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How To Publish A Book For Free: And How Not To

How to publish a book for FREE...and how not to

So many authors start their journey with nothing but an idea and a dream.  

🪄JK Rowling was living off of welfare when she wrote Harry Potter. 

🥊Sylvester Stallone was reportedly homeless before he wrote the screenplay for


🤡And Stephen King was so poor that his first advance of $2,500 on CARRIE was

partially used to have his family’s phone reconnected.  

The publishing world is full of rags to riches stories.  But, is it still possible to break into publishing if you don’t have any money?  


Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing


Not understanding the difference between traditional and self-publishing is one of the biggest misconceptions that cause new authors to give up, thinking, “I guess I can’t afford to get published.”  

So, before we go any further, here’s what you need to understand: 

Self-publishing is when the author starts their own publishing house. So, yes, it costs money.  They’re starting a business.  They have to hire their own editors, book designers, and formatters.  They may have to pay up front for large print runs.  They have to pay for marketing. They invest all the upfront costs to produce their product; and they keep all the profits from books sold. (And incur losses if they don’t sell!)

Traditional publishing is called traditional because it’s the way MOST books were published in the past.  Because most authors didn’t (and still don’t) have enough cash to publish their own books, they send their manuscripts to an established publishing house, where an acquisitions editor reads the story, chooses it over thousands of others sent to them, and then invests the money to produce it.  You, the author, invest zero dollars; and you get paid a small percentage of sales (royalties).  

Newbie authors who are just diving into Google often get confused about these two very different paths.  They might read a blog about self-publishing, think that’s the only way to go, and walk away when they see how much it costs.  

Or worse, they may be taken advantage of by a vanity press - a predatory company that masquerades as a “publisher” and pretends to offer you a traditional publishing contract…but then asks YOU to pay for all or some of the book’s production costs.  Yuck!

When you don’t know what you don’t know…it’s easy to get fooled! 

So, let me be clear: If you're looking for the best way to publish a book for free, traditional publishing is the way to go.  In fact, this is how Rowling, Stallone, and King did it.  

What's the catch?

The catch is that traditional publishing takes time, true talent, and a little luck, and many authors try for years to get a traditional publishing deal without success. Authors who do get traditional publishing deals have often written for years to hone their craft and build their knowledge of the industry.  They’ve been rejected more times than they can count.  And they’ve written way more than just one single story.

It’s not an easy path. But if you’re low on funds and willing to work hard and be patient; traditional publishing could get your book published without any cash investment from you.  

But what if I want to self-publish?

An increasing number of authors just aren’t interested in pursuing traditional publishing.  

  • Some of them want to maintain control over how their story is told.  

  • Some want to use a personal friend as an illustrator. (Which won’t fly in traditional publishing.) 

  • Others want to publish a book that’s for a super niche audience, and can’t find an established publisher who’s interested.  

So, what are the options for an author who wants to self-publish, but doesn’t have the funds?  

The WRONG answer to this question goes something like this: 

“You can do it all yourself for FREE!  Just have your old English teacher do the editing, cobble together a cover on the free version of Canva, and upload it to Amazon KDP.  You don’t need to spend any money!” 

This response is so common on social media, and it makes me sad and mad at the same time.  

It makes me sad because if you’ve spent so much time and energy and passion on your manuscript, it deserves so much more than a quick spell-check and an amateur cover. 

It also makes me sad because books published in this subpar way will almost always achieve subpar sales.   

And it makes me mad because it shows that few people understand the value of a skilled editor, book designer, formatter, etc.  Editing and book design are highly specialized skills, and with the increasing amount of AI books being dumped onto Amazon, quality is going to matter if you want to stand out and be successful.  

Also, children’s books require illustrations - high quality ones at that!  And talented artists don’t come cheap. 

There’s no way around it…to self-publish a quality book, you’re going to need to raise some money. 

So how do you do that? 

👉Beg your rich relatives for a loan?

👉Hold a bake sale?

👉Dig through your couch cushions? 

👉Sell a kidney?

Please don’t!   There’s a much better…and less painful way!


Crowdfunding is an increasingly popular way for authors to raise money for self publishing projects.  

The two most popular platforms - Kickstarter and Indiegogo - allow you to give customers a sneak peek of your book, and ask them to pledge a certain amount to help you bring that book to life.  In exchange for their support, you promise to reward them with copies of the completed book, or other creative rewards like prints of illustrations, stickers, coloring pages and more. They’re essentially preordering a copy of the book and paying up front, so you can use those funds to pay for the actual production. 

You will still need a small amount of cash up front to invest in that "sneak peek." A few sales graphics and maybe some sample illustrations or cover art.  But with very little money, crowdfunding can be a great way to fund your first self-publishing project.  

So, how DO you publish a book for free?

The bottom line is that pursuing traditional publishing is the only way to publish a quality book without ANY financial investment on the part of the author. But, for authors who are determined to bring their book to market through self-publishing, crowdfunding can be an affordable way to make their dream a reality.

Whether you decide to pursue traditional publishing or self-publishing, it’s important to understand the options available to you so that you can set realistic goals and follow the right path to achieve them.  

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