Can you publish your book for free?

In a nutshell, yes, you can publish your book for free. Writing software, uploading a manuscript into a self-publishing platform and selling it online is all free. Your investment must include time and labour (spent on writing, editing, registering with the self-publishing platform, tweaking the free templates and uploading the book on the retailer’s platform). However, some additional services worth considering are not free (hiring an editor, a typesetter, an indexer or a book cover designer and purchasing ISBN) but may significantly increase the value of your book.

In this post, I will walk you through publishing your book for free and considering the add-on services that may improve your book.

How does publishing for free work?

With the boom of self-publishing and publishing-on-demand (POD) services, it is feasible to transform your manuscript into a book and publish it for free.

Writing

Let us start with the writing software: you can use the online version of Microsoft Word for free or register with GSuite and use Google Docs. If you use an Apple computer, it comes furnished with Pages. As an editor, I recommend using Word because of the Tracked Changes function (an equivalent of Suggesting mode in Google Docs) and its compatibility with macros and various editing and writing assistants (for instance, Grammarly or PerfectIt).

Publishing

Next, self-publishing platforms such as Draft2Digital or Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) do not charge you to upload manuscript, choose and customise templates for the text and cover. So with them, you can publish your book for free.

IngramSpark, another big self-publishing service, charges a $49 fee to upload a book. However, there might be a workaround for it. For instance, the Alliance of Independent Authors includes free monthly IngramSpark uploads and discount codes for title setups or revisions. Once you have tweaked the templates to your satisfaction, the last thing left to do is choose the book’s size and format (ebook, paperback, hardcover). Even if you opt for physical copies, you can still publish your book for free. This is the beauty of POD services. They only produce and deliver a copy of the book once someone buys it, and only then do they take their cut.

What about non-monetary investments in publishing a book?

Your time and labour have value, even if you do not have to open your wallet. When planning to write and publish your book for free, consider the time and energy you will spend on:

  • researching and writing
  • editing
  • researching POD services
  • registering with the POD and tweaking templates
  • filling in metadata for each format of the book.

You should also consider how the time needed for these activities will affect your life outside of writing. In parallel to the time spent in full-time employment, looking after your family or having a social life, will you be able (and willing) to make sacrifices in your schedule and finances to complete the book? Equally, imagine sitting down to write your book after a full day at work, commuting home and taking a long walk with your dog. It will require a commitment of time and energy too.

What is worth paying for when publishing a book?

Tools

You can also use premium writing software, such as Grammarly, Novel Factory, Hemingway Editor, Scrivener, Vellum or ProWriting Aid, to complete your book. Each tool is a paid subscription, which aids the writing process, such as character development, context-based editing, and typesetting. (However, Hemingway Editor is free to use online; you then have to paste your text into the document. Vellum, available for Mac users only, is free, but you must purchase a package before exporting a file for publication).

International Standard Book Number (ISBN)

ISBN is not cheap, but if a book is to be published and taken seriously, it must have an ISBN. An ISBN identifies one title in one format. So a hardback version of the same book will have a different ISBN than its ebook edition. Each country has its own ISBN issuer. It is the Nielsen ISBN Store in the UK and in the US — Bowker. A single ISBN costs $125 at Bowker, and a package of ten costs $295. Thus, buying in bulk lowers the price of one ISBN to $29.5. Nielsen ISBN Store sells individual ISBNs for £91. In turn, in a pack of ten (total £174), the price goes down to £17.40 per one.

But there may be a way to work around this and still be able to publish your book for free with a type of ISBN with some limitations. The POD companies like KDP and IngramSpark offer their own free versions of ISBNs. However, KDP’s own Standard Identification Number can be only used to sell a book on Amazon and cannot be used to sell through any other retailer.

Services

I believe the premium software is helpful but can be skipped. ISBN is a good investment, but there are also other areas worth spending money on when publishing a book. Depending on the type of book, a list of potential complimentary services that self-publishing writers may consider is long:

Editing, indexing, typesetting, cover design and proofreading can be, to some extent, carried out by the author or with the help of the POD services. For instance, you can use Grammarly to improve your text, track character development using Novel Factory, create an index in Microsoft Word, typeset the manuscript in Vellum or tweak a cover design offered by IngramSparks. Although it is called self-publishing, it is rarely a process that involves one person. Because when performed by professionals, these services add value to the book, improve its readability and marketability, and in the long run, its chances for success. This is because we all have specialisms, experience and qualifications. Writers want to write books. Editors can meticulously carry out developmental editing, copyediting or proofreading. Indexers create helpful indexes, and designers create captivating book covers.

Book editing

While you can self-edit your work, it is difficult to catch every mistake and ensure that your writing is clear and concise. Hiring an editor can help to ensure that your book is free of errors, flows well and provides value to your readers. Editing may include different services such as developmental editing, line editing or copyediting. Proofreading is another service that can be useful. While an editor will help you with structure, grammar and clarity, a proofreader will focus solely on catching typos and other small errors that could be missed during the editing process. This ensures that your book is as polished as possible before publishing.

Indexing


Indexing is another service that can be helpful for non-fiction books. An indexer will create an index of the topics and keywords covered in your book, making it easier for readers to find what they are looking for.

Typesetting

Typesetting is the process of formatting your book for publication. While you can use the free templates provided by self-publishing platforms, a professional typesetter can create a custom layout that reflects the tone and style of your book. This can help to make your book stand out and improve its readability.

Cover design

Finally, cover design is another area where investing in professional help can pay off. Your book’s cover is the first thing that potential readers will see. A well-designed cover can help grab their attention and entice them to read further. Hiring a cover designer can help ensure that your book has a professional and eye-catching cover that accurately represents the content inside.


Conclusion

A self-publishing author can wear many hats, perform several publishing processes and ultimately publish your book for free. Still, it is worth considering budgeting for the services that can increase the value of the book that you have invested so much of your time and labour into. Editors, designers and indexers can help polish your work and improve its chances in the extremely competitive publishing market.

Contact me to ensure your text is publishing-ready; you can also ask me for a free sample edit (and remember to use my early bird discount). If you want to hear more from me, including self-editing and writing tips, follow me on MastodonTwitter, Facebook and LinkedIn or join my newsletter.

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Magda

I am an editor, indexer and a lifelong lover of literature with a PhD in literary history. I am an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, a student member of the Society of Indexers and a vetted partner of the Alliance of Independent Authors.