When you're a writer who longs to share your stories with readers, there are few things better than seeing your novel in print.
That said, the road to becoming a published author is riddled with obstacles that can seem daunting. This is especially true when you don't have loads of money to spend on editors, graphic designers, book formatters, and marketing/advertising.
So, if you're on a strict budget and you want to become a self-published author, how can you navigate the challenges and achieve your publishing goals?
Listed below are seven basic steps that may help.
Write the first draft of your novel without criticism or excessive editing
When it comes to writing the first draft of your novel, the goal is to get it all down on paper.
Sometimes we may think that the goal is to write a nearly perfect book on the first try.
That's what I used to think. But I was so wrong!
Trying to perfect the first draft can lead to excessive editing, second-guessing our gut intuitions about the novel's plot, and basically wasting time that could be used completing the book.
So, the thing to keep in mind is that the first draft of your novel does not need to be perfect, it only needs to be completed. Just write the book!
After writing the second draft, reach out to A TON of critique partners
Here's the part where sticking to a budget comes into play.
After writing the second draft of your novel, if you have the money, it's a great idea to hire an editor to comb through your novel and point out plot holes, grammar errors, as well as adjustments that can be made to character development and world building.
But if you don't have the funds to spend on an editor, the next best thing is to join several Writing Critique Groups on Facebook and request in-depth critiques from at least five of your fellow writers in these groups.
Be honest, and let your colleagues know that you can't afford an editor and you need some assistance in getting your manuscript in shape. Many writers will be empathetic and kind enough to take your request seriously and provide you with an extensive critique.
To be kind in return, you might want to offer to critique their manuscripts- that's what I've done in the past and it's helped to establish years-long relationships with a number of amazing authors!
So, the point here is to find at least five Critique Partners and politely request that they edit your manuscript as thoroughly as they can.
Begin posting daily (or weekly) updates about your writing journey on social media
At this point, it's time to begin marketing/editing your novel, even though it is still a work-in-progress!
Instead of paying for commercials or hiring a marketing/advertising team to help you get the word out about your novel, you can begin advertising it right now by leveraging free social media platforms.
Every day (or every week if you're not all that crazy about social media), post some sort of update about the chapter you're editing or about why you've embarked on this writing journey, or about the challenges and joys you're encountering during your writing process.
These updates can be posted on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok. Fortunately, each of these social media platforms have amazing writing communities! So, you may want to use that hashtag (#writingcommunity) on each post to get the attention of fellow writers.
Once other writers see your posts and feel a connection with you, they may reach out to commiserate with and encourage you during your journey. And, because writers also LOVE to read, it's likely that once your novel is published, they'll purchase it because they feel like they know you!
So, advertise by building authentic connections with writers and potential readers on social media.
And start doing this before your novel is even completed!
After editing your manuscript based on notes from Critique Partners, seek out Beta Readers
This is a step I often skip, and it's exactly why many of my novels have spelling errors. So, don't be like me and please, please, please follow this advice!
To make sure you haven't missed any grammar/spelling mistakes and major plot holes, after you've re-edited your novel based on notes from your many Critique Partners, it's time to hand your manuscript over to Beta Readers for yet another critique.
Now, this will not be an in-depth critique, because Beta Readers are not typically experienced writers- they are people who love to read. Their job is to read your manuscript and let you know what they liked and didn't like about it.
One of the best places to find Beta Readers is in Facebook Groups. Just go to "search" and type in 'Beta Readers,' and you should see a list of Beta Reader groups to choose from.
After joining a few groups, it may be a good idea to find three to five Beta Readers for your book, and once you get their critiques back about your book, make adjustments to your novel as you see fit.
Look for cover art on sites like Pixabay and request feedback from fellow writers
Once your manuscript is complete, the next step would be to hire a graphic designer/illustrator to create your book's cover art.
But, if you're like me and you don't have the money for that at the moment, your next best bet is to go to sites that have royalty free art that anyone can use for anything without getting sued and choose a picture for your book cover.
Some of these sites are:
After finding a picture that you like, use either Photoshop or a free tool like Microsoft Paint to add the title and author's name (your name!) to the image so that it looks like a proper book cover. (Remember to save your image as a JPEG.)
If you're like me and you don't have access to Microsoft tools on your personal laptop or device, a public library typically has what you need.
Your next step is to return to your Writing Groups on Facebook and share a picture of the image you've created and ask for feedback.
It's likely that the image won't be perfect on your first try. That's totally fine, because that's what feedback is for!
So, take the suggestions you're offered and work to make the image as appealing as possible.
Use Microsoft Word to format your novel so that it meets up with Amazon's publishing standards
Now that your novel is nearly ready to meet the public, you have to make sure it's formatted in a way that will allow Amazon to publish it as an eBook and/or hard copy via the company's print-on-demand option.
One of the easiest ways to achieve this is to copy your manuscript into Microsoft Word and then follow Amazon's formatting instructions, which can be found at the links below.
Click here for Amazon's eBook formatting instructions
Click here for Amazon's formatting instructions for physical books
To be honest, this is one of the most difficult steps for me and it typically takes about four hours for me to format manuscripts for both the eBook and physical copy versions. I've found that the eBook is a bit easier to format than the physical copy version.
That said, you can do it! Just set aside plenty of time and follow Amazon's instructions as closely as possible. It's also helpful to refer to YouTube videos created by other authors who've successfully formatted their novels.
Once your novel is published, hold a book signing
Once your novel is published, ask a local bakery, coffee shop, or small book store if you can hold a brief book signing on their premises.
You will need to purchase some of your books so that you can sell them at the book signing. But, you don't have to break the bank to do this.
It may be helpful to purchase at least 15 copies of your book and then create several signs (by "signs" I mean regular, inexpensive printer paper) with QR codes that will lead people to your book on Amazon, where they can purchase it on their phones.
This way, you don't need very many books on hand, you just need to encourage people to scan the QR code with their phone and purchase your book that way.
It may be helpful to also have other things on your table to make readers feel appreciated. You can go to a Dollar Store and purchase mints, small notebooks that people can take for free, or even greeting cards that you can sign with personalized messages and give to readers who purchase your books using the QR code.
This book signing will take some planning and it will possibly cost about $200 to set up, including the cost of purchasing your books, a folding table, a tablecloth, printing out signs with QR codes, and purchasing trinkets to give out for free.
That said, if 15-20 people purchase your book, you just may rack up even more than $200 by the end of the book signing.
To ensure as much success as possible, it would be a good idea to advertise the book signing on social media in the two weeks leading up to the event.
On the day of, you can even live stream the event on Facebook or YouTube to turn it into a hybrid virtual event for those who can't attend in person. These individuals can still participate by posting a quick "Hello" and purchasing your books online.
Those are a few tips that have helped me while self-publishing on a strict budget.
If you have any other suggestions, they are more than welcome! So, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below!
Thanks so much for stopping by to read my ramblings!