Self-Publishing on the Cheap

Lurking on various forums frequented by self-publishers, I’ve been surprised by how much some will spend to bring forth their works — thousands of dollars in some cases — for editing, graphic design and publicity.

I have published four ebooks and spent almost nothing. Smashwords is a free ebook distribution service. WordPress hosts blogs for free. I’ve spent about $20 per year for my domain name. I created my own cover images and book trailers (and yes, maybe they show it, but for now they suit me and making them was a creative experience in itself).

I have no personal experience to compare my approach with any other, but this is what I think:

Large expenditures do not guarantee success. Don’t go into debt.

Start out with free or cheap options and judiciously add paid-for enhancements.

I have recently posted my thoughts on “professional editing,” so will say only that there are many options other than costly ones. Editing makes a work better, but expensive editing is no magic bullet.

If you are self-publishing in print, hire a graphic artist to design your book covers. Unless you are confident of your abilities to put together an eye-catching image, it may be worthwhile to do this even for an ebook.

As to publicity, I suspect it can be a bottomless well for cash. Don’t keep dumping it in if the results fail to delight you.

The thing about starting out with bare-bones, free or cheap options is that you give yourself the chance to see how well your book(s) will do simply as themselves, supplemented with your own marketing efforts. Here is a list of things almost anyone can do. I’ve tried a few of them myself (and I am by no means a natural when it comes to marketing).

If your book isn’t doing as well as you hoped it would after a few months or a year, have a meeting with yourself and strategically select enhancements — graphic design, advertising, the services of a publicist. Add one at a time and see what difference it makes. The thing about self-publishing is that you get to call the shots. No one is going to take your books off the market if they don’t generate enough sales within a specific time.


  1. I’ll second that. My major cost for self-publishing my work has been for graphics applications to create my own book covers. Anyone who is willing to learn new skills can do their own editing, formatting, book design, and promotion. There are definite learning curves involved, but not harder, really, than learning to write well.


    1. It’s good to hear that someone else agrees with me on these points. So many writers seem to think that they are not being “professional” if they don’t spend a lot of money on getting their works out there. Being a conspiracy theorist, I suspect this is due to the fear factor being deployed by those who provide services to writers. Regardless, I think that anyone who has the wherewithal to write a novel should be able to summon up the creativity to edit and publicize it. Graphic design is another skill, but it’s worth taking a stab at cover image design before hiring it out.


      1. There are good and plenty reasons why someone might not want to tackle everything themselves, but as you said, at least give some of it a try. You might discover talents you never knew you had. Or you might find that you’re just as color and line-deaf as some people are tone-deaf. I really enjoy the challenges, but for some people, getting the book written is all they can manage, for whatever reason.


  2. First of all, excellent post 🙂 I wish I’d read it before I started shelling out money to iUniverse, lol.

    Secondly, just saw your review for Imminent Danger on Amazon — thanks so much!!! I’m glad you enjoyed it, even if it’s not your usual genre 🙂


    1. I’ve never used any publishing/editing services, so I’m no authority on them. I guess one thing you get when you purchase services is the reassurance of having a team on your side. And Imminent Danger is a good read, genre issues aside. You and your mom and the IUniverse folks did a good job on editing; I certainly didn’t notice any typos or lumpy bits. I know what you mean about commas, though. I tend to stick them in by instinct rather than rules, then delete buckets of them on subsequent passes.


      1. Yeah, it was nice to have a team backing me up, semi-competent as they were 🙂 And I’ll pass your remarks on to my mother — she loves hearing that she’s done a good job!


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