How to Self-Publish Your Book for Free: Sequences and Why’s
You want to know two things when you self-publish:
- How to publish your books(s) for no upfront cost (and no or low residual fees)
- How to do this efficiently so you can spend the most time writing your next one.
After I’ve been self-publishing for over a decade, things always are changing. Another reason to read the rest of this: I fired my last boss several years ago, after my self-publishing income started paying all my bills and then some (also called: financial freedom.)
A year-long test has refined my recommended publishing sequence – and so this update.
Secrets You’ll Find In This Article
- How to write and publish for free
- The fastest and most economical way I’ve found
- How to promote once you’ve published (also for free.)
Take my dozen years of publishing for what it’s worth (the oldest book I can find was published in 2006, although I was writing long before that.) The warning is to test everything – everything – I recommend here for yourself. Your mileage may definitely vary. (And: “Caution: Contents May Be Hot.”)
How to Write and Publish for Free
Short answer: Get this book by the same title.
Longer answer – ignore conventional wisdom. Test everything for yourself. Research widely, then test the common answers you find.
There are a very few places who make their income from providing services and getting paid only as well as they help you sell your book. A very few of these do an excellent job at this. And there are far more greedy bandits (a polite term) who require you to pay hundred or even thousands to do this for you.
The trick to this is that most books don’t sell well, some don’t sell at all. The average is around 250 copies of any book, and that is usually to friends and family of that author – their usual network.
While most people have a book in them (some 80%, by some surveys) the Author Earnings data suggests that the vast majority of these won’t even earn the costs of writing and publishing them. Deeper dive into their data implies that only 0.04% (yes, that’s four out of a thousand) of all Amazon authors makes enough to support themself (not their family) and only if they don’t live in a big city or metropolitan area.
It’s obvious that whatever you spend to create your book (even the time you spend writing) will probably never get paid back. Unless a) it costs you nothing but your donated sweat equity, and b) you go ahead and make a business out of it.
The rest of this article addresses doing it for only sweat equity and the minimal necessary for this. (Elsewhere on this site, you can find various articles about how to make a business out of your content.) And learning how to write and market can also be free – check out becomingawriter.thinkific.com
The Fastest and Most Economical Way I’ve Found
When I worked this up and evolved it, these were the simple steps I used:
- Look for the lowest common denominator.
- Narrow down to those who don’t cost you upfront (and the least afterwards)
- Line these up by obvious sequence
- Publish wide instead of exclusive.
Here’s the simple findings (I’ll tell you the ones you can ignore later, even though they are widely ballyhooed.)
Epub is the most commonly accepted format, and then PDF. Since PDF isn’t widely read on most e-readers, we’ll skip that (with exceptions below.)
0. Most of these places require the same meta-data, and so I use Calibre (free download) to store these. Calibre also will create an epub for you – not fancy, but it’s built in editor helps you fix stuff so it will be accepted anywhere. Storing everything in a single interface on your computer saves you time. (Those last two are bennies – or “free benefits”.)
00. Have your own site. I’d recommend a Blogger blog to start with, as it’s not only free, but also dependable – like 16+ years-worth. And unlike other free hosting, they allow you to sell your books online. I’ve covered this elsewhere, but your own site gives you credibility as an author and a way people can keep up to date on your progress, as well as new releases.
1. Draft2Digital.com (D2D) is the simplest way to produce your book. They have a wide variety of documents they’ll accept. Suggested here is to submit .doc or .docx or LibreOffice (OpenOffice) files. Then they’ll convert it with their good-looking templates into a nice epub for you. And also generate the .mobi and .pdf files as well. (Even 10% previews…) Costs you 10% of sales – and has other (free) promotional actions you can involve yourself in through Kobo and Itunes.
This gives you epub, mobi, and PDF files for uploading anywhere.
Bennies – They’ll also add and auto-update (with links) your other books published through them.
2. After you’ve used D2D to publish everywhere, then push your D2D ebook to Amazon KDP. Reason for this is that KDP won’t let D2D do pre-orders. Amazon only publishes 90 days out, but will promote your book an extra 90 days beyond the initial 30 days. As covered below, KDP will become 50% of your online income when you publish wide (anecdotal reports, and coincides with my own results.)
Note: you’ll have to edit the D2D links out of an ebook version for Amazon pre-orders. You can save an additional version from D2D to your Calibre folder on your computer and then use Calibre to edit those out.
Warning: Do not accept their offer to publish through KDP Print. See the next step. And below, where I cover why you want to stay out of any and all exclusive offers, especially from Amazon.
Bennies: Gives you street cred, and allows you to tweak that book in the Amazon Walled Garden.
3. Lulu – paperback. If your book is over 32 pages, you can publish a paperback through Lulu. You want to get your book into Amazon and Ingrams through their extended distribution, where you’ll pay for a proof copy (a few bucks each.) Submit your D2D PDF that they generate for you after you publish the ebook. Costs you 10% of sales.
TIP: two times a month, Lulu gives free shipping. Wait a week or two for one of these offers, and then order them.
TIP: Set your discount for 50% and you’ll undercut Amazon, and still provide it to your readers with a higher royalty than Amazon will give you. That cost-savings should cover their shipping costs.
Contrary to many false reports about Lulu, if you submit your own documents, there is no upfront cost to using Lulu. And you have complete control over your book and revising it at any time – for only the cost of another proof.
Note: Paperbacks (and audiobooks – see below) on Amazon make your book look likes a good offer, and give it respectability.
4. Lulu-epub. But only to Lulu. I took this out originally as Lulu has fallen behind in their ebook aggregator area. D2D is faster and better. BUT – to get into some foreign aggregators, you need to have an ISBN, which you can get free from Lulu. Yes, this takes a few minutes more, and their interface is a bit clunky, but saves you the ISBN costs.
5. Your own site. I use Gumroad.com, as this is the lowest cost way to add your book to any site (even a free Blogger.com blog) They cover the hosting and give you the highest percentage in return (90%) Compare to KDP where a 99-cent book gives you back only 34 cents – charge one cent more on Gumroad and get back 90 cents.
Your ebook will be on pre-order 90 days out, but on your own site they can buy it today and download instantly if they don’t want to wait.
6. Publish Drive (PubD). This is an aggregator out of Hungary that can get your book into other wholesalers in UK (Gardners), China (DangDang), and the Philippines (e-central.com). You’ll need to set up a filter to automatically de-select outlets you’ve already published on D2D. They pull most of the meta-data out of the ebook that D2D produces for you. Costs you 10% of sales. Their simple filter and better interface puts them ahead of Streetlib – except for public domain books.
7. StreetLib (SL). This is an another aggregator, but out of Italy. The tend to catch all the other major wholesalers and outlets that PubD and D2D don’t go to. You’ll have to manually de-select the outlets you don’t want to duplicate from PubD and D2D. (These are changing regularly, so the best thing is to scrape into text files and spreadsheet where these three aggregators service, then note the duplicates.) Note: I’ve never been able to get their bulk uploader to work well. You can upload and then save to draft, then come back with your Calibre open to copy/paste the data in and publish.
Note: Use the Amazon version of your epub or wait for the PubD version to clear – as SL won’t accept the D2D links inside. PubD simply takes the links out and leaves the text.
8. Update Calibre data, update books2read. When Amazon gives you their ASIN, you put it in books2read for people to get redirected ot your Amazon version (and even get an Amazon commission if you set it up there.) Also update it inside Calibre (their “IDs” dialog box) for reference.
I update Calbre with all links earlier in order to have all this links in one spot. Put them into their “Comments” dialog box along with your description. Copy the links from books2read.com that D2D gives you, your Lulu paperback link, your Gumroad link, and the link to the book sales page on your own site.
Who Didn’t Make the Cut and Why
Ingram Spark: Costs to submit each book and costs for every update. Their ebook aggregation is an add-on, like Lulu’s and is similarly buggy.
Bookbaby, etc. – all those aggregators you don’t see here. They cost upfront and have higher than 10% fees. Amazon itself only makes it with their 30% fee (and a tiny pricing window for that much) because they have some 70-80% of the US ebook market (no, they don’t publish your book anywhere else.)
Smashwords. I love and respect them for all they’ve done to pioneer self-publishing. But I hate their Meatgrinder. They have a great internal market and that alone (only submitting your PubD or Amazon-friendly epub version) might be worth it.
After that, it’s all promotion so people can find your site. This is very tricky, as people want you to pay through the nose for this – and the old phrase is true: “A fool and their money are soon parted.”
How to Promote Once You’ve Published (also for free)
Once you have your book published on Amazon, then start giving it away for free everywhere you can. At least the previews, but the reasoning is to build audience.
9. Medium. Break your book up into 2000 word chunks and pre-schedule these over several days. The first installment is free, the rest are behind their paywall. Link to your books2read address so people can buy the whole book – as well as your own site. Do this before the chapter(s) excerpt, and after. Also link to the preceding and following book excerpts on Medium. (If this is the first excerpt, encourage them to visit your Medium author page to find other books.)
10. Wattpad. Using your breakdown on Medium, then set up separate posts. Again, put your links in the forward and following text. They do not allow pre-scheduling, so you probably just dump these in there in sequence, linking back to the earlier and first part in the series. You can come back and edit these to include the following Wattpad series-post, just like Medium. But your choice will be to either dump everything in one day, or come back to publish over several days. It’s designed for authors to publish as they go, but having your buy link out there and the whole book proofed is probably worth the data-dump approach.
11. Mailing list. You want subscribers to promote your new releases for you. Mailerlite is the lowest cost mailing service that I’ve found over all (and free to start off) with better services on their free level. Instafreebie will get you free subscribers for giving away your book. The trick is to only IF’s Free Plan and make sure you have an opt-in link in every book, preferably front and back. Those people who opt in will be readers, not freebie-seekers. Takes much longer, but the long haul says that these are the ones who will be easier to convert into die-hard fans. Of course, this also means monthly or bi-weekly mailings to your list, even if you only have a couple of people on it to begin with.
(Warning: IF’s paid plan gets you hooked into “subscriber addiction” where you become part of the IF machine to generate claims. Been there, done that.)
12. Start a podcast – this is still under testing. You can record on your smartphone to start with, and use seqnenceAudacity to edit your audio. But eventually you’ll want to get a decent inexpensive mic (like the Blue Snowball.) There is a bit of a learning curve to this. Just read your marketing description out of Caliber (that “comments” box mentioned above) and post it with every published book. You can use Archives.org as a podcast host, and then plug that into Blogger for an RSS feed to submit to iTunes, Stitcher, GooglePlay and the rest. When you set up for podcasting, you also set up to record your own audio books. (See How to Get Started Podcasting here and How to Setup Audiobook Recording at Home here.)
13. Add audiobook recording to your proofing line-up. I’ve recommended this for some time, but have been testing a stripped down book-publishing line and so dropped this out. The essential point would be to read your book aloud in order to edit any rough phrasing as a proof. Then take that recording and edit it into an audio book. (Actually, non-fiction and business books can be created backwards by speaking your book from notes or presentation slides, then editing the audio and video out of these – see this post.)
Since you’ve published your book through Draft2Digital, then simply use their link to Findaway.com to publish your audiobook everywhere. Again, for free.
What Didn’t Make the Cut and Why
Any social media. Because by themselves they don’t sell books. Tim Grahl lays this out in detail. They don’t even result in books claiming your book as a free download. No kidding. If the platform is free, you are the product. Yes, you can pay to run Facebook Ads and get people to find and buy your book. That is Facebook’s business plan – and it involved ripping off people’s private data to narrowly target them. YouTube isn’t much better. The book outlets and aggregators all charge to have your book on their platform. See the difference? Free means you watch the ads that advertisers pay for and you are expected to buy those products.
Ignoring social media is a great way to avoid depression and save time for far more valuable stuff, like writing.
Reviews. This is Amazon’s problem child. No place else has any real push to get reviews, and by studies, reviews don’t matter anywhere near as much as a good cover and good marketing hook. People who like reading your book will want to get more books by you. Besides, anyone you ask or buy to give you reviews somehow violates Amazon’s TOS. And your friends and family and Facebook followers are the first to have their reviews nixed. Figure that those 250 people who buy your books won’t be able to post their reviews for you. Any book that is decent will get reviews through Amazon’s system if they find out about your book otherwise. Because Amazon only really works as well as you drive traffic to it. (I cover this point below and also see Chris Fox’ book.)
Goodreads – because its more social than anything else, and its owned by Amazon. Medium and Wattpad will give you greater exposure than any amount of books you giveaway on Goodreads. You don’t need reviews, so why pay to give your books away?
LibraryThing – About a month after you get your books into expanded distribution on Lulu, they’ll start showing up in big databases where they can be scanned into LibraryThing. Meaning – only the print versions. And then librarians will find your book. Otherwise, you can pay to giveaway your books for free, as above. Sure, save up your Lulu proof copies and do a monthly scanning to see which ones have shown up. Again, more social than useful.
ACX – owned by Amazon and outmoded by Findaway. Ignore.
Publish Wide Instead of Exclusive
Publishing exclusively on Amazon means they own you. And your book income can disappear at any moment.
While Amazon may grab 70-80% of the U.S. market, this equates to just 50% of the International market.
Anecdotally, if you publish wide, Amazon reportedly winds up being 50% of your income. And this has worked out that way for my ebook and print sales. If you publish only to Amazon, you are missing out of 20-30% of your income from everywhere else.
Steve Scott (affiliate marketer turned Amazon “bestselling author”) said something like this: “Amazon works as well as you drive traffic to it.” And that is true of all online platforms. You’re going to have to run ads to make Amazon work decently, as far as I’ve been able to figure out. There are other ways to promote on Kobo and iTunes. Amazon itself has ads on its site (and typically, they are not user-friendly.)
Once you grasp that concept, then you can work this backwards to leverage your income. That 50% on Amazon you can boost with ads and getting your ebook into additional categories. The other 50% will need other promotion. Like Medium and Wattpad sending potential buyers to books2read links so they pick their preferred book outlet – no, its not always Amazon. (Like last week’s sales for my books were about 80% from Barnes and Noble. One week it was 50% from Gumroad. It varies. ) The point is that I give people choice.
And if Amazon ever dumps me as an author, I have only lost 50% of my income, not 100%.
Yes, that applies to printed books. I had one paperback book that was selling great guns as a parody – for a couple of weeks. Then Amazon took it down from Createspace. But it still sells regularly today in other places where they didn’t have a problem with it. See? So the solution is to not have Amazon publish your paperbacks, either. (Besides, Lulu will also publish your hardbacks for no more cost than the proof – something Amazon can’t/won’t.)
So – That Will Get You Started Self-Publishing For Free
And all the rest of the profits beyond that are due to your own goal achievement and persistence in churning out a huge backlist of books. But that is another subject, and other articles.
Best of luck to all of us.
PS. If you like this, or got something out of it, leave a comment below.
Also published on Medium.