s look at the basic spending categories for self-publishing and discuss ways to do them on the cheap.
Hiring an affordable editor
First step—editors. Hiring a professional to edit a full manuscript can cost thousands of dollars. You’ve got your developmental editor, who’s going to help you with story structure, character development, and those more significant, macro edits. Then there are line editors, who will go line by line and help you with syntax, verbiage, clarity, flow, and clarity. And a copyeditor fixes the finer details–they look for grammar errors and typos for the most part.
Further reading: Your Guide To Book Editors. Which one is right for you?
Here are price ranges to expect for each type of editing.
|Per word||60,000 words||100,000 words|
|Developmental edit||$0.03 – $0.15||$1,800 – $9,000||$3,000 – $15,000|
|Line edit||$0.03 – $0.09||$1,800 – $5,400||$3,000 – $9,000|
|Copyedit||$0.01 – $0.05||$600 – $3,000||$1,000 – $5,000|
|Proofread||$0.01 – $0.03||$600 – $1,800||$1,000 – $3,000|
If we decide to go with all four steps of editing for a 60,000 word book, we can expect to pay between $4,800 and $19,200, though there are plenty of outlying editors that charge much less (in exchange for having less editing experience).
But that’s pretty expensive… What are our alternatives?
No option is going to completely emulate a professional edit. If you’re paying someone thousands of dollars, you can expect a pretty tidy book.
But we can get close to that quality with a little extra work.
Step 1: Beta readers
While we won’t be hiring editors for our $50 book, it’s still wildly beneficial to get new eyes on your work. If you’re working with writing partners, those will be your first line of defense to help with plot holes and general development. After they’ve done their rounds, recruit a few volunteer beta readers and get very specific with your curated questions to get the most out of that experience.
If you’re having trouble finding volunteers, you might offer to beta read someone else’s book in exchange.
Once you get as much feedback as you can, apply the edits that you’d like to retain and move onto step 2.
Step 2: Grammar check
Hopefully your beta readers and/or writing partners were able to spot most of the mistakes in your manuscript, but go ahead and run it through a grammar check software to catch any last issues. You might try something like the Hemingway App. Be sure to go through each suggestion and approve them manually, because grammar checking software is often guessing. You might need to use your own judgement and ignore some suggestions.
NovelPad is not only a fantastic novel drafting program, but if you happen to have a subscription, an affordable self-edit becomes quite accessible.
For writing partners and beta readers, NovelPad offers free writing workshops for all of its users, where you’ll be matched up with other writers in your genre to swap feedback. NovelPad also has the ProWritingAid integration for grammar checks, making it your one-stop-shop for self-editing.
Here’s more on NovelPad:
These self-editing methods should get your manuscript clean and sparkly, and the only cost would be your grammar check—I’ll price it at the cost of a Hemingway App, so your editing price goes from $6,000 to $20.
Affordable interior formatting
The second category of spending is interior formatting. If you’re hiring someone, you might pay a few hundred dollars. For example, my cover designer charges $325 for a baseline ebook and paperback interior format. I didn’t buy an interior format from them, because I preferred to do it myself and save some money.
The alternative I’d suggest to keep costs low is DIY. If you want to see a professional versus a DIY interior formatting, I paid to have Little Birds formatted by my cover designer, but I did Starlight myself. If you’re designing it, you can be as minimalistic or extra as you’d like!
Starlight interior formatting:
Little Birds interior format:
I used Adobe InDesign and followed Nadege Richard’s Skillshare classes. You can use this link for a free month of Skillshare to take the same class on how to format book interiors. Make sure you sign up on the month you would like to dedicate to designing the interior of your book, and Nadege will walk you through it step-by-step. Be sure to cancel the subscription if you don’t want it to autocharge.
If you don’t have access to Adobe InDesign, Nadege also has a class on how to design your interior with MS Word.
That brings the interior format from $325 to essentially free.
Affordable cover design options
Cover design is also something you could do yourself, but covers are a bit trickier! The design company I mentioned above sells a paperback and ebook cover design package that starts at $795.
Companies like GetCovers are a more affordable (and worse quality, obvs) option. You can get an ebook and paperback design bundle for $35.
This is the price cut that you will be most apparent in the final product, so if you have more money to invest, your cover is the place to do it. While there’s a major quality difference between a company like GetCovers and a premium service, there’s also a $760 price difference, and our goal is keeping it under $50.
Using a lower grade cover designer can bring your cover design cost from $795+ to $35.
You also, of course, have the option of designing it yourself, if you have the skills required.
Publishing for free
For the actual publishing and distribution of your book, you’ve got many, many options. All you actually need to do this are an ISBN and a sales venue. Kindle Direct Publishing provides both for free.
KDP allows you to publish ebooks and paperbacks, providing a free ISBN for the ebook. (If you’re publishing a paperback, you will need to purchase your own.)
The drawbacks of KDP are that you can’t publish hardcover, you can’t list paperbacks for preorder, and it’s amazon-owned and amazon is the devil. BUT! It’s free. The publishing and distribution will cost nothing upfront, amazon will simply take a portion of your sales.
The not-free route of publishing could be buying your own ISBN and using a venue like IngramSpark. The costs for going that route would be roughly $70, as opposed to zero.
Marketing your book for free
If you’re in any self-publishing groups or communities, you probably see a LOT of information about rapid release, write-to-market, Facebook ads, and other marketing strategies. There are SO many different ways to market depending on your genre, your goals, your publishing schedule, your platform, and a million other things. You could be spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on ads and giveaways, or you could do it yourself.
My marketing strategy relies heavily on my platform. I’ve got 20-something thousand subscribers on YouTube, a newsletter, a blog, I write guest posts for other websites, my social media, I stream on Twitch—anywhere I have an audience can turn into book sales.
No matter the size your platform, you can utilize it to get sales. You can host small giveaways to promote your book. You can create social media challenges, hashtags, games, and other participatory events to get people interacting with your content and excited for your new releases.
There is no limit to the creativity you can apply to marketing, and it doesn’t have to cost a dime.
Here’s an example of a free marketing strategy
When it’s time to promote a new audiobook, here’s what I do.
I list the ebook version on sale for 99 cents, that way anyone who hasn’t already read it has an opportunity to grab it. This gives me a boost in sales, which is great for the algorithm and a little bump in my income, I might get a few new reviews, but the actual goal of the sale is to get readers ready for my audiobook promotion: Trivia night.
I host a trivia game on my Twitch channel the day before the audiobook drops, and all of the questions are about the book. After this stream, I give away free copies of my audiobook to the top five winners, plus a grand prize to first place, like signed copies of my books.
This gets attention for my new product, plus those five winners will likely leave a review on the audiobook to give it a head start. This strategy builds up my book’s success in a LOT of different ways, in addition to being a fun activity I can do with my readers.
Another great free marketing strategy is collaborating with other creators and writers, like making a YouTube video for each of your channels to expose each other to your platforms, or doing a newsletter share where you each dedicate a little section to each other. Exchanging exposure for exposure for free.
While some people can spend $2,000+ on marketing, we can do it for free.
The average cost of self-publishing is around $3,500, not considering marketing, and we just did it for $45.
Want to build a publishing plan for a different budget? Read HOW TO SELF-PUBLISH WITH ANY BUDGET.