Saturday, February 20, 2010

Publishing on a shoestring budget

For the longest time, there were only two paths to publication.

The first was the so-called "traditional" route, in which an author spent months or years searching for an agent, who then spent months or years shopping the book around to various publishers, in the hope that one of them would purchase it and publish it after several more months or years.

For those that did not want to wait that long, there was the self-publishing option. However, this option was an expensive one, and the upfront expense was entirely the author's responsibility. Most authors could not afford such an endeavor, and so they put their dreams of publication on hold.

Thankfully, the past few years have brought around a revolution in the publishing industry. The Internet, eBooks, and the rise of print-on-demand publishers have helped to remove the financial barrier to self-publication.

Lack of money is no longer a barrier to publication. To be published nowadays, one merely needs to invest the time.

Here are some tips for publishing on a shoestring budget. These tips assume that you have already done the hardest part of the entire process - you've finished writing your book (perhaps using something like My Writing Nook?) and are ready to share it with the world.

Layout, Formatting & Cover Design

The layout and formatting of your book depends on how you plan to publish it. If you are planning to use a print-on-demand company, you'll need to layout your manuscript in a format suitable for publishing. Thankfully, these companies make the process as easy as possible. For example, Lulu provides a template for designing your cover as well as a Word document template with the margins and spacing already configured. CreateSpace offers their layout guidelines here.

If you don't have Word or another word processing program that allows you to format your document, I'd suggest checking out Google Docs. You can upload your manuscript, format it appropriately, and even export it as a PDF document file.

The saying goes "Don't judge a book by its cover," but the fact of the matter is that most people do. An amateurish cover design may cause people to dismiss your book outright.

If you have an artistic flair, you can design your own cover using a free image editing program such as Paint.NET. If you prefer an online option, check out

If art isn't your thing, you can visit sites like 99 designs or crowdSPRING to crowdsource the design of your cover. These sites won't get you a cover design for free, but they allow you to control the entire process, and really provide a great bang for your buck.


Publishing a book requires very little upfront money. There are several different options for publishing your book.

You could choose to publish your book via a blog. Many authors have started to publish their novels online as webserials. If you choose to this route, there are several blog platforms to choose from. Blogger is the platform run by Google, is easy to use, and has the best integration with Google's other services, such as AdSense, Analytics, and AdWords. WordPress is another strong option. If you'd like to host your blog on your own site, WP is probably the best way to go.

If you'd like to publish real, physical books, then print-on-demand publishing is the way to go. PoD publishers will store your book in digital form until someone purchases it, at which point they will print a physical copy of the book and send it to the customer. The author can set the price of the book, thus determining how much in royalties they earn per sale. Royalty rates from PoD publishers are much higher than those from traditional publishing companies, with the author earning a greater portion of the proceeds (as it should be!). PoD books can have their own ISBN, and can be listed on sites such as Amazon or B&N.

There are two big players in the PoD space these days. Lulu had been around a bit longer and is very author-friendly, providing downloadable sample templates for cover and book layout. CreateSpace is newer, but is owned by Amazon, arguably the biggest book-related company in the world.

If you're looking to publish eBooks, both Lulu and CreateSpace offer this option. If you're looking to target the Kindle, you can publish your eBook via a catalog like Smashwords, or you could get in the Kindle store by working with Amazon directly.

Once you've gotten your book published, it's time to let your audience know about it. If you don't already have an audience, you need to grow one. That means marketing, which calls to my mind well-dressed, fast-talking, brash young salespeople. People-people. If you're the type of person that thinks "I could never be in sales," I'll help to disabuse you of that notion in my next post.

In my next post, I'll tackle marketing yourself and your book on a shoestring budget. Stay tuned!


  1. While Smashwords has an affiliate program, their books are not yet listed with Amazon, nor Barnes and Noble. I'm somewhat at a loss as to who their affiliates actually are at this point. They do however, own several domains:,,, and so on.

  2. Writing the book is easy. Editing the book is the hard part.

  3. I agree with Tom! But you made a lot of great points in this post. I'm looking forward to the follow up. It's important for writers to know what technology has made possible.


  4. "Once you've gotten your book published, it's time to let your audience know about it."

    Actually, promotions should start well in advance of publication. Unless you've already got a well-established platform, you need to start laying the groundwork for marketing the book once it is available.

    Two other things to keep in mind, especially if you go the very "inexpensive" POD "self-publishing" route: Make sure you own the ISBN (if you use one of Lulu's, they are the publisher, not you--and a subsidy press name on your book likely means reviewers won't touch it and bookstores won't carry it) and make sure you can still price your book affordably. Most POD titles sell no more than 100 copies--and that is partially because they cannot be priced well.

    The bottom line is to make sure you do your research when choosing your path to publication!

  5. Many years ago, I got the impression that and Trafford were the big dogs in print on demand/self-publishing. Maybe they got passed by Lulu?

  6. does a person go about "owning" the ISBN? Who does a person use for a publisher, then, if not someone like Lulu? And how does a person go about pricing the book to be affordable?

    Thank you, kindly, in advance, for any information on these matters; it would be greatly appreciated.