How to Self-Publish for Free

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Did you know that there’s a way to self-publish with any company in the world without having to pay out of pocket for the cost?

Here’s how.

 

 

The Fine Print

By “free” I don’t mean going with a predatory publisher like Publish America or Author Solutions. Companies that offer “free publishing” often use deceptive marketing or fraudulent business practices. I’m talking about using a legitimate Independent Publishing Company that charges a fair price to do it right. Good editors are not cheap.

When I say “free” I mean you don’t have to pay for the cost of the professionals out of pocket. You raise the money ahead of time from your readers through crowdfunding.

How Crowdfunding Works

There is nothing new about crowdfunding. Churches and other organizations have existed because of donations from the “crowd” for years.

What feels new is the rise of platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo that allow you to raise money from readers online. In exchange for donations, your backers get rewards that typically include copies of your book.

A basic reward structure might look something like this:

  • Back for $10: Get the eBook
  • Back for $20: Get the paperback
  • Back for $30: Get a Signed Copy of the paperback

You raise the money now, and backers receive the book later. They are pre-ordering the book to give you the funds to make the book. It only takes 125 people to back at the $20 level to fund a $2500 goal.

Most crowdfunding campaigns are all or nothing. So if you expect it to cost $2500 for editing, design and other expenses, you can set a crowdfunding budget for $2500 to cover your costs. This way you don’t go have to go into debt to publish your book. If you fail to raise the funds, your backers pay nothing and you don’t have to print the book.

This is a great way to reduce your financial risk while simultaneously testing the marketability of your book. With crowdfunding you are guaranteed either success or cheap failure.  No one wants to be the author who spends thousands of dollars for  a garage full of books that don’t sell.

Step 1: Build or Borrow a Crowd

It seems self evident, but the key to crowdfunding is to have a crowd to raise funds from (Tweet This). This needs to be a group of people who know, like, and trust you and who have given you permission to contact them either through email or social media. A crowd of strangers is not going to back your book project.  So you want to start building an email list now.

Building a tribe takes time. The faster path is to borrow a tribe from a famous friend (Tweet This). I am a huge advocate of working with a co-author for  this reason. In most co-author relationships one author provides most of the work while the other author provides most of the credibility and tribe. Everyone wins as long as you set expectations ahead of time.

Another way to borrow a tribe is to pay for it by purchasing advertising. The challenge with advertising is that it costs money and moves us away from “free” territory. That said, I know people who have successfully funded $10,000 projects through effective use of Facebook Advertising.

Interrupting (spamming) strangers does not work. You need to either build a tribe of people who know, like and trust you or partner with someone who has.

We talk a lot more about how to build a tribe in Session #1 of the Ultimate Crowdfunding Course for Authors.

Step 2: Prototype Your Book

Kickstarter requires a prototype for a project to exist before they will approve the campaign. Whether or not you decide to go with Kickstarter, having a “prototype” is a good idea.

For Fiction, a prototype would be a completed draft of your book. You need to be able to prove to your readers you are able to complete your novel. This is not a finished draft. In fact, some authors will name characters and cities after their backers.

“Some readers will pay extra to have a character or location named after them.” (Click to Tweet)

For Non-Fiction, a prototype can be an outline and a sample chapter or two. The chapter outline is really what sells a nonfiction book. You want those chapter titles to communicate the benefit of reading that chapter. Ideally you want to write the book based on feedback from your backers so you don’t need the book to be quite so finished as you do with a novel. That said, no one wants to wait a year for your book to come out so having the rough draft complete could help you get more backers.

You May Want a Book Cover As Part of the “Prototype”

It helps if you have the cover designed ahead of time. This is the one thing you may want to purchase prior to crowdfunding. A good book cover makes everything easier.

To do the book truly for free you will need to either make your own cover (not recommended) or  work with an artist  on spec where she gets paid only if the campaign funds. You may be able to find an art student who would be happy to help you out as part of his coursework.

Sometimes a good stock photo can stand in as a temporary book cover.

Step 3: Post Your Book Campaign on a Crowdfunding Platform

This is where the magic of crowdfunding happens. The campaign page is where you send everyone to back your project. A good campaign page can make all the difference.

Here is an example of a book crowdfunding page that raised over $25,000.

Most campaign pages have the following three elements:

Element #1: The Video

Having a video is optional on most platforms but it greatly increases your chances of success. The video does not need to be expensive. On this campaign I filmed the whole thing at my desk on my laptop’s webcam. I made the visuals in Keynote, which came free with my Mac. I could have chosen to put it all together in iMovie (free) but I chose to use Camtasia Studio since I know it better. Camtasia offers a 30 day trial so you could use it for free assuming you don’t dilly-dally.

On the PC you could use Windows Movie Maker to make the video. Camtasia also has a PC version.

We talk a lot more about how to create a video for your campaign in Session #4 of the Ultimate Crowdfunding Course for Authors.

Element #2: Rewards

Your initial backers will back your project because they are backing you. But rewards are nice too. The better your rewards, the more easily the project will spread from your core tribe to the ripples of their friends and family. For a book, most people will expect a copy of your book as a reward. But feel free to think outside of the box in terms of rewards.

We talk a lot more about how to pick the right rewards in Session 3 of our Ultimate Crowdfunding Course.

Element #3: Your Story

This is the body of the page itself. You want to cover the same content from the video but from a different angle with more detail. Make sure to explain why you are excited about the book as well as what rewards people will receive, and try to answer any frequently-asked backer questions.

We talk more about how to tell your story in Session #2 of the Ultimate Crowdfunding Course for Authors.

Step 4: Hire Professional Editors and Cover Designers

Okay, so now you have successfully funded your book and you have hundreds of folks waiting for it. Your printer may offer editing services, but that may or may not be the right choice for you. It depends on what company you go with. You want something called a “substantive edit”, which is far more robust than the typical “copy edit” most vanity publishers offer.

When picking an editor, we recommend you hire someone with a track record of editing successful books.  Ask for a list of books that editor has edited, and then look them up on Amazon to see how well they sold. If you want to hit a bestseller list, you want an editor who has already edited a book that has made a bestseller list. As a general rule of thumb, the more successful the editor the more expensive. It is not uncommon for a New York Times Bestseller-level editor to charge $8000+ for a substantive edit.

For folks in the Christian market, we recommend going to ChristianEditor.com, which offers a curated list of editors who all know their stuff.

Step 5: Publish Your Book

This is the fun part, your moment of glory.

Make sure your book distributes on all the popular ebook platforms (Amazon, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, etc). I like the service BookBaby which can get you on all the major platforms, but your printer may offer this as a free service.

Make sure your book has an ISBN before you pull the trigger. Some stores won’t list a book without an ISBN.

Most book printers can deliver your books to your backers automatically. You should get a .csv file from your crowdfunding platform that will list the names and addresses of everyone who pre-ordered a paper book.  If you are doing it right, the only books you ever have to touch with your own hands are the signed copies that people paid extra for.

We talk more about fulfillment in Session #8 of the Ultimate Crowdfunding Guide for Authors.

Step 6: Market Your Book

Your crowdfunding backers will help with word of mouth, but not as much as you might expect. Hopefully they already asked their friends to back your book when you were funding it, so you will need to go out and find new readers on your own.

Fortunately, we have a lot of free resources here at Author Media to help you market your book. If you need ideas, I recommend you check out 89 Book Marketing Ideas That Will Change Your Life, one of our most popular posts of all time.

For more help with Book Marketing, check out the Novel Marketing Podcast.

Step 7: Build on Your Success for Book #2

“The secret to self-publishing is to write a lot of books. Nothing sells book #1 like book #2.” (Click to Tweet)

Assuming people enjoyed your first book, everything will be easier for book #2. You can expect 25-50% of the crowdfunding backers of your first book to back the second, giving you a nice floor to stand on when trying to jump to new heights. Some readers are more willing to read an author with a few books under her belt than an absolute beginner.

If You Want More Help

Ultimate Crowdfunding Course for Authors

Mary DeMuth and I recently crowdfunded a course on how to crowdfund your book. In this course, we walk you through the whole process of crowdfunding, from planning the campaign all the way through to fulfillment at the end.

 

And that’s it. I hope this has helped demystify the process for you. It is absolutely possible to pre-fund your book and pay for professional editing, formatting, and graphics with funds you raise from others. There is nothing quite like holding your book in your hands for the first time. If a lack of funds has prevented your dream, crowdfunding may be the pathway for you.