Bottom Line Costs
You can write, edit, cover, format, and publish a novel for $0 and a buttload of time. However, this is not a realistic option if your goal is to sell books and garner lifelong readers. (You’ll note that there is no inclusion for marketing, which is vital if you want to sell books and turn writing into a career. If, however, your only goal is to write and publish you can do it for free.)
You can use Google Docs, or LibreOffice for the actual writing.
If you need free edits, your best option will be to find a local writing group and offer manuscript swaps. This will provide a proofreading—with minimal story level, or sentence level feedback—but it is possible to edit a novel for free.
Likewise, there are the rare few authors who can edit their own novels without outside feedback. They produce such clean manuscripts that with one or two beta readers they’re able to find all the typos within the manuscript and then publish.
In theory, you can learn to use GIMP (a free Image Manipulation Program), or Canva (which offers a free version).
GIMP YouTube Tutorial to Create Ebook Cover
“Free book cover creation from start to finish using a free software! Great for those looking to making a quick book cover, book cover on a budget, or something beautiful like the covers created by Vibrant Designs.”
Canva YouTube Tutorial to Create Ebook Cover
“Make your own book cover using the FREE version of Canva for your self-published books using Canva. This video shows you can as well design your client’s book covers using Canva’s drag-and-drop feature and professional layouts to design consistently stunning book cover designs.”
In theory, you can format a .docx file using Google Doc, or LibreOffice, which Amazon will then convert into an ebook on your behalf.
Amazon offers a step-by-step guide on how to format your document to ensure it converts properly.
“This guide will show you how to prepare your manuscript for KDP publishing. The info below is specific to Microsoft Word 2016, but the steps are similar to other versions of Word.”
If you follow the guidelines, you’ll accomplish the same thing via Google Docs, or LibreOffice.
Derek Murphy offers a free step-by-step guide on how to format a manuscript into a paperback for Amazon KDP.
“This free video workshop is a 10-step series on book formatting in Microsoft Word. We’ll go through everything you need to do to format a book from scratch for print-ready PDFs you can use with print on demand publishing services like Createspace or Lightning Source.”
Derek uses Microsoft Word, but you can do everything he does via Google Doc, or LibreOffice with a bit of learning.
Publishing to Amazon KDP is free.
Amazon KDP YouTube Tutorial
“In this video, I share step-by-step how to publish a Kindle book on Amazon. If you’re ready to become a published author, learn how to upload a book to Amazon easily as a first-time author using Amazon Kindle Publishing platform. Amazon is a simple and easy to use platform.”
Now that I’ve laid out the free options, allow me to convince you of why you should spend money. Especially if your goal is to sell books, and not just publish.
When you write a novel, you’re producing a piece of Intellectual Property (IP) and under the U.S. copyright law you retain the sole exclusive rights to profit off that IP for your entire life plus seventy years. That means the novel you’re working on today could earn money for your grandchildren or even great-grandchildren.
So, while I would never encourage you to go into debt to produce a novel, a modest investment makes sense. Unlike with traditionally published novels, yours will never go out of print if you choose to self-publish, which means you have a long horizon to sell copies of your novel.
Where to Invest Your Money
The big three are: Editing, Cover, and Marketing. (Usually in that order—though covers are a form of marketing too.)
At the absolute minimum, hire a proofreader to clean up your manuscript before publishing. You only get one chance to make a first impression on a reader, and the last thing you want is to turn them away due to typos and simple grammar mistakes.
If you can afford more, a qualified line editor is worth their weight in gold. However, don’t hire a “discount” line editor if you can’t afford both. Instead, pay for the proofreader, or take the time to save up for a line editor with a proven track record. An inexperienced line editor will end up costing you more in the long run, because they’ll teach you bad habits and possibly make your manuscript worse than before they got it. (Speaking from my early experiences in publishing.)
For some authors who only hire a proofreader, the cover will constitute their largest expense.
The costs for covers will vary based on the genre you’re writing in. An illustrated Fantasy cover can cost five times more than a photo manipulated Romance cover (as an example), but that in no way means the more expensive cover is better. In fact, covers are so fluid in price that there are no hard rules.
The most important part of the cover is to convey the right tone to the potential reader. It shouldn’t look like a one-of-a-kind cover. It should look like it belongs on the shelf next to authors writing similar novels to yours.
This can run from free social media engagement and a free WordPress site, to six figures per month!
Marketing is a giant umbrella that covers anything that helps drive reader attention toward your book. The most obvious and well known of which is direct advertisements. Facebook ads being the most famous of all.
When you first start off, it’s best to incrementally increase your marketing spend. Only those with experience should try the massive marketing pushes that you may have seen other authors pull off. And sometimes, even the best marketers fail. Which is why you should start slow.
Writing and publishing is a marathon, not a sprint, and ads are not a shortcut to success. They’re a brand-new skill set you’ll need to develop over time, or hire an expert to run for you. Starting out, I recommend that you find a mentor or coach that can walk you through the basic and more intermediate skills around marketing.
Bad habits you learn in the beginning will plague you for your entire career. This holds true for all aspects of this career, but especially with marketing.
This series will continue in the next installment Successful Fiction: Costs and Software (Part Two Realistic First Novel)