Some people look at self publishing and think—good, I wrote my story, I’ll just pop it on Amazon and people will love it! No, no, they won’t. You cannot do this alone, and that is hard to hear, especially when you then look at price points on the various services you need to publish a book. Covers, website, marketing, editors, formatting... The list goes on and on and the $$$ goes up and up.
Many things you CAN learn to do yourself, but not without time, effort, and often real $$ shelled out on programs to do them. Everyone had to ‘pay their dues’ (generally, I hate this phrase, because I think it breeds an environment where people get taken advantage of, but hear me out) you have to put something in (besides your self-edited draft) to get something out of the publishing industry. It’s that simple, and that something can definitely be time... lots and lots of time. The less $$ the more time it will take. But that’s fine, you are on your own schedule. Do what you have to do. I have.
If you are like me, you just started out with some vague idea that you will write a book. Great, done. Nailed it. Then you are faced with making it something that people will want to read. Oomph. Here’s where I get honest and break down what I spent putting out my first romance series (3 novellas, in ebook and paperback). I’ll preface this by saying: I’m not a bestseller... yet (though I have ranked #1 in some free categories!). But my method is ever-improving and so are my results. I’m right here with you on this journey. Let’s enjoy the ride together.
Part 1 - Covers
My first step was finding a cover. I (luckily) had some background using photo editing programs and doing design, so this was one place it made sense for me to study up and learn to do it myself. There are also tons of great resources and groups out there to help you with this (Indie Cover Project on FB is amazing, if you can take the sometimes harshly delivered critique). Stock photos can be free and cheap, so once you develop a good eye and the skill, you can definitely make your own covers (hint, you can also barter and make other people’s covers too!)
Covers ($0) - I’m pretty decent with a variety of free editing programs (photofilter (http://www.photofiltre-studio.com/pf7-en.htm), photopea (photopea.com)) and also decent at making free stock work for me. So I did my covers myself. I made no less than 5 versions of each over literally weeks as I went round for round with feedback from various sources. I spent so much time scouring stock sites, even going out and taking my own photos for some versions (those didn’t make the cut, but I can use them in marketing images)
I absolutely ‘spent’ more in time than I would have paid for a cover designer, but again... I had the time, not the cash. And each time I do a cover, it takes a little less time.
Part 2 - Interior
Once covers were sorted (I did all three at once so I knew they would be cohesive) the inside needed attention (let’s assume MS is ready, I’ll talk about editing in post #4) It’s not something you think a lot about, until you face choosing it for yourself. Where do you want page numbers? What about chapter subtitles? Should you spell out the numbers? What is popular for your genre?!?
Are you ready for more hours staring at a computer screen? Do you love hunching over your keyboard and wondering how one keystroke sent all your formatting into the twilight zone?
Buckle up buttercup, let’s get to it!
Anyone can do interior formatting simply enough in MS Word with enough patience. Will it be gorgeous? Probably not, but it will be fine. My biggest writing venture was springing for Atticus to format my books (thanks to my Nana for seed money there) and now I can pretty quickly put together professional interiors—but just like cover creation, there is a learning curve. I spent (and still spend) days tweaking things to get them how I want. Eventually it will be quick, but until then, I’m still probably spending more time-value than I would $$-value if I could just hire someone. (But just like cover design, this is another service you can barter with!)
Interiors ($0 ish) My original formatting was all done in MS word. It took forever and left a lot to be desired. I wanted something fun and fancy, but got... standard. It was fine, and no one complained when the first editions hit the web. But I wanted better. Atticus sat on my ‘I’d love this’ list for a while, and when I got some unexpected birthday money, I jumped and bought it (cost: $147 atticus.io). It’s a great investment, formatting is smoother and comes out with much higher quality. Soon I hope to add this to a services list for future bartering.
Part 3 - Website/blog
Time to get your face out there! Your fans need a place to find you, and a website is the best thing for that. You can link out to all your socials, create a blog and share, share, share! It’s your homebase for links, books, stories and everything that is part of your brand. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want/are capable of. It may even begin simply as a landing page to build your mailing list and hand out freebies.
A website is a big task and lucky me to have been the type of person who’s been messing around with site-building for some time. It’s another skill that takes time to develop, but there are some very user friendly hosts/builders out there (I am using GoogleSites, free hosting and you can bring a custom domain - https://sites.google.com/new). My site took me a couple of weeks to build, but I love it and it serves its purpose. I haven’t spent much (in $$$) keeping it up, and now have another skill I could barter with.
Website ($10/yr) - I did all my design with and hosted on GoogleSites - for FREE - I simply purchased my domain through NameSilo (namesilo.com) for about $10/year. Design and creation was easy; drag-and-drop kind of stuff. It doesn’t have the greatest SEO offerings, but with enough messing around you can work in your keywords to your text well enough to rank decently. BUT it took me days of slogging through chatrooms to get Google to finally crawl and list the site, even though they are the ones hosting it. If I were paying myself a reasonable wage, I don’t want to think what it would have cost. Would a pro have been quicker? Would I have fewer gray hairs? Absolutely, but I only had time to invest here. If I can find the patience, you can too.
Part 4 -Editing
The elephant in the micro-budget publishing room is the edit. The place in writing where going it alone is no longer an option and where the costs can skyrocket. As always, knowledge is power here. Do your research, talk to other writers, and put in those hours. There are ways to get this done and stay on budget, but this is the place where you will encounter the most work since actually writing your book.
No matter how much you learn, you simply cannot, and should not, do the edit on your own. Sorry. I’ve tried, for sure, but a second (or third, or fourth...) set of eyes is necessary. But.... you can find your people. Ones that may barter for something else you are good at (see previous posts in this series), ones who are looking for help on their own books... we all need something, and it’s not always $$. That is always the quick way, and if you have it, go for it and don’t get bogged down slogging through hours and hours working around your writing. Scroll around writer groups, read other people’s work, see who you connect with—it might not be who you think. But if you put yourself out there enough, and make enough connections, something/someone will work out.
A note here: make sure your work as is good as it can be before you look for these people! You are more likely to make good relationships if you show up acting like a professional. That means lots of self edits; use an AI writing tool, do an audio edit, (this was a game-changer for me! Listen to your work out loud and you will catch SO MUCH more.) make your book as good as you are able. Don’t rely on people to do the heavy lifting. If you abuse them, they won’t turn up again next time you ask for help.
Editing (hear me out once more - $0... sort of) My editing budget is, surprise, $0. But, I am a lucky one here—in many ways. I have found (through MUCH trial and error, many blink and you missed them beta swaps, unreciprocated reads, etc) an amazing group to work with, part of that was luck, and part of that is my newfound developmental editing skill. I had something to bring to the table, so this is my biggest barter chip. I can trade dev edits for line edits. Even before I labeled it as such I had another author I trade with (though we were both confused and called ourselves betas) to give her a dev edit for a line edit. It can be done.
Figure out what you have an eye for and hone that skill, then use it for all it’s worth to get your book published. Beg, borrow and practice your way to new skills, always be open to refining what you are capable of, and ask questions. Be humble, take critique, and learn, learn, learn. Know what you can spend time on, and figure out what you can spend $$ on. Someday I hope to be at a place where I don’t have to do most of these things on my own, for now... I will because I have to. It also makes me that much more appreciative of those who do offer these services.