What happens when you have a book you want to share with the world, but you don't have the money (or so you think) to get it out into the world? Everyone doesn’t have a big budget (or even a moderate one) to self-publish a book, so finding the cheapest way to publish a book is on many authors' minds.
I’ve got great news for you! It is absolutely possible to publish a book on the cheap, and that’s what I’ll show you how to do in this article.
In a previous article, we looked at some typical self-publishing costs, such as what to expect to pay for a professionally designed and edited book in 2024 based on industry standards. So rather than discuss specific numbers this time around – I'll give you high, mid-range, and cheaper options for every phase of the book-writing process.
In this article, we’ll strip away all the bells and whistles, and I’ll show you how to design and publish a quality book for the cheapest price. I’ll show you where it makes sense to cut costs and where you need to spend a limited budget wisely.
We'll discuss the cheapest way to publish a book – broken down by phase:
If self-publishing, I always recommend that authors place themselves in the role of the publisher and hire talent responsibly. This means investing in the best designers and editors you can afford to get the best end product possible.
When you’re working with a very small budget, you don’t have the flexibility to invest in every area of the process. Below, I’ve listed each step of the book journey from writing to publishing and included the least expensive options for each. I’ve also shared which ones you should invest in if you can. Finally, I’ve added some additional areas to consider as your author business grows.
Writing your manuscript
High: Hiring a professional ghostwriter
Mid-range: Writing it yourself with support from a book coach.
Low: Writing it yourself with no support or a low-cost course to help keep you on track.
Do this yourself for free. Ghostwriters are expensive, so writing the book yourself will save you money.
Writing it yourself can take a good chunk of time when you put a lot of thought into it; however, writing efficiently is possible with the right tools.
In fact, with the tools, processes, and templates that we offer, most of our authors are shocked at how quickly they can write their rough draft – some in as little as 30 days. Seriously! You can also opt to use dictation software for writing a book. It lets you “speak” your book and get a fully-written, ready-to-edit version almost immediately after.
High: Hiring multiple professional editors for each type of editing.
Mid-range: Doing a strong self-edit, leveraging AI and other tools, and selectively hiring editors at your price range.
Low: Self-editing, using free trials and versions of tools (not recommended).
There are many types of book editing and it's possible to forgo certain types of editing to save a bit of money. But there's no denying that great editing can make your book shine. Meanwhile, poor editing or no editing can make even the best stories tank. So, if you have money to invest in your project, editing is one of the areas you’ll want to focus on.
If you’re a decent writer, then you can get away with only hiring a proofreader (skipping the other recommended editing) before your book goes to print. A strong proofreader can work with your manuscript and catch any errors you may have missed.
Unlike a developmental or line editor who can help with style, flow, and consistency, a proofreader’s job is not to change your manuscript but to ensure its current form is polished. Using grammar software is a cheaper route than hiring a professional proofreader. But if you only use software, consider paying for the shorter premium subscriptions (e.g. one month or three months). You can go with the free versions, but the support is limited, so you won’t get the best suggestions.
High: Hiring a professional formatter.
Mid-range: Using a low-cost, paid tool to get a great book format.
Low: Using a free book formatting template, tool trial, or program.
One of the cheapest ways to publish a book is to save some money with the formatting. While you want to make sure it's professional and doesn't alter the reader's experience, there are a plethora of cost-effective software options like Atticus, Vellum, and Scrivener that give you options for creating professionally formatted book interiors. The costs range from $6/mo up to one-time purchases of $249.
Finally, you can upload your Google or Word document directly into an aggregator platform like Draft2Digital, IngramSpark, or Kobo Writing Life and let their platform do the work for you before your book is published.
Most books are formatted similarly. Unless you have a children's book with lots of images or a “picture” book like photography, art, or cookbook with special formatting requirements, you'll get similar results whether you spend a lot of money or the bare minimum.
High: Doing custom photography or hiring a top-tier book cover designer who specializes in your genre.
Mid-range: Hiring a more general book cover designer or working with a program that includes professional design.
Low: Using a pre-made cover or designing your own cover with tools like Canva, AI, or Adobe (not recommended).
Like editing, cover design is one of those critical parts of your book that you don’t want to skimp on.
The cover introduces your book or novel and helps stand out to your ideal reader on an Amazon category page or physical bookshelf. So you want to make sure it’s professional, engaging, and genre-specific.
The best route for book design is to hire a professional book designer who specializes in your genre and has a large portfolio with other author recommendations. But that can get expensive. There are some more inexpensive book cover designers who are generalists – or you can join a program or online writing community to source a great designer within your budget.
Your next best option is to use a pre-made cover. You can find them for as low as $75. Just make sure you can make enough customizations so it doesn’t look like a copy of someone else’s.
If you want to live dangerously or have exceptional design skills yourself, you can try to create the cover yourself using free, AI tools, or low-priced software like Canva, GoDaddy Studio, Gimp, or Inkscape.
Remember that a book cover needs to appeal to your ideal audience. It’s not the time to DIY unless you have serious skills. Take the time to study popular covers in your book’s genre and then decide whether you want to hire, buy pre-made, or create the cover yourself.
Related: The Best Book Cover Design Software
**This isn't a high expense whether you do it with a company or yourself – but it is required.
If you are going to sell your book, in a store or online, your book must have a unique identifier like an ISBN-13 or AISN (Amazon Standard Identification Number). This number contains important book details like the publisher information, title, and country.
You can get a free ISBN with IngramSpark and AISN through Amazon. Keep in mind that when you receive a free unique identifier, it will be in the name of the company that owns the number, not yours.
If you want your own ISBN (recommended), you’ll need to purchase one.
Related: How to Get An ISBN Number
Printing and distribution
High: Signing with a traditional publisher who will handle your printing and distribution.
Mid-range: Working with a company that sets up your international distribution and assists with your POD and eBook setup.
Low: Using POD or only publishing an eBook.
Whether you pay for book printing upfront or on the back end, it will cost you.
Looking for the cheapest way to publish a physical book? Offset printing offers the lowest per-book fees, but you’ll have to order a large number (at least 500) to benefit from the savings. And then you'll have to store your inventory.
A better way to limit out-of-pocket costs is by using POD (print-on-demand) where the printing fee is taken out as each book is ordered. You’ll pay more per book, but it’s a better deal in the long run if it keeps you from having too many books to store that you can't sell later.
Lastly, you can opt only to publish an eBook format. For many nonfiction authors, this is a great option that still helps them reach their goals. But most people do want to have physical copies of their books.
Distribution is standard across the board. Distribution platforms will give you a royalty on each book sale. Depending on whether your book is digital or print that royalty can change. You can expect between 30%-70% royalties, so shop around and look for the platform that offers the best rate and distribution that works for you.
Related: Book Printing Services
High: Working with a traditional publisher, hiring an agency, or hiring professionals for different book marketing services.
Mid-range: Selectively hiring some freelancers or professionals, or working with a company that offers a mix of high-impact, done-for-option, and consulting support or templates for other marketing tasks.
Low: Doing all the marketing and promotions yourself (not recommended).
Once your book is published, you want to get it in front of as many readers as possible. Whether you decide to DIY your book marketing or enlist the help of professionals, we don't recommend skimping on this step. The success of your book is often directly proportionate to the success of your marketing.
Some of the things you need to think about when promoting your book include:
- A list of early supporters who will buy, review, and/or post about your book the week it launches
- Amazon pre-orders
- A book launch party or event
- Optimized Amazon listings
- PR, such as featured articles
- Speaking engagements, such as podcasts, radio interviews, keynote speaking, and even getting Ted Talks
- Social media marketing
- Amazon ads
- Social media ads
- Your author website
- Creating an email list of current and future readers
- And more…
We have articles on nearly every one of the above topics – and we help our authors with these tasks as a part of our author programs. But since this article is about helping you learn about the cheapest way to publish a book—and presumably market it—I'll mention here that one of the most cost-effective ways to promote your book is to share it on book promotion sites.
Here’s a short list of some with prices to list:
- LitNuts – FREE
- BargainBooksy $30
- BookDealio $70
- BookDoggy $18
- Hellobooks $25
- MyBookCave $11
- The Fussy Librarian $11
- BookBub (See pricing)
- FreeBooksy $65
- BuckBooks $29/$100
- BookSends $40/$75
- BookRunes $25
The list of tools, websites, and options provided in this article is not exhaustive; however, each one supplied is author-tested and selected based on proven results.
My advice? Don’t limit yourself to this list. Do a browser search, go to company websites, read reviews, book a free call to talk to someone, and ask questions until you find the best fit.
As mentioned in the beginning, it's okay to consider doing everything yourself, but it is not recommended; however, if it’s the only way that you can get your book out to your readers, then go for it! In the meantime, continue learning as much as possible about the book publishing process and the products and services available to help you create a competitive book in the marketplace.
Finding the cheapest way to publish your book will help you understand that it IS POSSIBLE at any budget – and will give you a good place from which to build your book publishing strategy.
The good news is that a small budget now can turn into a larger budget later. If so, circle back and update your cover or have your book professionally edited and release a revised edition. Be honest with your readers, invest what you can, and continue to improve the process.