Tips for Less-Expensive Self-Publishing

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

I read a lot of posts that assume that writers have unlimited funds for book production. But many writers who self-publish books are having to fit the process into a budget.

First off, you’ll usually save money (not time, but money) if you contract out for everything you need instead of going through a self-publishing service.

My main costs in book production are covers and editing.  And I think most writers would agree that those are the two most important things.  Both things can vary dramatically in cost. But both things are vital to the success and sales of our book.

Cover: If you have a very small project (short story, etc.) you could consider going somewhere like fiverr to get your cover. Look at a lot of different profiles and read the reviews to compare designers. There are also sites like Covervault where you can get free designs.

Editing:  Determine what kind of editing you need. The least expensive is line editing (looking for typos). You will pay more if you need an editor to find plot holes, continuity errors, etc. or if you need a story coach to help advise you on character development or plot.  You can save a lot of money by getting your story in as good a shape as possible before sending it to an editor.  One way of doing this is to send your story to several friends or family to read (beta readers).  You could also be part of a critique group (where you read someone else’s story and they read yours. The critique groups I hear the most about are: Critique Circle and Critters Writers. Both have won recognition from Writer’s Digest for best website.

Formatting:  You’ll want your Word document formatted as an ebook (mobi and epub) and for print. You can do this by hiring an inexpensive book formatter, or by running your book through a service like Draft2Digital. With Draft2Digital, the process is free: you log in, load your book information (cover, interior file, author name, etc.) . Then you can convert your file to epub, mobi, and print by clicking on those buttons and downloading the files. You’ll upload the files directly to the various platforms (Kindle, iBookstore, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or use an aggregator like Draft2Digital or Smashwords. Both Draft2Digital and Smashwords will take a portion of your royalties for payment, but there are no upfront costs.

ISBNs: Many indie authors choose the less-expensive option of using CreateSpace‘s or Smashword’s free ISBN for print.  If you use one of their free ISBNs, they’ll be listed as the publisher of record. If that isn’t a problem, that’s certainly more cost-effective. I like being listed as the publisher (and I also like having my sales counted in with the general publishing count). I get mine directly from and the more you get the less expensive they are (although…yeah…they’re not cheap).  More on ISBNs in Giacomo Giammatteo’s post for the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Publishing. Again, a very cost-effective way to publish on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and print (CreateSpace, in particular) is to upload files directly to those retailers without going through a middleman (self-publishing services). If you know how to upload files to an email or upload pictures on social media, you have the basic skills required to publish to those retailers.  It’s free to sell your books there–even free through CreateSpace. There is no reason not to have your book available in print and digital versions.

What are your money-saving self-publishing tips? What have I missed? Or, if you’re new to publishing, what questions do you have that I could try to answer?

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18 thoughts on “Tips for Less-Expensive Self-Publishing

  1. Get 100 ISBNs and they are less than $6 each.

    There are really cheap and free services for bar codes, but they aren’t guaranteed to work. Bowker does guarantee and it’s worth the $25. (Or $23 if you buy several at once and assign to ISBNs later.)

    And of course, getting the Library of Congress Control Number (or PNC for self and small publishers) is free.

  2. You’ve got some great ideas here, Elizabeth. And what I like about your ideas is that they focus the writer’s money where it’s most important. It’s critical to have a well-edited book, for instance. So, the writer does better to invest there, rather than in, say, an expensive book trailer (not that trailers are a bad thing). At least that’s how I see it.

  3. I think you’ve covered just about everything, Elizabeth. And BTW, L. Diane does a fantastic job of formatting books for writers and the prices are very reasonable!

  4. Great post, Elizabeth! My first e-book launched in May.

    I saved money by designing my own cover in Canva. (If anyone wants to see it, they can visit my site at I don’t know how to attach it here for viewing. :( The cover cost 1.00 (they even have a template for e-books!) I uploaded my Word document to Vellum. It was 30.00 and worth every penny. They added basic information I would not have known to add and they were also the bridge between me and Amazon (you can upload to whatever you like). I didn’t know anything about self-pubbing until I began the journey in January. It’s doable and very exciting!

    1. That was an affordable cover! And the formatting was good too, especially since you had support as a new author. And you’re right…self-publishing, although there’s a learning curve, is very doable and exciting–and doesn’t have to be expensive. :)

  5. If you do go with the free Createspace ISBN initially, can you change to a Bowker ISBN later when you’ve made some money to reinvest in your writing? Does it even make sense to do that?

    1. If you wanted to expand your printed book to Ingram (they have international presses and the shipping is much cheaper for international readers), then a CreateSpace ISBN won’t work (they won’t accept it). In that case, you’d end up purchasing an ISBN (and remove the book from expanded distribution on CreateSpace, so the book won’t be listed as a duplicate…2 print copies…on Amazon). Hope that makes sense–it’s a little convoluted.

      1. I understand. Thanks, Elizabeth! I’m getting closer to being able to publish than I ever have before, and your website is my go-to source for helpful self-publishing and writing info.

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