You hear a lot about the overhead and costs of publishing. For sure, there are things you need that can be a little pricey. Paying for editing, for cover design, for marketing and advertising—it can get steep.
Money, however, doesn’t have to be a barrier to your writing career. There are several ways to cut back and reduce, maybe even eliminate, some of the cost of being an author. D2D likes to remove gatekeepers and barriers from the publishing process, so here are a few tips and resources that can help you write and publish on the cheap.
A COUPLE OF EXPERIMENTS
Google has failed me, and I am unable to hunt down the exact phrase or its origin. But when I was working in film and TV I heard this phrase:
“Writing allows me to create an epic, multi-million-dollar blockbuster for the price of a pencil and a legal pad.”
Or similar. I’ve actually heard variations on this quote many times through the years, and it’s the sentiment of it that really hits home for me. Because writing really does embody this sort of cost irony. You can pen a scene that would cost in the high millions to produce, with epic alien battles, dramatic cataclysms, cities made of diamonds, and anything else you can imagine, and your creative tools may have been comped to you in a hotel lobby. We can dream some big and expensive things and express them with the lowliest of tools.
About a year ago I put this idea to the test. I was out for a morning walk, on my way to a donut shop (for the coffee, I swear), and I saw a perfectly good ballpoint pen on the ground. I picked it up and thought, “I wonder if I could get some paper for free, and write a little something this morning?” I went to the donut shop, bought my coffee, and then received a complimentary piece of paper—otherwise known as a receipt, printed on one side by blank on the other.
I wrote a little essay, maybe eight paragraphs, and then took a photo of that with my phone. I shared that essay on Facebook, and then let my friends and followers like, comment, and share at will.
Writing and publishing, no significant barriers and no real overhead.
A couple of years back I did a similar experiment, which I wrote about in a D2D blog post about writing from anywhere, anytime. I was on a layover between author conferences and decided to spend a day at Disney World. I had made it a goal to hit all of the parks (which I did … phew!), but I also had it on my agenda to visit the Avatar section of Animal Kingdom, and ride the Flight of Passage ride.
I wasn’t really alone in that goal. Turned out that if I wanted to have that experience, it was going to cost me a couple of hours of waiting in line. As an experiment, and to keep myself from going crazy, I used the time to write a short story using only my iPhone. I used Scrivener, and I was able to write the story and spit it out as a Word doc, directly to Dropbox. I was then able to upload that Word doc to Draft2Digital and use our free, browser-based formatting tool to generate an ebook. I used Canva, a free graphics tool, to create a cover (there are Kindle cover templates built right in!). And I took the book all the way to the point where I could hit “publish.” I paused there because I wanted to edit the story a bit before going live. But you can see the potential, right?
With nothing but a smartphone and a writing app (there are thousands of free writing apps for whatever smartphone you use), I was able to write and publish. My overhead was just the phone itself—an item most people have anyway. Heck, I even used the onscreen keyboard, so no need to buy a Bluetooth keyboard (though they’re very handy). Effectively, I had a whole publishing experience, from idea to publication, and it cost me nothing.
Which plays into a philosophy I think all writers should embrace …
USE WHAT YA GOT
I’m a member of hundreds of author groups, on Facebook and forums and Slack and elsewhere. I admit I’m kind of a lurker … I don’t engage in a lot of conversations unless I see an opportunity to offer some straight-up advice that will actually be helpful. I mostly hang out so I can see what authors are talking about, what pain points they have, what their wish lists look like.
One thing I see often, however, is the question of “What should I use?”
What computer should I use?
What writing software should I use?
What should I use for tracking research?
What should I use to promote my book?
I don’t really answer these questions anymore because, for one I’ve responded to them a billion to the billionth power times already, for two there are a few thousand other people who eagerly want to answer that question themselves, and for three no one really listens to the answers anyway.
I’m not cynical—it’s the honest truth. Spend a month monitoring any given Facebook group, for example, and note who asks what, who answers, and what the final outcome turns out to be. It will always come down to one outcome:
Writers will use whatever works best for them.
You can suggest and recommend equipment and software and services, and they may be heeded to a degree, but in the end, every writer will decide for themselves what fits best into their rhythm and routine. Some will love Scrivener, some will hate it. Some will swear fealty to Word, some will reject all things Microsoft and embrace OpenOffice. Some will sell their blood and their souls to buy a Mac, and some will pop less than a hundred bucks on a used Chromebook.
It really does come down to “whatever works for you.”
If you’re struggling to work out how to get your hands on the resources you need, however, I do have a recommendation for you: Use what ya got.
Grammatical indelicacies aside, this could be the most potent advice you’ll ever get. Heed it and seize victory. Ignore it at your peril.
When I first started writing for a living, lo those many years ago, I had nothing but a Bic, a Mead, and access to the school’s computer lab. I covered “teen beat” stories for our local paper, and I would write them more or less while lingering in football stands or while standing on a sidewalk watching high school bands parade by. The stories were written in a shaky scrawl that no human but I could translate, and so I would type them up using one of the beige boxes I was given a strict thirty minutes of access to.
Later my grandmother, always a big supporter of my budding writing career, bought me a Canon Typestar 110 portable typewriter from Sam’s Club, and then later still a Commodore 128 computer with a very loud dot matrix printer. I favored the typewriter, for some reason, and so for most of my high school career and some of college I transcribed news stories, tapped out school papers, and write short stories while seated in front of a wobbly TV tray in my bedroom.
Typing I & II were the best classes I ever took in school, by the way. Probably the only thing I learned in high school that I still use to this day. Well … that and how to make an ear-piercing whistle using a plastic candy wrapper.
The point of this, beyond some personal nostalgia, was that at different times in my life I relied on whatever resources I had to do this work. I’m pretty glad about it, honestly. Starting with practically no tools meant that early on I was used to relying more on my resourcefulness than on a specific tool.
Today we are very nearly born with powerful writing and publishing tools in our hands. Smartphones, smart tablets, laptops, desktops, smart TVs … Look around, right now, and I’d be willing to bet real money that you have a tool within centimeters that you could use to write and publish. It’s a pretty safe bet because if you’re reading this post, you’re likely seeing it on a tool that could do the job.
These days I do about 90% of my writing on either my iPad or my iPhone, both with keyboards. I popped for Apple’s smart keyboard for the iPad, which wasn’t cheap. But for my iPhone, I picked up a $25 Logitech Bluetooth keyboard that is small and light enough to shove into a pocket or a backpack, and that runs for months on a couple of AAA batteries. There are even cheaper Bluetooth keyboards out there, too.
I love living in the future.
The point is, you have no limits. Equipment is cheap enough and common enough that even if you paid for it, it might as well have been free. And writing software … well, even if you’re picky about features, you can typically get your hands on a high-level writing tool priced anywhere from $0 to $100. More, if you want something super fancy. But who really needs writing software that co
Of course, when we have to work with other professionals—editors, copywriters, publishers, marketers, etc.—there are going to be certain standards we’ll have to adhere to. Microsoft Word, for example, is the defacto default standard for trading editable digital documents back and forth. If you’re going to work with other people, you’re going to use Microsoft Word.
Luckily, that isn’t really a limitation.
Because Word is so ubiquitous, almost every piece of writing software made can produce a Word file, also known as a DOC or DOCX file. This is good news because it means you can do your work using a variety of free tools.
NOTE: As with any free tool, there are going to be some limitations. Sometimes people have trouble with things like formatting and other glitches when they use a free writing tool and export their files as a DOC or DOCX. For that reason, you might consider saving your files as a Rich Text Format (RTF) file. This file standard is generally pretty lightweight on formatting, and it can be opened by everything, including Microsoft Word. D2D can even accept RTF files for use in our automated ebook conversion.
OpenOffice is a free office suite that a lot of people really like and enjoy using. There’s also Google Docs, which has quickly become a favorite for not only being free to use but also for being operating system agnostic and having some pretty amazing live collaboration tools.
Aside from those, there’s a very good chance that whatever computer, smartphone, or tablet you own has come with some sort of writing suite. Apple’s Pages app comes free and pre-loaded on every Apple device and has some pretty sweet layout features. On Windows, Android, and any other operating system you’ll either find some native writing apps built in (even if it’s as simple as Notepad), or you can easily download something for free.
Honestly, there really are no limits here. Unless you want specific features available only in a specific paid app, there’s no need to ever pay for a writing app at all.
Now this next bit, I’m going to be honest, is a little self-promotional. But the truth is, Draft2Digital was explicitly built to make publishing a lot easier and a lot less expensive.
With a Draft2Digital account, you get free conversion of your DOC, DOCX, or RTF file into both EPUB and MOBI formats. Don’t worry if you have no idea what either of those formats is—it’s enough to know that we convert your manuscript into the two ebook formats used by every retailer online.
We have a free template tool to make your book look pretty, too. Similar to Vellum, we offer you a variety of nice looking ebook templates that you can apply to your book with a click. Unlike Vellum, there’s no charge for using this conversion, and it can be used on any device with a modern web browser. There aren’t as many options or customizations as Vellum can give you, but we get a lot of kudos for the formats we offer so this can be a great alternative to spending more money.
We offer free print layout too. Right now this means you can convert your manuscript into a print-ready PDF file that you can take to any of the print on demand (POD) services. Soon, however, we’re adding our own POD service called D2D Print—currently being tested so we can shake out any bugs before we offer it to you. It’s going to be pretty awesome, though, I won’t kid ya.
And of course, D2D offers free distribution to all the major retailers, worldwide. You set your price, you choose where you want to sell, and you control the whole thing. We take 10% (15% with the vendor’s cut) of your royalties, and that’s it. No contracts or costs, no fees, no one looking at you and wagging a favor, waiting for you to hand over your wallet.
Basically, once you’ve written your book, we can deliver it to the world so you can start making some income from sales. And we aim to make that as ridiculously easy as possible so that you can concentrate on writing more books. Possibly using one of the free resources listed above.
THE BUSINESS OF YOU
Authors have a pretty unique business these days. There are few industries in which you can create a product and distribute it without investing a dime unless you wanted to.
True, if you can apply a budget for certain things, such as editing and cover design and, maybe most important, marketing, your chances of success go up. Investing in your business will help you grow faster.
That said, there are plenty of writers making a full-time living who use nothing but the free and cheap tools they have at their disposal. The barrier to entry, as it were, doesn’t exist. It’s you, and the time you’re willing to put in.
The best advice I can offer, when it comes to starting, building, and growing a writing business of any kind is to be creative. Look at what you have to get done—from penning a draft to editing to marketing and anything else this business asks of you—and then go on the hunt for the tools you need. Search Google. Ask around in forums and groups (people will definitely give you suggestions). Consider the technology and software and resources you already own.
You can build this from zero and be profitable as of the first sale. That’s a business model you rarely ever see. Go own it.