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Indie Publishing On A Shoestring Budget

Updated: Nov 19, 2023

indie publishing on a shoe string budget

You’ve written a book, now you want to publish it. Indie publishing on a shoestring budget is more than possible if you take the time to DIY.

Whether you’re publishing it for yourself or for others to read there are still some steps you have to take to make your book as good as it can be. However, if you read the blogs most will tell you that you must spend $100 if not $1,000+ dollars to bring your book into physical form. This is bullshit.

Turning your book from a Word document into a book you can buy on Amazon doesn’t have to cost you a cent, despite what publishers, blogs, or other authors, will tell you. I know this is a fact because I got bored one day and decided to publish some stuff so I could have it made into a book I could put on my shelf I did it and didn’t spend a cent (despite my research and calculations telling me I’d have to roughly $3500.00 to do so). So if you have the will, you’ll be happy to know there is a way.

Let’s start out with editing

You want to ensure your manuscript is as good as possible. To get a professional edit, we’re talking about one from an accredited expert with years of experience and a degree under their belt, it can cost several thousand dollars. Don’t put your manuscript into the hands of some guy on Facebook who claims to be an editor simply because he likes to read. If you’re going to give your book over to an editor make sure you know their qualifications. Look at past work they have published, etc…But you don’t have thousands to spend, it is possible to do it yourself and get a decent result. If there is a typo or two, don't sweat it, most readers are cool if you have a mistake. It's when the book is unreadable that they get surly.

My editing jobs started out pretty sloppy because I didn’t think anyone would read my work other than me, so I was pretty casual about it. But then people started to occasionally read my stuff so I figured I should try to clean it up a little bit. So if you’re going to edit your own work, here are some tips:

  • Don’t edit when you’re drinking

  • Don’t edit when you’re smoking pot or doing other drugs (Adderall might be okay)

  • Don't edit when you have insomnia and you should be sleeping but can't

  • Printing off your manuscript and reading it/correcting it on paper is helpful

  • Read it out loud to check for flow

  • Distance yourself from your masterpiece and pretend you are a reader. See if it makes sense.

  • Cut out anything you don’t need. Don’t say a person was running quickly, as it is implied. Just say they are running. It’s simple.

  • Don’t try to write in over-the-top Gothic/purple style unless you are a grammar expert

  • Important enough to mention twice: Keep things simple

  • Step away and look at your story a few weeks (or even months) after you finish it. Fresh eyes can catch a lot of typos

  • Give it to someone who is competent to read over it. Make sure they give you honest feedback that consists of more than “It was good. You are a writing wunderkind.” Having them take notes as they read can be very helpful. They can tell you what they liked, what was confusing, ETC...

And the list can go on. But what if you just aren’t good at editing? It’s okay, I’m not great at it either. A few books that can help you on your way are

These people know what they are doing and have written fabulous books to help you (and me). You don’t need to have an MFA to write or edit a decent book. All you need is a slow, steady eye plus the ability to cut away or change what doesn’t work. Editing isn’t personal, it’s business.

There are also plenty of free editing programs that can catch simple typos like Grammarly. The problem with programs like Grammarly is that a writer sometimes depends on them too much to fix everything. Using Grammarly to help you watch out for typos or repeats is fine. But when it comes to something like structure or story flow, it’s no good. AI programs can’t be a substitute for real editing.

The Cover

Your manuscript is now shiny and beautiful (oh so pretty, Diane) But before it can be put up for sale, you need a stunning cover. However, you don’t want to spend a few hundred dollars to get one from a professional. That’s fine. Many “professional” covers I see are lackluster and sometimes flat-out horrid. Save your money and invest in yourself. Even if you just choose a couple of eye-catching colors for your text and go with a solid background, it's better than ugly art that left your wallet empty.

One solution, if you want an image on your cover, is to use open-source / public-domain art. These are free and can be used for commercial projects.

A few great sources are:

What if you don’t have an artist's eye and have no idea how to set up your cover so that it’s eye-catching? Again, thanks to the internet that is no problem. Finding examples for inspiration is easy.

A great website I like to use for layout inspiration is Fonts In Use this shows examples of fonts and typefaces. You can search by Formats such as Advertising, Album Art, or Posters/Flyers to see fonts/images/art, and how they can be used together to create an amazing cover. Plus you can use them to make notes on color combinations you like and scale.

If you decide to download fonts, make sure they are also free for commercial use. 1001 Fonts is great. Next to the box that says “Your Text Here” is a price tag icon. Press it. This turns on the option to show only fonts that are available for commercial use. Perfect!

Now you have your font, your colors, and your art. How do you put it all together? I will admit that while I tried several free software programs, I am an Adobe slave and it’s tough to find anything that beats the smoothness of Photoshop. If you want to subscribe Adobe offers different packages, with Photoshop costing on average $20.00 a month. If you are going to be doing a lot of book covers, Photoshop is worth it. Or if you plan on doing your own formatting and paperback cover layout, the Adobe suite with InDesign and Illustrator is more than worth it. If this is something in your budget check out Adobe for packages. No, I’m not being paid by Adobe, but I wish I was. But whatever.

If you don’t want to pay for Adobe there other other options out there. The only ones I have personal experience with are GIMP and Krita neither program was as intuitive to use as Photoshop. But if you want to spend zero dollars, you can get the hang of them and use them to put your cover together. Although I don’t have experience with it, it could be worth checking out Adobe Photoshop Express. It is free to download, so it might be worth your time if you want an easy-to-use, free editing program.


I’ve known authors who have spent a ton of money on formatting. But it can be done for free. If you choose to invest some money in yourself and don’t mind learning it, Adobe InDesign is the best program. While it can be frustrating to work with at times, if you keep it simple, it’s pretty easy to format an entire novel in only a few hours. It simply depends on how complicated you want to get.

Formatting your book using Amazon’s Kindle Create is free. It doesn’t give you tons of options, but if you want a quick way to format your novella for digital sales, Kindle Create is straightforward to use. Another popular free way to format your books is with Reedsy. I have never used this program, but have seen books formatted using it and they look fine.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with formatting, don’t be. There are thousands of free videos on Youtube to teach you how to format using specific software. Many are aimed at beginners.

The End

Your book has been edited and corrected to the best of your abilities. You’ve gotten feedback and fixed plotholes and structural issues. It reads like a dream. You love it. It must be refreshing to know if you don’t have thousands to spend, you can still, through hard work and a little research, bring your book to life and get it into the hands of readers (that part is easier said than done unfortunately).

Still, it’s possible if that’s your goal. The internet offers creators an abundance of free software and resources that allow them to create a book for next to nothing. I wish I had these resources when I was a teen, but I am old and grew up in a time of gray boxes and Windows 98. I remember the excitement when Apple introduced the colorful clamshell laptop. Ah, those were the days. Now really. Today tech is smooth, fast, and made for all skill levels. It's awesome.

For whatever reasons (probably money related) authors, artists, and publishers would have you believe you need to invest thousands of dollars in order to bring your book to life, but this just isn’t true. I know it’s not true because I’ve made plenty of books in the last 3-4 years for next to nothing. Whether your goal is to sell your books or simply have one for your personal collection it's a dream that's achievable if it's something you really want to do.

When creating your book make sure you watch out for those who are trying to make money off of you by offering editing, formatting, or cover art services but have no qualifications, no body of work to show you, and cost you a lot. If you think having some guy on Facebook editing your book for $50 is lucky, it’s not. The guy probably has no idea what he’s doing and the results would have been the same if you had given your book to Aunt Bettie to read for free. The same with artwork. It’s easy to throw together an ugly cover with a few Photoshop tricks and charge $75. But doesn’t your work deserve more? It probably does. So spending the time to learn to DIY your cover is worth it.

You might think you’re underqualified to take on a task such as creating a book from scratch, but you can if you’re driven. It’s always interesting to see the end product of someone who doesn’t know what they are doing but has the passion to do it anyways. Sure, it has the potential to go very wrong, things always do. But it can also lead to some unique, amazing books that stand out from a thousand look-alike books.

Questions about turning your book from Word doc to book? Cover and Photoshop questions? Layout? Feel free to email and ask.

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