Learn From My Mistakes #3 PART 1 – You Want to Self-Publish A Book with a Budget of $0.00? Yeah, It’s Possible. Here’s What I Did.

I saw this really interesting question some days ago on my Facebook feed.

Having been there and done it, I can say with confidence that it is technically possible to pull it off.  I know I did it.  I edited my own book, formatted it for eBook and paperback publication, designed my own cover, built my own website, set up my own mailing list and a bunch of other things.  I had to, because I was in a situation where I had literally no extra money to invest in my writing.  Money was far too precious a commodity to waste on a luxury like self-publishing a book.  Every dollar gets assigned before the money even comes in, and the moment the cash hits my hand, it’s gone.  It’s like the worst magic trick in the world.  And thinking about spending three or four hundred dollars just for an editor sounds like an utter fortune.

So if you don’t have the money, you have to have the time.  That’s what helped me get it done.  I had lots and lots of time between shifts at work.  Also, I have no kids.

If you don’t have money, and you don’t have time, I can’t give you advice, except maybe to say, make time.  Get up an hour early.  Go to bed an hour late.  Work during a lunch break.  Work while the kids are at school.  Work while commuting to and from work.  Don’t play videogames as much.  Stop watching TV (this is a major time-sucker, probably at the top of the list of all time-suckers).  And I’ll try my hardest to give you the best, most time-efficient info I can.

So if you do have time, here’s a list of all the programs I used to accomplish specific things while writing CROWS (as far as I know, all of this works on Windows, Linux, and Mac):

Writing the story: You need a word processor. 

I have MS Office 2010 (got it as a gift years ago from my mom.  It costs anywhere from $50 to $160. It’s worth spending the money for the 2010, but you don’t have to.)  I recently found out from a friend about Apache OpenOffice.  1 I haven’t actually used it to write a book, but I did take a look, and it’s exactly like MS Word!  It’s even got the review function where you can go in and make comments in the margins and track changes, which to me is essential in being able to edit a document that’s hundreds of pages long.  It’s 100% free, they come out with updates now and then, and it’s totally open source.

I don’t recommend using WordPad or Notepad.  You can’t really format your work well, you can’t make notes in the margin on your PC, you can’t view the document in pages, and I’m not even sure you can number pages.  MS Works sucks the worst, just don’t even bother with it.

Editing the story:  You need a system. 

If you can’t afford an editor, then you have to do this yourself.  Do not get a friend to do it, or a family member.  You have to do it, because you know your novel best.  You also have the most invested in it, unlike your friend or your mom.  Neither of them look bad if your work isn’t edited properly–only you do.

If you don’t know how a story should be punctuated, it’s because you don’t read enough novels.  When you have read enough novels, you will understand how a book should be punctuated, at least to some extent.  Rather than painstakingly remembering the rules of punctuation and grammar, you’ll just know them if you read novels.  And if you read enough novels, you’ll notice errors right away, without any conscious effort.  (I do think that I’ll eventually go over some basic rules for punctuating a novel.  I think this is one of the most overwhelming things for authors who want to self-publish but can’t afford an editor.)

So editing my own novel, which was around 75K words, wasn’t an easy task.  I didn’t really know where to begin, how to have a controlled, methodical process.  And then I found out about this concise eBook called EDITING The Red Pen Way, by Anne Rainbow.  2This book has an airtight step-by-step way to edit your book yourself and comes with a couple of easy reference sheets.  I found it invaluable.  Once you’re done with the steps, it’s recommended that you go through the steps again so you catch any errors you might have missed.  Anything you miss will be your own fault because you didn’t follow the steps or rushed through them.  (I’m guilty of this.  Had to do it over again.  You notice that I bought Anne’s book on Jan 16th, 2017?  My book was published Feb 23rd. 2017.  This time around I will give months to my editing process.)  Anne’s book is currently around $4 USD.  Sometimes she does a promo where it’s free for a day.  Get it for free if you must.  You’ll have to do some waiting for a promo day, though.  But for $4, it’s definitely worth the money and you’ll have it right away.

Formatting your book for eBook and paperback

Your eBook:  Your book has to be formatted.  At this point in time, eBook formatting doesn’t really offer that much flexibility.  So if you have wild fonts all throughout your book, you have to cut it down.  It’s possible that it might not show up at all in your eBook and just be a bunch of blocks, or it might revert to some font that the eBook can actually accomodate.  I really recommend downloading the Smashwords Style Guide – How to Format Your eBook.  It’s free and completely worth the time it takes to use the guide.  Here’s the Amazon Link and the Smashwords Link.  It’s also available in other languages.


Your paperback:  Now, not all authors go through this stage, but I did, because I had an audience at my workplace to whom I could only sell paperbacks.  I made far more money on paperbacks than I did on eBooks.  (But that’s a topic for another blog).  You can’t use the Smashwords Style Guide for your paperback formatting.  I used Createspace (an Amazon company) to make my paperbacks.  5They basically give you a template and you have to cut and paste your story into the template.  It’s kind of a pain in the butt, so be patient and take your time.  Again, this is all free for you to do, and you only pay if you want to order copies.  You can price the book at whatever you want.

Book Cover:  You need a good one that makes sense.

You need a number of things in order to pull off a solid cover:

  • IMAGES:  You need images (remember, you don’t have any money, so you can’t buy images, and you can’t go copying them off any search, because those images have copyrights).  One day, while searching for royalty free pics, I found this goldmine of a site called Pixabay6It’s got royalty free images (photos, vector images, illustrations, and even videos) all with a Creative Commons License, which means you can use it for commercial purposes without having to pay a dime.  One thing I should note is that do not confuse the Pixabay site images with the ‘featured’ images they have posted from Shutterstock.com.  Only the Pixabay images are free.
  • THE CORRECT FONT:  The fonts available on Word (and probably Apache OpenOffice) are not enough.  You need the exact right font to showcase your book title and match the content.  You probably shouldn’t use a curly, girly font for a slash horror or use an edgy, elevated techy font for a crime thriller.  Anyway, I used 1001fonts.com.  (You can do a search for other free font sites, but I used this one.)7There are more fonts on here than you could ever know what to do with, but a word of caution.  Some fonts you must pay for, and there’s a filter on top that will show you only the free fonts.  Use that filter.  Another point is that you should read the license for any font you’re interested in.  Some font creators are okay with changes made to the fonts, others are not.  Each one varies.  Take your time.  There are lots of search terms too, for you to find the exact font you need.  It’s very easy to install the fonts, which you must do before using them.  That’s a topic for another blog/video tutorial.
  • AN IMAGE MANIPULATION SOFTWARE:  I know a lot of people talk about Photoshop, and a lot of people seem to already have this on hand, and I’m not sure why.  It’s my understanding that it’s pretty expensive.  I’ve also heard of Adobe After Effects, which is also pricey.  So I use GIMP8It’s exactly like Photoshop, but 100% free.  If you’ve never used a software like this, remember to watch lots of tutorials on how to use it, because there is a pretty steep learning curve.  I will create a tutorial down the road especially for making book covers so you don’t have any extraneous info and you can get right down to business.  I want to save you the time and frustration of learning a new software.  I don’t recommend MS Paint because I don’t think you can do much with it.
  • IF YOU’D RATHER DRAW YOUR OWN COVER:  There are a lot of writers out there that are also really amazing artists.  Maybe you can’t find the right photo or image for your book and you’d like to draw it instead.  GIMP is great for photo manipulation, but not so much for drawing.  At least, in my experience.  It lagged incessantly while I tried to draw with my drawing tablet (which I already owned, another present from my mom).  I grew so frustrated I thought I’d hit a brick wall.  But then I found Krita9This is an awesome illustration software, again, 100% free, designed with illustrators in mind.  It doesn’t lag and it’s powerful.  Again, a learning curve is involved, and you’ll definitely need a drawing tablet for more control.
  • NOTE:  For paperback books, you’ll need to do the front cover, back cover, and spine.  Createspace will give you a template, but you’ll need some specific information before getting the right size, like what sort of paper you’ll be using, how many pages you’ll have, and what the dimensions of the book will be.  I’ll go over this in more detail in a later post.
Well, that’s it!  That’s all you need to publish your book for absolutely free. 

The question is though, should you do it all for free?  I suppose you could if you want.  After trying it, I think I could manage it again.  The only thing I’d probably do differently is I would pay for a professional, trusted editor.  It’s not easy to edit a book, and it’s even harder to edit your own, because you’re so familiar with it that you miss errors that would be screaming right in somebody else’s face.  Also, if you’re not really artistically inclined or design oriented, I’d recommend buying a cover.  (It took me weeks to think of a suitable concept for my cover.  You can see it here:  CROWS.)

I’ve never used this guy, but I love all his designs.  Every time I look at his covers, I want to write a story for each one.  Find them premade at Go On Write10He’s got a promo going right now where you can get the premade covers at just $30 each!  If you buy a series of covers, they’re even less for each!  This is a steal.  He also makes custom covers.

This post is getting sort of long, so I’ll make another post that goes over some of the marketing tools that I used for free or for very little money.

If you enjoyed this post, please take moment to Like and Share.  And if you would like to keep up with the rest of my posts, please click the drop-down menu in the top right corner and hit Follow.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m experimenting with self-publishing and documenting everything so you don’t have to.  You can simply Learn From My Mistakes.  Thank you for reading!


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