Publishing Advice

self publishing on a budget

3 Clever Tips for Self-Publishing on a Budget

Tself publishing on a budgethinking about self-publishing but worried about the cost?

Very few of us have the resources to compete with the big five publishers. Even if we aim to publish the highest quality book possible, we must watch our spending very carefully.

Publishing budgets vary wildly. I've heard some authors bragging that they spent nothing on their books - which frankly makes me regard their books a bit dubiously. I've seen beautiful, well-edited indie books published for between $1,000 and $3,000. And of course, I've seen jaw-droppingly gorgeous books produced for many times that amount.

Do you want to limit how much money you spend on self-publishing your book?

Here are 3 clever tips for self-publishing on a budget:

1. Use free eBook formatting software. If your book has already been professionally edited and you are not looking for custom design, you can use free tools to create high-quality book interiors. Personally, I've been very impressed with the Reedsy Book Editor. I also am a big fan of Vellum - which isn't free, but allows you to create lovely books without a designer.

2. Scrappy cover design. A poorly-designed cover will repel readers. A custom cover by a professional designer can cost upwards of $800. Before you spend the big bucks, check out alternative cover sources. Use Fiverr for $5 prototypes. Contact artists directly on Deviant Art, Renderosity or Epilogue to request custom art or use of work already created. Use a service like 99Designs to run a cover design contest for $299.

3. Skill share. First, sort everything that needs to be done into three categories - things you can do yourself (at a professional level), things you need to pay someone else to do, and things you can barter with friends. Most of the writers I know have other professional skills. For example, you may be a top artist and perfectly capable of designing your own cover, while a friend of yours may be an eagle-eyed editor. Work together! Trade a cover design for a copy edit.

Would you like more information on how to get all your editing, formatting and design done on a tight budget? Sign up for my online class How to Self-Publish Your First Book. You'll gain a wealth of resources for your indie publishing projects - plus tools to help you set and manage your budget.

Do you know any other great sources for budget-minded authors? Hit reply and let me know! I'd love to share them with my students.


Why publish a book?


Did you know that a New York Times survey found that 81% of Americans either plan to write a book or have already done so?

You may be painfully aware that writing a book and publishing a book are two very different accomplishments.

Writing provides great personal satisfaction. However, it’s when we share our stories with others that our work takes on a new life.

The past few weeks, I interviewed 43 writers aspiring to publish their first books. When asked why they were motivated to take the big leap into publishing, they gave brilliant wonderful answers.

Do any of these sound like you?

  • I just want to show myself I can do it. Writing and publishing a book has been on my bucket list for decades.
  • I love the idea of even a few people reading my stories and feeling a connection. 
  • Maybe I won’t become a millionaire, but my book will establish my authority in my field and attract new clients.
  • I really want to walk into a bookstore and see my book on the shelf! 
  • I wrote my memoir to tell the truth about my struggles. If I don’t publish it, there’s no way I can help other women going through similar experiences. 
  • My story is good! I know there are people out there who will love it. 

Tim Cahill, founding editor of Outside magazine had this to say:

  • Publishing your work is important. Even if you are giving a piece to some smaller publication for free, you will learn something about your writing. The editor will say something, friends will mention it.

Or perhaps you agree with Sylvia Plath who remarked:

  • Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.

Ready to realize your goal? Now’s the time to clear out your desk drawers (or computer folders) and get your work out into the world where it belongs!

I invite you to join my online course How to Self-Publish Your First Book. This course is specifically designed for those of you that need a lot of basic help to navigate the indie publishing world.

The publishing process doesn’t need to overwhelm you. Gain a clear understanding of what it takes to be an indie author. Confidently advance your project from rough manuscript to published book. Experience the satisfaction of holding your finished book in your hands and the joy of hearing from your first readers.

Through my work with, at the University of Washington and as a publisher, I’ve witnessed first-hand the thrilling moment when writers become authors. Man, that’s powerful stuff — the tasty fruit of dreams, effort and heartfelt aspirations. I would be so honored to work with you in my class and get to be a part of your transformation from “aspiring author” to “author.”

To reward you for bravely claiming your intention to publish, you’ll save $150 when you sign up right now. 

IMPORTANT: This weekend preview deal ends Sunday night. 

>> Click here to claim your spot in the self-publishing class now.


Why publish a book?

I would love to hear your reasons. Leave a comment and let me know!

product imageHow to Self-Publish Your First Book

Learn exactly what you need to do in order to take your work from rough manuscript to published book. Online course delivered over 4 weeks. Watch the recorded sessions on your own and join the live sessions for direct help.

Click here for How to Publish Your First Book course info.

Sample video lesson

Why authors should focus on something other than book sales

Forget book sales?

Yep. Many extraordinarily successful authors use another goal to maintain career longevity.

Want to learn the big secret? Watch the video below to learn how achieve your writerly dreams by attracting true fans rather than chasing after book sales.

Sample video lesson

This lesson comes from my course Small Town Writer, Big World Audience. You can join the class and watch more lessons here. Enjoy the free class and good luck on your platform building endeavors!

P.S. Watch your inbox in the next few days for an invite to a free workshop for folks looking to set up their first marketing funnel. Watching the lesson above about true fans will give you the background you need to get the most out of the marketing funnel workshop. Not on my email list? Craziness. You should sign up so you don't miss out on all the freebies. Sign up now and I'll send you my Freebie Cheat Sheet with 33 giveaway ideas for authors.

freebie email banner

33 Giveaway Ideas for Authors


freebie email banner

Want to know the best way to entice someone to join your email list? Offer a high-value, relentlessly helpful or entertaining freebie. (Also called lead magnets.)

These giveaways provide excellent opportunities to nurture your relationship with your audience and move people down the path from mere online acquaintance to true fan. Make things easy on yourself with digital freebies that don’t cost a thing and may be instantly delivered through tools such as Mailchimp or LeadPages.

Fiction authors in particular may struggle with coming up with things they may offer for free. Even if you don't publish instructional material, you can offer enticing giveaways such as audiobook samples, book club activities or even collections of journal prompts to help get other people writing.

If you write non-fiction, there's a plethora of perfectly pleasing perks you may publish. People seem to really love checklists and how-to guides - anything that makes it easy for them to do whatever it is they're trying to do!

I've listed 33 giveaway ideas for authors on this free download. I also included tips on getting your freebies out into the world and what tech tools you may use to collect email address.

Want help figuring out how to use these freebies to entice new readers to sign up for your email list? This is exactly what I teach in Small Town Writer, Big World Audience. >> Check out the class.

Checklist: How do you know if your book is ready to publish?

Uncertain if you book is ready to be released into the wild? You want to publish your best book possible. It can be challenging to know if your manuscript has any weak areas, or if it's been properly edited.

If doesn't matter whether you intend to self-publish, or send your manuscript off to agents and publishers. Taking the time to work through these stages drastically improves your manuscript and your ability to realize your publishing goals.

While not every book goes through each of these steps (or needs to), each action adds value and refines the final book you will offer up to readers. While it's easy to make big changes in the development stage, these changes become more and more emotionally difficult later on. Here's a quick manuscript editing checklist to help guide you.

Stage one: Development 

  1. Outline plot points.
  2. Workshop with peers.
  3. Revise, cut and expand on authorly authority.
  4. Share with “beta” or “review” readers.
  5. Revise and rewrite based on input.

Stage two: Editing

  1. Self-edit for basic grammar and spelling errors.
  2. Read aloud to catch clarity issues.
  3. Developmental edit (pro) - Chapter-level. Focuses on story development, character, pacing, etc.
  4. Copyedit (pro) - Sentence and paragraph level. Focuses on grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other mechanics of style.
  5. Consistency in tone and style. Clarity.
  6. Manuscript review (pro) - Review of entire manuscript with notes provided. May focus on content, improvements and marketability.

Stage three: Final Review

  1. Run spell check and read through out loud once more. (Not, not kidding about spell check!)
  2. Double check table of contents, chapter titles and section headings.
  3. Final proofread (pro) - Focus on grammar, spelling and basic formatting.
course evaluators

Call for self-publishing course evaluators

Thinking about self-publishing your book?

I'm opening my popular self-publishing course in September. Since it's been over a year since I've offered this class, I must update the content to include the information independent authors need right now. The publishing world moves fast! So, for 48 hours only, I'm opening up the course for pre-registration to writers willing to act as course evaluators.

As a course evaluator, you'll receive access to the entire course at a drastically reduced rate. In return, you'll share your current self-publishing challenges and needs with me. Your input will help me update the course.

Why take the self-publishing course?

This webinar series will walk you step-by-step through the self-publishing process. If you would like to self-publish, but are overwhelmed with the process or simply don’t know where to start, this class is perfect for you. Even if you have no publishing experience and little technical ability, you’ll be able to publish a professional quality book and avoid the errors that plague so many un-supported indie authors.

By the end of the 4 week program, you will know:

  • Which platform works best for your publishing goals
  • How to publish on Kindle, Google Play and other ebook platforms
  • How to publish your book as a paperback or hardcover
  • How to prepare your manuscript and find an editor
  • What tools to use for formatting your ebook and print interior
  • Where to find excellent graphics for your cover
  • Step-by-step how to market your book launch and get your first reviewers

You can view a course syllabus here. (Subject to change based on evaluator input!) 

What does a course evaluator do?

The responsibilities aren't difficult, just incredibly valuable. (Hence the extremely reduced class price.) As a course evaluator, you would promise to:

  1. Spend 15 minutes on the phone with me to discuss your self-publishing challenges.
  2. Complete a questionnaire about your self-publishing goals and needs.
  3. Complete a review of the course when finished with the modules.

In return, you get access to the full course for $37. That's $260 off the retail price of $297.

You will not be able to register for this course at a lower price. Once we hit midnight tomorrow, this opportunity is gone for good.

Course evaluator registration will only be open for 48 hours. 
>> Register now.

I GREATLY appreciate the input you have. By signing up to be a course evaluator, you're helping me understand the challenges independent authors and writers face now.

Plus, you'll be able to access my well-reviewed and extensive self-publishing course for a fraction of the price offered to the general public. Win-win!

Click here to learn more about the course and registering as an evaluator.

Thanks for taking a look!

pay for ads thumb

Is it worth it to pay for book advertising?

Book advertising video

Click to play the video lesson about book advertising.

Can you pay people to notice your books?

Yes, to some extent. Book advertising can boost visibility and drive up sales. However, not all advertising is equal. It is very easy to spend more money on ads than you get in book revenue.

Here are three things to consider before you pay for advertising:

1. Figure out how much you're willing to pay for each sale. (Max cost per conversion)

You can figure this out by dividing the total amount spent on the ad by the total sales received.

total spent on ad / number of sales = cost per conversion

Let’s say you are traditionally published and you make about $2 per sale. You know if you spend $100 on ads, they need to result in at least 50 sales before you even break even.

Breaking even is not always a bad result for an ad. You won’t make any money, but you may increase your book’s visibility and earn more reviews. Plus, if you have a good offer in the back of your book that brings people to your site and entices them to join your email list, you have the opportunity to sell to them again in the future.

Once you know where your cost per conversions no longer result in profit, you are in a better position to evaluate your advertising. 

TIP: Here's a free online advertising calculator you can use to see if your ad was worth the money you paid.

2. Evaluate the audience scale and fit.

The better fit the audience is for your book, the higher your conversion rate will be.

If the audience is highly specialized and targeted, you might see a much higher rate of conversion. In that case, you could get a great result even with smaller audience size.

If the audience is more general, the conversion rate might be very low. You will need your ad to reach a large number of people in order for it to pay off.

3. Improve your book page conversion rate.

Getting people to your book page is just the beginning. Once they get there, it’s up to you to make sure they see a compelling offer.

If you are sending your ads straight to your Amazon page, here are things to consider:

Is my cover design professional and appropriate for the audience?

How many reviews do I have?

Is my book description clear and compelling?

Are there any official reviews I can add to the page?

Did I complete my author biography section?

If you would like more control over your conversion rates, I highly recommend send your ads to your own website. You may experiment with different offers and provide a sample or free resource in exchange for joining your email list.

Now that you have some new ways to evaluate ads, let’s look at two sample scenarios.

Scenario One:

Let’s say you are considering a $100 ad on a website that reviews all kinds of books. The website says they get about 50,000 visitors per month.

This would be considered a general audience, but let's assume you get a fairly high click-through rate of 2%. You’ve found that once people get to your page, about 10% will buy the book. You will make $2 per book sale.

1 sale = 10 people clicked = 2,000 people who saw the ad

Let’s work backwards to see how many people need to see your ad for it to be worth the $100 spend. You know you need 50 sales to break even.

50 sales = 500 people clicked = 100,000 people who saw the ad

So, this website needs to be able to promise a minimum of 100,000 views (or “impressions”) before you even have a chance of breaking even. Your $100 ad will run for a month. During that time, they say their website will receive 50,000 visitors.

Verdict: Not worth it.

Scenario Two:

Let’s say you spend $210 to place an ad on the specialized ChickLit lists on BookBub. Bookbub actually tells you the average conversions for each of their lists. They report that this list is send to 620,000 people and usually results in 730 sales.

Because you must discount your book for BookBub, let’s say you set the price at 99 cents and you make 30 cents per sale.

30 cents x 730 sales = $219 in revenue

While you might only make $9 in profit if you choose this ad, those 730 sales will result in more reviews and a higher placement on the Amazon lists. Once the ad ends, you may still experience higher sales for a week or so due to increased visibility.

Verdict: Worth it!

Additional considerations

Optimize your amplification:

Schedule multiple ad channels at the same time into order to maximize impact. If you score a BookBub placement, schedule Facebook ads or or other advertising at the same time to piggyback the chart climbing momentum.

Sobering reality: 

Online ads across all formats have an average click-through rate of 0.06%*. That means there is less than 1 click per 1,000 views.

Facebook ads in America have an average click-through rate of 1%*. Just because someone clicked on the ad, doesn’t mean they are going to buy. You must adjust your projections based on the conversion rate of your landing page.

*Source: Doubleclick (part of Google advertising) 

Get more help with online advertising

Enroll in my Online Marketing for Authors Masterclass. Learn how to make your ads more effective while building a lasting audience. (Blog readers get $100 off the full course with the code BLOG100.)

Watch this quick, 2-minute video about how to improve the conversion rate of your Facebook ads.

Get this free advertising evaluation calculator I made with Google spreadsheets. Download and input your own numbers to see if you ad was worth the expense.


How to get people to notice your books (4 Steps)

noticeyourbooksDo you wish you knew how to get people to notice your books?

In a very crowded market, it may feel impossible to get your books the attention they deserve. Many authors complain that they spend incredible amounts of time on marketing, but don’t see many sales result. Worse, they don’t even have time to write!

It doesn’t need to be that difficult to find your audience and give your books the readers they deserve. Here are four steps to getting your book noticed.

1. Publish your book with a professional, compelling cover design and description. It doesn’t matter how many eyeballs you get on your book if the cover turns them off.

2. Create a compelling offer. No, “buy my book” is not a compelling offer. Imagine readers are discovering you for the very first time. What can you do to make it easier for them to take a risk with a new author? Limited time low pricing can work, but doesn’t help support your career. Can you offer a free sample? A bundle with other products? Companion material that is free for you to produce and distribute — such as guides, education, videos or audio?

3. Expand your reach. With a beautiful book and a compelling offer in place, NOW you are ready to start spreading the word about your book. Start sharing with your personal network, grow your following on social media, share your free content on sites such as LinkedIn and Medium, email your list, schedule readings and talks, offer guest posts and reach out to influencers.

Caution! If you don’t have an attractive book and a compelling offer to send all the attention to, your efforts will not have the impact you desire. Your time will be wasted.

4. Advertise. Yes, sometimes you get out what you put in. I’ve seen the best results with two particular ad channels. I love the precision and control offered with Facebook ads. I’m blown away by the reach and result achieved with BookBub ads.

While these 4 steps will help you with an individual book push, you’ll fare even better if you grow your personal audience. Perhaps you’ve heard of Kevin Kelly’s theory that an artist really only needs 1,000 true fans to support a career?

What if instead of a constant hustle, you spent your time gaining your 1,000 fans? With a solid fan base, each work has a strong launching pad that will amplify all of your efforts.

Want help with this?

>> Learn the A-Z’s of building your author platform and winning your true fans.

Are you making this mistake with your Facebook ads?

One of the biggest complaints I heard from the authors who completed my 2016 Book Marketing Challenges survey was how easy it is to waste money on advertising.

Luckily, I've tested strategies and practices that remarkably improve ad results. This means that I've also paid good money for ads that were complete flops. Painful! These failed ads taught me very important lessons. I am happy to share my experiences so that you don't have to make the same mistakes I did.

Here is a quick 2-minute video lesson that shows how a specific change I made to my Facebook ads TRIPLED my book sales.

If you don't have time to watch the video, here's the big lesson I reveal.

Don't direct your ad directly to your Amazon book page. Instead, offer an easier "next step" such as downloading a sample of your book for free.

Insider tip: This lesson is a free preview of my Online Marketing Masterclass for authors that will be released to the public later this week.

2016 Book Marketing Survey Results: 6 Complaints


Do you struggle with the same book marketing challenges as other authors in your field?

I released a book marketing challenges survey earlier in the year and received responses from 93 authors. Some authors were just starting out self-publishing their books, others have published traditionally for years and years. Despite the wide range of experiences, there were a few themes that kept coming up.

Here are the most-reported book marketing complaints:

  • Difficulty getting attention or being discovered in a crowded market.
  • Ineffective marketing tactics - lack of results for efforts.
  • Struggles with social media.
  • Time management issues and information overwhelm.
  • Discomfort with (and outright loathing of) self-promotion.
  • Not enough money or resources.

Scroll down to read actual quotes pulled from the survey. But first, here are the numbers:

Primary income sources: 93 authors completed the survey. 10 of these authors make most of their income from book sales. The other 83 authors have another source of income.


Publishing cost: While many authors spent none of their own money publishing their books, others spent over $20,000.

money spent on publishing


Marketing budget: While most authors spent less than $500 marketing their books, many more invested thousands of dollars into their book marketing efforts.

marketing budget

Stage of career: Authors that answered the book marketing survey were in all kinds of stages of their writing career. Some were very well established, others were just starting out.



And now, in your own words...

Issue: Getting Attention in a Crowded Market

“My main problem is getting interest in my books.”

“I feel like I'm not reaching the folks who would buy my books if they knew about them.”

“I don’t know how to stand out in all the noise.”

“I thought i had a decent fan base but with a new book out this doesn't seem to be reflected in sales or reviews. There's so much online noise out there, how does one stand out? How do I make the most user of my time?”

“I don’t know which market or platform is the best for my books.”

“I don’t get noticed among the hundred and thousands of other releases. My blog is... a waste of time. No one visits except writer friends and colleagues.”

Issue: Ineffective Marketing

“I don't want or need marketing tips that are fast and easy. What I want is marketing that is EFFECTIVE.

“Despite having consistent and topical blog posts, I also rarely saw a return on the effort, and I'm burned out!”

“Instead of wasting my time say buying useless adspace or sending free copies of my book to a website with only 3 visitors, I want to know where I should focus my energies to find people who want to read my books.”

“I have worked hard cold-calling book bloggers for reviews, sending personalized review requests, and soliciting free newsletters to promote price-reduction sales, and looking for guests posts for an author who neither will promote nor spend any money to promote. I have failed in both reviews and sales garnered.”

“I will probably do a guerilla marketing campaign, dropping cards and stuff. But I don’t know if that will help at all. I feel like such a noob.”

“I can promote until I'm blue in the face, but the only thing that seems to get results is giving away my books, something I am loathe to do on anything other than a one-time, limited basis.”

Issue: Social Media Struggles

“Posts that I make are not always seen. I don't know how many times to make a post or know when to make to reach my audience.”

“I deactivated my Facebook account a few years back primarily for lack of understanding. Although I have a Twitter account I have not taken the time to make it truly viable as a tool.”

“Social media seems like one massive endless swap and shop; people do stop to browse yet after piles of junk mail and slightly damaged articles offered as a real deal, they peruse seemingly legitimate offers warily.”

“I have trouble getting people to click through to blog posts and engage on topics surrounding the books. People are happy to approach and say that the books sound really interesting, but getting the clicks and better numbers is difficult.”

“I'm clueless when it comes to the internet. I'm sure I'm not using it properly to maximize sales.”

Issue: Time Management and Overwhelm

“With so many other novels flooding the market, it's difficult for me to find the time and motivation to chase marketing avenues. Oh now I have to write a blog, oh now I have to tweet about this, oh now I have to make a Facebook page about that. “

“Marketing is a full time job but so is writing and I simply don't have the time or the energy to do both.”

“I don't have the time or energy to put as much into social media as authentic relationships would demand.”

“Can I do it all alone with no contacts, author involvement or budget?”

“Which social media sites have the potential to help you market and which are a waste of time and effort?”

“I've gone to conferences and read all the information but it's not sinking in.”

“I have great ideas, but no time to implement them.”

Issue: Discomfort with Self-Promotion

“I struggle with being authentic while also promoting my book. I don't want to be one of those authors who is always pushing a link to her book (and there are a lot of them!).”

“I don't know what words to use to attract people without being cliché.”

“I hate being a salesman for myself. It feels awkward.”

“Plus, how do you promote yourself on social media without annoying people? I share when someone else says something positive about my work (through retweets, reposts, etc...) with a 'thank you' included, and I'm fine to share when my work is discounted, but otherwise, I don't know how to promote my work without feeling like I'm being a slimy used car salesman.”

“I don't like talking about my book or, worse, 'selling' people on my book. I just really hate being like ‘Buy my book! Buy my book!’ It is the worst.”

Issue: Lack of Money

“Can I do it all alone with no contacts, author involvement or budget?”

“I don’t have the resources to do anything that will make a big impact.”

“I want to hire a professional to help me, but I don’t know if it will be a good investment or not.”

Do any of these book marketing complaints sound familiar to you? Clearly, you are not alone. Authors work very hard to identify effective ways to promote their books, while salvaging some time to write and work on their craft.

I used the information in this survey to help craft some of the lessons in my upcoming audience building class for authors.

Did you find this survey interesting? Please share it using the buttons below. Thanks!