The Cheapest Way to Self-Publish a Book

Type “cheapest way to self-publish a book” into your search engine of choice, and you will retrieve any number of articles giving you advice on how to do just that. One recently published article also told readers the “best way” in addition to the cheapest.

I thought I’d take some time here to help authors understand what they may be jeopardizing by equating “cheapest” with “best.”

The first thing an author should do is figure out what the “best book” looks like (rather than the best “way”). What does “best” mean to the audience to whom the book will be sold, and what does it mean to the author him or herself? For example, perhaps a specialist in an area of medicine wishes to write a book on a medical theory that could transform lives (I’m channeling Wheat Belly here, for example), or a well-known business consultant and motivational speaker wishes to break out into new audiences and build his or her business. Presumably these professionals would like their book cover to compete with best sellers in their genre, their page layout to convey their message in the best way possible (involving some information design and not just word processing), and their text to be clear, concise, and error-free.

Professionals at this level already know that you “get what you pay for” and know they will need to make an investment to achieve their definition of “best.” But thinking that one can achieve that level of “best” by going the absolute cheapest route—investing only $100 in editing or $10 in cover design as some writers have advised—is a crapshoot at best, and most likely a complete waste of the author’s time and money.

I used Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature to take a peek at the inside pages of the writer who advised “investing” $100 in editing, and the writing is terrible. When an editor with the proper training and experience—and who is being paid professional rates—encounters a poorly written manuscript, the editor will talk to the author about how the flow of the book can be improved, how the writing can be clarified, and make concrete suggestions on how to make the manuscript the best it can be. An editor who is being paid a sum total of $100 and whose first language may not be the language in which the book is written, will at best make a valiant attempt at proofreading the manuscript but not touch the issues that make the book unreadable.

I doubt the medical professional or business consultant included “unreadable” in their definitions of “best” for their books!

And so it goes. The $10 book cover may be based on the same template used for hundreds of other books. The last advice I came across suggested that authors format the manuscript themselves. (See my post on how to typeset a book and ask yourself if you have time to learn how to do all that, but again, it depends on one’s definition of “best”—most nonfiction books require illustrations, tables, pull quotes and other design thinking in order to present the information contained therein in the most readable format possible.) The cheap eBook conversion probably won’t take into account the coding required for resizing on different devices. And authors frequently underestimate the investment in time and money required to market books.

And finally, the author of the article was selling the Kindle version of his nonfiction book on Amazon for 99 cents. You have to be careful here; while buyers love a bargain, they will also question the value and validity of a book from a presumed professional that is priced so low. Your definition of “best” should also have a selling price to match, a question that research in your book’s genre will help you answer.

You should absolutely get quotes from at least three designers and editors before you hire someone. Have a budget in mind and let the designer know your budget constraints; designers and editors will try and work within your budget. And before you do all that, have a clear definition of what the “best” book looks like for you and your readers, and understand that a budget of $200 – $500 will not, in all likelihood, get you your “best” book.

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