How to self-publish a book on a budget

If you’ve decided to publish your writing independently, you’ll know that the costs can add up – and you might want to know how to self-publish a book on a budget that suits you, your circumstances, and your needs.

All small businesses require some investment first – there’s no getting around that! But there are ways of self-publishing without breaking the bank, and without going over what you’re comfortable with spending.

Self-publish your book on a budget – tips

Set your budget first

The first thing you’ll want to do is set your budget. Put a limit on what you’re going to spend that you’re comfortable with. Take into account your income, outgoings, and your situation – maybe you already have some savings that you can dedicate to self-publishing. Maybe you need to save up for a little while first, to make it possible. Either way, you need to know what you’re willing to – and what you’re able to – spend.

This isn’t something other people can decide for you. Someone on a high wage or with a lot of savings is going to have a different budget to someone on a lower wage with zero savings. If you’re the breadwinner for your family, or you have children to support, you’ll have those things to consider, too. Maybe you’ll decide you want to do everything yourself, and spend nothing at all – which can be difficult, but doable!

If you’re reading this post, chances are, you’re looking for ways to self-publish on a budget or for free. Bear in mind that when you’re just starting out, no matter what you spend, you likely won’t see a return on your investment right away when you spend money. That takes time, patience, and effort – and publishing more books so you have more to sell!

Decide what’s most important to you

When you’ve set your budget, figure out where you want to focus your finances. Do you struggle with grammar, punctuation, and other areas of writing craft and want to focus your resources on hiring an editor? Do you want to work with an amazing cover designer, or hire someone to illustrate your cover from scratch rather than using stock images? Would you prefer to put most of your money into marketing and advertising later on?

I do think there are areas of self-publishing that are more worthwhile in terms of investment (mainly editing and your book cover). But there are ways you can get these things done on a budget, too! Leading to my next point…

Do service swaps and ask around

You can swap services with others to save money, or even call in favours from friends and family. Is there a skill you can offer someone else – are you an artist? Can you offer to do an art commission for someone in exchange for, say, having them edit your book if they’re an editor? Do you know a family member with a particular skill, and could you arrange some kind of swap that benefits you both? Is anyone in your family or circle a student, maybe studying design or editing and looking to gain experience? It doesn’t even have to be a service-for-service swap – if you have family or friends with a skill you need, you can offer to do something else for them in exchange. Do make sure they’re willing to do this, though, and be prepared for them to say no.

Make use of the writing community

Making use of the writing community can also save you money! Lots of authors looking to self-publish on a budget make use of communities online. If you decide something like developmental editing or a professional critique isn’t something you want to spend money on, you can find beta readers or critique partners in the writing community, and give each other feedback to get your manuscript into good shape.

Note that this wouldn’t replace something like copy or line editing from a professional, but if you need to get your story into good form at a broader level and have a limited budget, this is one good way of getting feedback from people who read and enjoy your genre.

If you aren’t sure where to find beta readers or critique partners from the writing community, I have a blog post all about that!

Do it yourself

Do you have any skills that you can use yourself, so you don’t have to outsource? If you’re an artist, illustrate your own cover. If you’re tech savvy, learn to format your book yourself. Learn as much as you can from free resources and figure out which parts of the process you can do without hiring someone. Upload your own work onto platforms like Amazon KDP rather than paying someone to do it for you. Be your own social media marketer. Some of these things may have a learning curve, but it’s possible to do a lot of things yourself when you self-publish – that’s one of the pros!

I’m an editor by profession, so when I decided to self-publish some of my fantasy work, I mainly utilised beta readers/critique partners and did my own copyediting. I did, however, hire a professional proofreader, because you do get close to your own work, and there’s no way I’d be able to spot all of my own mistakes.

Work with newer professionals

When you hire people to do a job for you, one good way of keeping prices low is to work with newer professionals. Often, new editors or designers have lower rates, as they’re hungry for experience and are keen to grow their portfolio. Experienced editors and designers will have higher fees, particularly if they have trade publishing experience and if they’ve worked with mainstream traditional publishers.

Do be mindful to check that whoever you’re working with knows what they’re doing, though, because you don’t want to spend money for shoddy work that you have to then pay to correct later!

Use free tools to help you

There are plenty of free tools out there to help you self-publish on a budget! You can use things like Canva to create your own social media posts, banners, website images, etc (you can even design book covers, however, I’d recommend you do invest in a good cover designer who knows your market). Reedsy has a free formatting tool so you can create a typeset book (or you can learn to professionally format your book in Microsoft Word for nothing).

Other free tools include:

  • MailerLite for newsletter building (free up to 1,000 subscribers)
  • Calibre to create ebooks for free, or convert your manuscript into different file types
  • IngramSpark to upload and distribute your book to various retailers for free (you do need to pay for your own ISBN numbers to upload to IngramSpark, though)
  • Social media – you can use this to promote your work or to find ARC readers

Find free information and resources

There are also plenty of free podcasts, blogs, YouTube videos, and websites available, where you can learn everything you need to know about self-publishing without spending a penny. Here are a few of my favourite resources:

Look for offers and deals

Keep an eye out for deals! Service providers sometimes run sales. Many book cover designers offer premade designs that are much cheaper than paying for a heavily customised one – Asterielly Designs, the cover designer for my fantasy books, has a pre-made design shop, where the designs cost less.

I also know of editors who host competitions for their services – Twitter is a great place to look for giveaways from editors and designers, and if you win, you could get a cover or an edit for free. My only word of warning here is this: don’t contact professionals and ask if they can give you a discount or “special price”. This only works if the professional is advertising a discount – asking for one otherwise can be seen as quite rude!

You can also get offers and deals by joining organisations like the Alliance of Independent Authors. They do have a yearly membership fee, but if you plan on using the member benefits and discounts frequently, you can save money in the long run.

What’s worth investing in?

You might have already decided what you think is worth the investment (such as hiring a good cover designer). I wanted to give my personal take on this – I think the top things you can invest in when it comes to your book are:

  • A great book cover
  • A skilled editor or proofreader

Why? Because, firstly, your book cover is your main selling point, so you want a good one. It’s one of the first things readers will see and it will immediately convey your genre and what readers can expect from the book.

Secondly, editing is important because errors in your writing can lead to negative reviews and can damage your reputation as an author. Self-publishing has come a long way, but for some people, there is still a stigma – a sense that it’s somehow “lesser” – so you want to put your best foot forward, and put out the best manuscript you can. Free grammar-checking tools can’t be relied upon as “editors” because they sometimes flag things as mistakes when they aren’t – and a trained, professional editor will know the difference. There are also lots of things that grammar-checking tools can miss.

Those are all my tips if you’re looking to self-publish your book on a budget! Do you have any other tips?

If you’re interested in self-publishing, you can also check out my other posts on self-publishing, or hire me as your editor.

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