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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Clemmer

My Self-Publishing Experiment: Publishing A Book for $0

Disclaimer: This article is intended for entertainment purposes only. It is not professional advice. Your book deserves much more than the treatment you’ll find here!

It costs nothing to hit the “publish” button on your browser, so what makes self-publishing so expensive? More than that, is it even possible to publish a book when your budget is tiny or non-existent? New writers are often overwhelmed at the number of things veteran self-publishers call essential, and when you have a small budget, it’s easy to feel intimidated when you don’t know where to throw the money.

A few years ago, I decided to jump straight to the heart of the matter and publish a few books on a $0 budget. That’s right. I published without spending a dime. In this brief post, I’ll walk you through how I did it, give you tips if you dare repeat the experiment, and end with my results and conclusions.

Note: Once again, I absolutely do not recommend this on any level than experimental curiosity. I’m only writing this to answer a hypothetical often thrown around in writing circles and show one example of how this could work.

The Process

When I set out, I made a rough list of everything I needed: content, editing, a cover design and publicity. Technically, you can get or do all of these things for free, at least to some extent. I was in good shape if that was all I needed.

Step one: the content. Usually I draft my books on Scrivener, but I stayed with Microsoft Office for these books. Any word processor can work, and the process of writing is the same as it would be for any other budget level. I gave myself the additional challenge of producing a book in only two or three weeks. This meant that I dictated large portions of it and rushed my process more than I ordinarily would, and I decided a set of shorter stories would be better than a single long novel.

Step two: the editing. Because of my dictation sprints, I had a lot of typos to catch. I trusted my own editing eye for much of the book and also relied on spell-check and Grammarly. If it weren’t for the time constraint, I would have done a more thorough job with ProWritingAid and gotten other people to read through my draft on Scribophile, both offering quality services for free as well.

Step three: the cover. While Amazon has a cover creator resource, I still wanted something unique and hopefully eye-catching. I picked a stock photo from Pixabay, my favorite free stock photo site, and ran through some basic cropping and tinting until it matched the tone of my book. At the time I was impressed, but then I found the same stock photos showing up everywhere else online and that my book had no way to stand out. But it was free, and it did what I needed to.

Step four: the publicity. I wasn’t going to buy any advertising packages, and I didn’t have the time to set up a book blog tour. I settled for spending a couple extra days focusing on laser-targeting my book’s metadata in the hopes of winning people over through search results. I set the books to the lowest price point I could, and when I was ready, I hit “publish.” If I were trying this experiment again, I would have entered the books on Kindle Select instead of publishing them wide.


The Good

I did sell copies occasionally, and I continued to sell as long as the books were available on the store. This surprised me, but it was good to know. Technically, it is possible to sell a book on any budget, and self-publishing is an avenue worth pursuing even if you can’t pour a fortune into it.

The Bad

The amount you invest into your books shows. Because of the intense time and budget restraints I put on my book, my quality suffered. Every time I opened up one of the documents, I found a collection of errors that I needed to correct. Even though I have a natural strength with editing, none of my tools were equipped to catch mistakes caused by dictation. The books embarrassed me, and I kept them hidden until I decided to un-publish them and reuse the material for later.

Another lesson learned was that just because your book is technically selling copies does not mean that it is lucrative or that you can easily make money by self-publishing. When I compared the hours spent on the books with how much they had turned in, I realized that I would have been better off slowing down and putting together a work of quality. In the end, the only thing I really earned was an entertaining story to pass on to other writers on occasion.

In Conclusion

Do you need to spend money to publish? In a word, yes. But you don’t need to worry about breaking the bank. Your book will likely “sell” regardless at a low enough price. Every publishing expense you take on is an investment that will magnify your success.

What are your low-budget publishing stories? Feel free to comment in the comment section below or click on the blue button to join my exclusive group for self-publishing fiction writers.


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