How to self-publish without breaking the bank

Stephanie Ellis

The costs involved in self-publishing can add up quickly. However, there are many free (or cheap) DIY solutions out there that can save you quite a bit of money—as long as you don’t mind veering slightly off the beaten path.

by Stephanie Ellis

Times are hard, especially for indie authors. Word-processing software, paying for covers, proofing, editing—the costs add up. My writing career has been a hybrid mix of self-publishing and small presses. It is a path I know I will continue as I move forward, especially as I have become fairly confident in producing a product of good quality, both in writing and presentation, whether e-book or print.

I was lucky, in a way, as my professional career some years back was as a senior technical author (software) and project manager for a technical publications company. I learned how to use styles in Microsoft Word (and Wordstar—showing my age here!), the different draft stages a book could go through, proofing and editing, some basic illustrations, all the practical aspects of book production, as well as writing the manuals themselves. Admittedly, technical writing is different from creative writing, but the skills transferred, and despite lying dormant for many years before I started to write my fiction and poetry, much came back, or at least a vague enough reminiscence to have a go with self-publishing.

Don’t have Word? Then use LibreOffice. I used this back in the day when it was OpenOffice. It is free, open-source software, allowing you to create your .doc files or save them in whatever format you want. You can also generate slideshows and spreadsheets. Remember, Google Docs also allows you to save as a .doc for those calls which ask for either .doc or .pdf file formats, and also offers other features like spreadsheets. I currently use Word, but an old version. I have no intention of forking out for a yearly subscription, which seems to be a move by the software giants these days, rather than allowing you to purchase a product outright.

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Want to create .mobi and .epub files to see what they look like? Try Calibre e-book management, another free product. This is particularly useful when you want to see what your book will look like in e-book format. Simply import your manuscript and then convert to whatever output you want.

Why not have a go at creating a cover of your own? If you think it’s as good as other book covers out there, then why not use it?

Covers are a big expense, and you can purchase off-the-shelf covers at places like Fiverr, the drawback being you then see your cover suddenly appear all over the place on other people’s books. Why not have a go at creating one of your own? You do have to be honest with yourself and assess your finished book with the others you see on the market, but if you think it’s of an equal standard, then why not use it? I’ve created mine using GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program). This package offers many of the same features as the likes of Adobe and Corel—but for free! It can look a bit daunting at first, but there are loads of tutorials on YouTube to help you. And as for the images, check out Pixabay and Unsplash, which offer many royalty-free images you can manipulate into the cover of your choice. Wikipedia also has images that are creative commons and do not require licenses for commercial use—just make sure you’ve checked the usage comments. Here are a couple of book covers of mine created in this manner:

Examples of covers designed by Stephanie Ellis

To make sure your cover is the right size, use the KDP Cover Calculator and free templates available from Amazon to calculate the dimensions. If you are publishing elsewhere, search their requirements and adapt accordingly.

Different fonts needed for your covers or headings? Sites such as and 1001Fonts provide many that are free. Fancy dividers for sections in your book? Sorted—I found a number of them on Pixabay.

And of course, promotional material! You’ll want to create graphics to promote your book, including a 3D cover mockup. Find a picture from Pixabay, add in your mockup and a bit of text. Done!

Until recently, I uploaded my books to Amazon as PDFs generated from Word for the paperback version. If you use styles for your book, you can quite carefully control the layout of the product, but you cannot control widows and orphan breaks effectively. Plus, section breaks and images can take on a mind of their own, even for an experienced user. Enter Scribus. It has taken me a little while to get used to it, but I couldn’t imagine going back to just Word. This package is a very good free equivalent to Adobe InDesign, and allows you to ensure the top and bottom text of each page is aligned, and not a widow or orphan. Images are easily placed, and text and graphics can be manipulated quite easily within the document. The drawback is that importing a Word document currently loses the styling, but if you convert it to an .odt document via LibreOffice and import that, then your styles are retained. Alternatively, you can easily style your text within Scribus itself.

Of course, there is editing and proofreading, and it really is better to have a second pair of eyes look at your work. And that may cost. However, there are many sites online to help you with grammar and expected presentation. I have copies of both New Hart’s Rules (U.K.) and The Chicago Manual of Style (U.S.), which I continually refer to. Remember, these may be available at your local library as well!

And finally, there may be times when you have to pay out, but you can reduce costs considerably by using the products I’ve mentioned here. Don’t let fear stop you. Download the packages, check out the tutorials, and you’ll be fine. Your next book is a lot closer than you think!

Stephanie Ellis writes dark speculative prose and poetry and has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies, the most recent being Scott J. Moses’s What One Wouldn’t Do, Demain Publishing’s A Silent Dystopia and Brigids Gate Press’s Were Tales. Her longer work includes the novel The Five Turns of the Wheel and the novellas Bottled and Paused.

Stephanie is co-editor of Trembling With Fear,’s online magazine, and also co-edited the Daughters of Darkness anthologies. She is an active member of the Horror Writers Association and can be found at her website and on Twitter.

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