How To Indie Publish On The Cheap

It is not true that I’m cheap.  Given enough money to spend I could make beautiful music.  Now and then – when the prize is really high – I buy a lottery ticket for the joy of spending three days dreaming of all the things I’d spend the money on.

Actually the sad thing is that I’m not really interested in things, as such.  The more you have, the more you need to dust.  But I’d love to be able to hire people to do the stuff that eats up most of my day.  It’s not that I dislike doing it – I actually like cooking, I enjoy certain types of cleaning and sometimes I think ironing (particularly with the super dooper iron, which is recommended for start up ironing services.  So, you know I have a fall back) is my zen practice, and I’m fond of grocery shopping because I’m good at finding bargains and if I can drag one of the guys along it’s even more fun.  And then there’s all the things I enjoy which I don’t even have the time to try to do – garden, for instance.

The problem is that it’s very easy to spend the entire day picking up this, sifting that litter box, running to the store for a box of eggs… and not sit down to write at all.  There’s always any number of repairs around the house (Okay, stupid of me to live in a Victorian) which are waiting for my having two hours to do them.

And then there’s the other stuff.  I don’t know how many blog sites I’ve angered because I said I’d do an interview and then it went clear out of my mind.  And there’s books due.  And there’s mentoree’s stuff to read – since two of those are my kids, I get ambushed at the oddest times with “Mom, have you read?”  (Younger kid shows a disturbing tendency to write good historical stories about events that I had no clue he even knew about – I guess he’s been reading from my bookcases?)

And on top of this there’s publishing.

So, if I ever get rich, I want a cook, a house cleaning service, the clothes shall be sent to the laundry, and I’ll hire an assistant to keep my stuff in order.

But the problem with that is that the lottery guys keep picking the WRONG numbers.

So, I have to get real and deal with the fact that I am poor (house repairs, car repairs, two kids in college) and I have a lot of back log to publish, and other stuff I wish to write to publish.

Consider that most short stories sell for 99c so you’re getting 33 c per story, and that short stories don’t sell that well (not as well as novels.)  I will sell – on Amazon, I apparently sell more through Smashwords affiliates, but that’s not coming on line yet – about 10 of half the shorts a month.  Which means right now, for the sake of simplicity $30 for all 20 (I think I actually have 22) stories out.  About $3 for each story.

I routinely hear of people paying $100 to someone to get a cover, edit and put their short stories up.  At $3 a month that’s going to take a while to pay back.

Even for a novel, say you make $100 a month.  If you paid – and I’ve heard of this — $4000 to get it there and ready, you’re in the hole for… how much?

So below I’m going to outline the process I go through to put stuff up on the cheap.  My goal is to have shorts pay for themselves within 3 months.  Novels… I have to risk more.

If you’re not up to that, consider a micro-press which has mechanisms to do this.  A caveat is to make sure that your contract is for no more than two years.  Things are changing too fast for you to keep that property tied up longer.  The other caveat is that it’s a game of numbers.  Even a micro press (or a small.  Or a large one) can’t give you the publicity to make one book fly.  But two books, you’ll do better, three books even better, etc.

1-      If you’re not an old pro – by which I mean you haven’t published at least ten short stories and three novels, all of which sold either to publishers or sell well to the public – for the love of BOG have someone read your stuff before it goes out.

No, I don’t mean for copy-editing, that comes later.  I mean for sense, pacing and general cohesion.  I.e. to find out if it’s a story or a cabbage.  Even for me, and I’ve written over thirty novels, it’s all too easy to write a novel and concentrate only on the parts that interest you and no one else.  Say you really like shopping.  Your characters might very well shop more than anyone else has an interest in.  Or say you like eating… well, okay, most people like eating, but all the same the novel should not be a succession of breakfasts.  [What about dinners?—Ed.  Shut up – Sarah.]

You need to make sure the story is actually there.  How do you do that on the cheap?  Well, find six friends who read more or less what you write.  (This is important.  There’s stuff I can’t judge because it’s not what I read primarily, so I don’t know what readers of it like.  Say contemporary romance.)  Get them to read it.  If three of them don’t agree on a problem, then don’t change anything.  If they do, consider it.

Friends, mind, not your spouse, mother or cat – ie people who either won’t tell you the truth or who are so close to you that they won’t see the holes in your reasoning or your story telling.  [Your cats read? – Ed? Shut Up – Sarah]

2.  Have the dang thing copyedited.  On the cheap?  Sure.  Either find one of those annoying friends who live and breathe comma placement (everyone has one.  I have several) or trade with other indie writers.  “You proof mine, I proof yours.”  It can be done.

If you can have it copyedited twice, then go over it one more time.  You’d be amazed what you miss.

3. Covers.  You’d be amazed how much people spend on these.  $250 or $500 are counted as “cheap”.  This is insane for short stories.

If you have a program like photoshop (though older son does well with, but he’s a better artist than I am) or paintshop, you don’t need to pay someone for cover design.  Go and study covers for your genre at Amazon and your local supermarket, so you know what’s current.

Then… Then there are several sites.  This site has a bunch of free ones. (Be aware some of these are NOT properly vetted and pirated stuff falls in.)

I usually cruise by morguefile and if I don’t find what I want there, go to dreamstime.  If you set the search for art only (not photographs) and start at lowest price, it is possible to get art for under $2.  (Depending on what you write.  Sometimes the photos are fine, of course.)  For novels, I’ve been known to spend $7 on art for a cover.  Yeah, I know, last of the great spenders.

Things to remember: fonts are copyrighted.  If they come with a program you own, you’re fine, though.  Also, if there’s a recognizable person on the cover, make sure there’s a model release.  If there’s a recognizable commercial property (bar, restaurant, shop) make sure there’s a property release.

As with the novel, show it to someone before you put it out.  Second pair of eyes HELPS.

Oh, yeah, 3.a – for conversions I use sigil.  If I can figure it out, your kindergartner can.  So, try that.

And that’s it. Now go and have fun.

191 thoughts on “How To Indie Publish On The Cheap

  1. For cover work, if you’re half-way competent with various paint programs, go get the GIMP ( It’s free and has about 90% of the functionality of Photoshop. (Fair warning, this is not Microsoft Paint, this is a professional-level photo editing tool that some newspapers are using in lieu of spending $700 on Photoshop.) You’re only as good as your tools and the results you can get with GIMP will look like you hired a pro.

    1. Good lord. Even with the best tools (I had a cracked version of Photoshop back when I was running a mod team in 2003), I was still hopelessly lost. I think you have to have a bit of artistic flare in the first place and then can make the most of your tools. I’m a visually oriented person, but I’ve never been able to create visuals myself outside the battle-scene scriblings of a grade school kid.

      1. A few suggestions – I’m at work, so I’ll add more when I get home.

        Search Deviant Art for tutorials. They have some fantastic ones.

        Follow an artist you like, and watch their live streams if they do them – you can learn a heap just from observing how they work, and they’re familiar with their tools so you can see the techniques they use.

        There are other damn good tutorials out there for assorted techniques that make it insanely easy to modify existing artwork – such as the assorted pieces that Sarah linked, or your own photos.

        I’ll post links to some good tutorials and things later.

        1. Okay. Here are some that I’ve found helpful.

          To cut out an unwanted background or cut something from an image to use elsewhere (GIMP): Video tutorial

          The motherlode of tutorials for drawing maps with assorted applications: Forum with loads of map tutorials

          For the curious: I watched via live-stream as this piece went from a scanned in pencil sketch to what you see in about an hour. Using GIMP. What can be done in an hour with GIMP

          A ton of stock images, palettes for different applications, custom brushes for special effects, and tutorials can be found here: Deviant Art tutorials and resources Note that licensing will vary from creator to creator.

          And, as Thomas Alexander said, by googling “photoshop tutorial” or “GIMP tutorial” or whatever for the application you have, you can get a ton of good basic information. As an example, I found this one in about 30 seconds by googling “GIMP cover art tutorial” How to make an ebook cover

          Fiddle with it, expect your first attempts to be iffy or take forever (or both), but as you get the feel of the application, it gets a whole lot easier.

          1. Thank you, Thank you!

            I downloaded GIMP a while back, and word to the wise, there Help is either totally useless, totally incomprehensible to someone computer illiterate (ah-hum, myself) or the particular function you want help on is ‘not currently available’. Otherwise it seems to work well and do all sorts of interesting things, I’m just not smart enough to get it to do what I want.

            1. If you’re familiar with photoshop it’s pretty easy to pick up, it’s when you have only a passing familiarity with photo editing software that the learning curve becomes steep.

            2. If you’re not familiar with photo editing software, it is pretty intimidating – but you can get some impressive stuff out of it. I personally started with the tutorials that were at the level of “if you can open it and figure out how to create a new image, you can do this tutorial”.

              Half my trouble is figuring out what the damn feature I want to use is CALLED. Once I know that, google will find me what I need – and usually translate image-manipulation-geek to standard English

              1. One of the tools I use is LView Pro, a shareware program that I paid $20 for about fifteen years ago. It’s been worth every cent! My problem is, because of the nerve damage in my neck, my movements with a mouse can be pretty erratic. If I can’t do it simply, I don’t do it at all. I’ve tried having other people do some things, and wasn’t happy with what I got. It’s been pretty frustrating.

                One thing this blog has helped me understand is why I buy books from authors I know and trust, and the cover has no resemblance to the story inside. I don’t want that to happen with any of my books. It’s really annoying.

      2. Its definitely a tough hill to climb but its very doable. I did as Kate Paulk suggested, but I simply googled ‘photoshop tutorial’ and found literally thousands of them available on all sorts of subjects. I dove in and did these tutorials one after the other, and slowly the basics sunk in. The tricky part is learning how to use these programs. Once you know what is possible, its rather simple to make a great looking image. But don’t tell anyone outside the graphics department!

    2. One of the other indy authors in the online group I worked with suggested going to the local university, and getting a student to do original art, in exchange for a credit, and an opportunity to add something to their professional portfolio.

      For just about all my covers, I used photographs (my own, or from friends to let me use it in exchange for a credit) run through an artistic filter that gave it a painted effect. My little brother is a professional graphic artist, too – so I pay him a little, and give a credit! Win-win!

    1. Well, I don’t know which Alice you’re talking about but there’s two things to remember about Mary Poppins. One, she’s not like the movie character. Two, she’s a nanny not a house cleaner. She’ll make sure the kids will ‘toe the line” but somebody else has to do the house cleaning. [Grin]

      1. I think he is speaking of the amiable Alice, the housekeeper on The Brady Bunch. While the fictionalized Alice P Liddell or the stage character created by Mr. Vincent Damon Furnier might make for interesting (I use this term guardedly) house guests I am not sure about their house keeping abilities.

          1. On the internet, nobody can tell whether you sit or stand to pee.

            A surprising number of people are of the opinion they can tell from how people write, of course, but that is absurd: we are reliably informed by the brightest minds of our generation, informed by the latest research, that gender is an artificial construct, there being no essential difference between male and female … except, of course, that females are nicer, more nurturing, more caring and smell prettier.

            1. Umm – gotta disagree… have you heard the term masculinization? In the womb a single baby gets the proper hormones. However if two or more are in the womb and if one is a male, then the male hormones will masculinize (add masculine hormones) into the females. 😉 It is found to an extreme degree in hyenas.

              There are several differences between the sexes besides the sexual characteristics that are caused by hormones as in how the brain is wired, etc. etc.

              I will agree that it is hard to figure out a person’s sex by how they write though.

              1. I think that you best ask him to pull the other one, you are limping. If he meant that post in anyway other than scarcasm I don’t know…the people who peddle such nonsence are certainly not the best minds.

              2. Ah – he was making snark at some of the tropes trotted out by certain members of the feminist persuasion…

              3. Cyn, it is clear you have not enjoyed the benefits of a contemporary advanced education, else you would know that facts, logic and evidential deduction are tools of the oppressive patriarchy designed to hold women in their place (rather like bustiers — especially when you consider the high fees paid to see them displayed.)

                Clearly you need to subscribe and assiduously consume The Nation, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Mother Jones and Ms Magazine.

                1. Already went through that torture when I earned my BA in literature. Dang– we need a snark font so RES can’t make me limp. I limp enough with this disease.

                  1. This is me making a Viagra joke while pretending to carefully avoide any sort of Viagra joke.

                    1. GAW– you have had too much torture… I do remember that my English professor was convinced that I should get an MFA in CW. Thank goodness I refrained. 😉 The CW classes I took in college didn’t prepare me for the actual writing of fiction.

                    2. Sometimes I think the fact I refuse to do what is expected of my gender/ethnicity/first generation immigrant/artist status is just my being contrary. That’s a’right though. I yam who I yam.

                    3. They offer an MFA in Conventional Wisdom? I guess these days that pretty much covers all college coursework.

                    4. I have a year past the masters, actually. Seven languages, seven literatures… and yeah, I had to unlearn all of that cr*p before I could write stuff people wanted to read.

                    5. Me too. I had to unlearn all that cr*p too to write fiction. I am still not sure if people want to read it, but I am doing my best. Academic writing is stiff writing.

                    6. Oh, boo effing hoo. Let’s see you write snappy fiction after going to law school and getting a patent license.

                      I mean sure, the fiction part’s no problem…

                    7. Cyn,
                      I thought your husband was a ham operator? Wouldn’t he be able to teach you all you wanted about CW without having to pay for it?

                  2. No I didn’t have seven languages and the one language I learned is very deep in my subconscious. Funny thing is, I can speak German when I am crazy on prednisone. Other times… not so much. Plus I did my BA in my late thirties so I wasn’t as impressionable.

                    1. LOL – oops I learned Canadian English as a baby (18 months I think). I had to relearn American English as I got older… so does that make three 😉

                    2. Yeah, but Portuguese has underpinnings in Italian, and I still understand more Italian (and French) than German, which seems to have gone the way of Swedish.

                    3. I know a couple of French and Italian words, but I just don’t get it. Although both the hubby and I can ask for beer in several languages. lol

                    4. Eh – I used to be able to say ‘excuse me’ ‘where is the/take me to the /railway station/youth hostel/central market/American Embassy.American Base’. ‘Give me half a kilo of ____’ in about six languages – or show a note written in a couple more. I still have a lovely collection of notes in Korean, saying ‘Take this person to’ and ‘Take this person to Yongson Garrison Gate #1’ from my year in Korea, doing voice-work. Good times, good times – also, very well-paid times. Some of the AFKN staff were making six times their military salary from outside jobs.

                    5. I can speak five languages in varying degrees of VERY badly. Especially Mandarin. Those accents are so darned hard to remember. I have found that Italian, Spanish, and French are so close in pronuciation and word meaning that it is easy to flip back and forth. German, however, is always interesting to use, when in doubt just keep adding syllables. Of course, if you can speak English and German, then Dutch is managable – at least to read. Speaking it can be much harder. All those khhh silibant sounds.

              1. Hey, I’ve been called androgynous on this blog. I’m still trying to figure THAT ONE out.

                1. Easy enough – you write like a woman but think like a man. Didst not notice recent study reporting that Libertarians were most masculine in their thought?

                  Not that there is any difference between yadda-yadda patriarchy, false gender constructs, yadda, modern pedagogy sex-role oppression, so on, so forth. Men and women are just alike except if women ran the world there would be no wars, no uneq- [strike that] inequitable distribution of resources and EVERYbody would be happy (if they know what is good for them.)

                  1. Actually when I posted on blogs with a blog-name (A FEMININE blog name) the closest to my gender people came was guessing I was a gay male. (Not often, and mostly due to mmmmmmm comments on male pictures. Eh.)

                    1. When my friends think of me, “caring and nurturing” aren’t the words that usually come to mind. More often than not, the words end with some kind of “hole.” 😀

                    1. We weren’t actually dating yet, so no, there was no reason to tell her anything like that.

  2. I have come a to day when I don’t remark so much on what unexpected thing that The Daughter knows, but, rather on the expected things that she does not. It saves a great deal of remarking. 😉

    1. Yes, but when the (then) fifteen year old wrote an entire short story which hinged on a little known historical point even I didn’t know about until about a month before… well…

        1. When I was about 14-15, I wrote an entire screenplay based on a Rick Springfield video (Human Touch). I just pulled it out a few months ago and, while it’s obviously the work of a teenager, it might make a good YA post-apocalyptic novel. God knows we need as few YA novels with sparkly vampires as possible.

          1. Please tell me your post-apocalyptic vision has some hope as well. (Could it be that sparkly vampires were a kind of subversive attempt to get around the gray goo?)

        2. He’s also THE natural story teller in the house, so I’m glad he’s finally willing to try it. He’s looking to put out his own indie stuff after he turns 18.

  3. I do my own formatting and covers. The first covers weren’t too good. I will have to go back and redo them. My covers now are better. I use my own photography, usually desertscapes. I used to have an old copy of Ulead (which is now photoshop) so it wasn’t a huge change for me.

    As for readers, I have two folks who found me. They asked for books for reviews and I asked if they would be beta readers. So I send them the stories. Plus I found that it helps if I put my stories on a free fiction Monday. (remember… I need to put up a story). It gives me about three or four people who comment. So far so good.

  4. I’m like Cyn (though probably nowhere near as good a writer), and my wife and I did my first (and so far only) cover. It’s self-published out to Amazon, where I’m a total piker, but the experience was good, and now that I’m clueful with GIMP, intend to take it a good bit further next time.

      1. I’ve sold a whopping 23 copies, so I SUSPECT that our respective audiences beg to differ. 😉

        1. Cool happycrow. It is a very good start. As another indie-writer told me, it takes a little while for you to be found. I still stare at my amazon money page and pray for more copies sold.

          Another piece of advice was to continue writing. The best promotion is to have a lot of books and/or short stories out there in the ether.

          1. Yep. I’m heavily-involved in a gaming setup, and do a lot of writing on that end, which has put the other stuff on a side burner at the moment, but it’s definitely coming. My New Years’ Resolution is ALWAYS “no new projects,” and I’ve always blown it by March. 🙂

          1. ::nods::
            I’m apparently a weirdo – you’re supposed to start with short stuff and then go with the longer stuff. But my vicious editors (who I’m lucky to have, given that I’m such a piker in this game!) have brutally slain every short-story I’ve ever written, but given my novel a thumbs-up (after four drafts, of course). While I could care less about “success,” since I’m happy with my day gig, “writing well” is another story entirely.

            1. No. I wrote novels before I wrote short stories and know any number of people who did. I only ever ventured into shorts because I thought I HAD TO and that it was easier to break in with them. (It wasn’t. I figured that out eventually.)

              1. I did the opposite (wrote shorts before I got to the novels). I started out with poetry… short poetry. I am a literary poet. Yes, I have been published in several literary mags. ;-)…

                I just wanted to write something longer. It was really hard for me at first.

            2. The idea that novels are easier than short stories is outdone in ridiculousness only by the idea that short stories are easier than novels. Most writers have a natural length to which their stories will usually gravitate. That’s what’s “easiest” for them. This doesn’t always coincide with what they want to do. I for instance seem to cluster around the novella length, but I *want* to write another novel. I refuse, however, to stretch out a novella into a novel. I might could go the other way: you may have noticed I’m rather wordy. Cutting can usually be done. But I won’t stuff filler in to hit a word count.

                1. I hit a wall at about 85k words. All three long works I’ve done (two non-fic and one novel) run about 85k, including appendices. Short pieces are much more variable, although 5K words seems to be the “floor” for fiction and 8K for non-fiction (not counting footnotes).

                  1. Scott, non-fiction short pieces, at least the ones I write, are articles or book chapters about: urban water supply, great local floods (great as in large, not as in “a wonderful time was had by all”), regional conservation efforts, the wetlands of the Great Plains, how a late-19th-century Englishman viewed the American west, and so on. Thrilling reading, if you are thrilled by reading that sort of thing.

                    1. I admit that occasionally I’ll read something along the lines of an historical short and want to know more about the topic, but as to writing them myself, I suppose I always considered doing them book reports or research papers 🙂

                    2. Non-fiction shorts are also the general content of such magazines as Smithsonian, American Heritage, MHQ, Architecture Digest and, according to your political lean, National Review, New Republic, The Weekly Standard, The American Spectator, Mother Jones, The Nation,, Rolling Stone Time and Newsweek. (I exclude The New York Times for reasons that should be obvious.) It is likely that non-fiction shorts comprise the vast bulk of American casual reading matter.

                    3. I believe that this is the point where I get to exclaim: Boo-Yah! In your fercockta face, you meshugina goyim!

                    4. Oh. Okay then. Totally with you. PARTICULARLY (Waggles eyebrows) on the meshugina!

                    5. It is actually quite an extensive book, covering Baseball Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg as well as such contemporary players as Ryan Braun (last year’s NL MVP), Kevin Youkilis and Shawn Green. Then there was catcher Moe Berg, international spy (the OSS sent him to attend a lecture by a German physicist to determine how far along they were toward developing a nuclear bomb) about whom it was observed: “He was fluent in seven languages but couldn’t hit in any of them.”

                      Boxing greats such as Barney Ross (world champion in three weight divisions), Max Baer (World Heavyweight Boxing Champion 1934 to 1935) and Benny Leonard* would also be included.

                      Basketball fans might argue whether Red Auerbach should be deemed an athlete, but in 1950 American sportswriters named Nat Holman to the First Team of the half-century, honoring him as the third greatest player from 1900 to 1950. Abe Saperstein was founder, owner, and coach of the Harlem Globetrotter Basketball Team. But the most notable plaer would likely be Dolph Schayes, who was named to twelve consecutive NBA All Star Games, 1951-62.

                      Sheesh – I could continue mining the data at Wikipedia and The National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum ( but that would just belabor the point.

                      A minor note — there is some confusion in some of the databases, as such groups as the NJSHoFaM include such persons as Larry Doby, the man who broke the color barrier in the American League, through such aspects as “Good Guy” Awards. It is appropriate to consider that Hank Greenberg provided valued moral support to Jackie Robinson’s effort to break the MLB color barrier.

                      *For a great example of a non-fiction short, read

                    6. can I convince you to do a walking guide to the Paris of Louis XIII? there are three inadequate ones.
                      What do you mean do it myself? But… but… but… novels.

                    7. Nonfiction shorts are often stories that read like you are sitting down drinking coffee and listening to an oldtimer tell stories about the good old days. Probably this style is most commonly seen nowadays compiled in books as hunting stories, or military stories (there are a lot of these coming out the last few years about Vietnam). In the first half of the last century such nonfiction shorts were common fodder in many magazines and newspapers and I believe drew a lot of readers that quit subscribing when editors decided that all the articles had to have a purpose (ie. either be news or fiction masquerading as political news for the newspapers, or how-to articles for the magazines).

                      Growing up my grandparents used to get a magazine ( I can’t recall the name of it) that was all stories written by people about their lives growing up, usually around the depression era. I used to eagerly await that magazines arrival every month, I haven’t seen a magazine for years that has more than one or two stories every month, the rest of them are always either informational articles (generally about a new product) or how-to articles.

                2. I recall John Ringo once commenting (in discussion in the Old Bar) that adding a sub-plot typically added another 40K words to a book. Consider how many plots/sub-plots you may have running and whether additional sub-plots can be melded in or extracted.

                  I am sure this varies by the writer — Heinlein, at his peak, would casually toss off in a couple paragraphs enough ideas that many a lesser author would milk for three novels.

                  1. If I really need to lengthen something, I’ll add an animal that you don’t expect– like a goat or a snake or something. I’ll go on a tangent sometimes. However, those tangents do add color to the story… and the goat really helped out (it turned out to be my gun on the mantle).

                  2. One of my writing friends who does a lot of research read somewhere that with everywhere POV character that you have, you should have about 50,000 words. This led me to give a minor POV character his own subplot instead of just abandoning him heartlessly when he no longer contributed.

                    1. Cannot some words count for multiple characters, especially minor ones? Say, f’rinstance, you have Manly Hero’s two companions, Frick and Frack, commenting on events and grinding out some exposition for 1K words — does that get split between the two or does it count toward each character’s word count?

                      More importantly, wouldn’t you be better advised to focus on writing the story well and paying less attention to secondary character word counts?

                    2. There are lots of rules out there. Clearly, people who are published don’t have to follow them. Hearing about the “rule” did make me realize I’d left a character sort of dangling in the ether.
                      (and, apologies for poor proofing in earlier post)

                    3. Laura — ignore the rules. Most of them are B*LLSHIT newbies tell each other. SERIOUSLY. Ignore them. Among the rules I knew when I was where you are, and which I then broke because that’s how I broke in: You have to have a book fully written before you sell it; never submit a query to more than one agent/publisher; no book should be over 100k. All that is pure bs.
                      But don’t leave characters hanging. They get cold.

                    4. Unless said character is a spider, like Charlotte. See, rules are made to be broken! Just do it with forethought, so that you don’t get cut on the shards.

                    5. Well there are just too many delicious characters…so you have no one to blame but your peculiar imagination.

            3. You might consider that they just don’t like short stories and let someone else have a look at them, though.

        2. Heh. It’s theoretically possible I have managed to get two fans for my vampire shorts, the second has sold two and the third also sold two almost immediately after I published it. Otherwise there hasn’t been much movement of anything, apart from the free promo days.

          Maybe I should write a fourth vampire story.

  5. My two cents:

    Here are a few more things that might help indie authors who are working with a small or non-existent budget.

    First, you can find a pretty good variety of professional fonts that can be downloaded *with* a free license at This means that you can find interesting fonts for cover design (or anything else), while knowing *for sure* that you have the legal right to use them. (No, I am not associated with Font Squirrel.)

    Second, creating an ebook file using Sigil can be a pain for novices. If you find it difficult to use, I recommend this.

    Step (1) Start by using This is a free platform by the folks who brought you WordPress (upon which this blog is created — and no, I’m not associated with PressBooks either). You use it almost exactly like you would use WordPress, which means that if you already use WordPress it’s very easy (and even if you don’t use WordPress it’s *still* easy because intuitive design is one thing WordPress is good at). PressBooks allows you to easily upload (or change) a cover, create all your metadata, enter the text of your novel or story or whatever (either directly or by cutting and pasting from a document), add or re-order chapters, and a bunch of other stuff. You can then pick from a number of styles and export an EPUB of your book. If your ebook needs improvement, the PressBooks version is still there online, so you can go back and make changes and export a new version. You can create and test as many versions as you need to until it’s just right, and you can create as many titles as you want, all for free. (You can also export a print-ready PDF in one of several styles if you’re creating a printed book.)

    Step (2) Now use Sigil (a free EPUB editor) if necessary to tweak any small things that need tweaking. This is much easier than starting from scratch with Sigil, especially if you’re a noob.(If anyone wants specifics about the tweaks I prefer, feel free to email me.)

    Step (3) If you want a Kindle version of your book in addition to the EPUB version, use Calibre (another free program, also not something I’m affiliated with) to convert from EPUB to Kindle. Calibre does not do a good job of some things (like PDFs), but it turns out a very nice Kindle edition based on an EPUB file.

    After all the stuff that I’m *not* associated with, one thing I am associated with is, which I run with my friend Saul, and I mention this in the context of producing ebooks on the cheap because aside from the stuff we do for a fee (create covers, edit text, format ebooks) we’re also beginning to build up a stock of free do-it-yourself tips and guides for indie authors. (At the moment the DIY tab has an e-publishing glossary and we’ll be adding more stuff over the next few weeks.) Feel free to make use of any of our free stuff and if you have suggestions of things to add, by all means let us know.

    Finally, I have a recent blog post that might be useful for people. It opens with some information about the future of ebook technology, but the second half looks at some things indie authors might want to consider (or build on, or adapt) when thinking about how to promote their books and enhance the experience for readers when they have a budget of zero. If people are interested they can find it here:

    Hope this is helpful.


  6. I’m fortunate to have a fan who can spot all kinds of fiddly format issues, missing/extra spaces, and comma follies. He gets a free sneak peek of new books, I get OCD-level proofing, everyone is happy. I treasure him 😉

  7. I am a lawyer, but this is not legal advice, and anything I say may or may not apply in the jurisdiction of the reader. Consult an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction and familiar with the relevant law (N.B.: Almost no lawyer who doesn’t specialize in intellectual property is familiar with intellectual property law, although not all of them know that.) before making legal decisions.

    A couple of comments:

    1) Releases are a particular interest of mine. While obtaining a likeness release (typically known as a Right of Publicity release or a Right of Privacy release) for identifiable human beings is MANDATORY for commercial usage such as book covers (absent Fair Use defenses which I am not going to get into,) property releases for properties visible from a public way are usually not, at least under US law. This doesn’t apply to properties which have recognizable copyrighted artworks as decoration (or, rather, it doesn’t exempt the copyrighted decorative artworks.) But after reasonable inquiry and consultation with other IP experts, I have been unable to find a successful litigation where a property as property had its likeness misappropriated and the owner successfully recovered damages on that narrow basis. If it’s a commercial property then there are questions of association and/or endorsement, but surprisingly even that doesn’t usually work absent deliberate attempts to deceive. Property releases are always a good idea but quite a lot of fuss gets made about them which isn’t strictly warranted.

    If you take your own pictures of people to use on covers, or for any other commercial purpose, GET A REAL IP LAWYER TO VETTE YOUR RELEASE. Period. The fact that you paid the model does not automatically grant you likeness rights: many jurisdictions REQUIRE a written, signed release in a specific format or the model’s right of publicity may remain with them. This is not a good area for experimentation and it is a field in which “common knowledge” is often spectacularly wrong. There is an entire book on model releases on Amazon which is GOING to get the author sued and/or sanctioned for the unlicensed practice of law and which is filled with a lot of reasonably accurate information and a lot of totally wrong information. Think you can tell which is which?

    By the way, if you can’t afford a lawyer to do this, you could always sign up with a stock agency and use the releases they provide for free. They’re usually fairly good. 🙂

    2) Fonts and typefaces (they’re not the same thing) occupy an interesting grey area of copyright law. The digital files which CONTAIN the fonts when used on computers are copyrighted (they’re computer programs.) However, under some copyright law setups (including the US) individual characters of a typeface absent significant creative novelty (i.e. dingbats) are not copyrightable.

    The practical upshot of this is that if you legitimately have the font installed on your computer, you can use it to make fixed works (e.g. bitmapped cover images) without any further copyright concerns. What you can NOT do is DISTRIBUTE the digital font file without the appropriate license. So if your body text requires that a font be embedded, you better have the right license. If you don’t know, you probably don’t have the right license. For actual text, always use fonts which are widely installed and readily available.

    3) I usually either use my own photos (which are model-released) or license cover photos from Dreamstime or, failing that, CanStockPhoto (which is an itsy bit more expensive but often has a larger selection) at the three-token size. Be sure you know which size you need as the TOS sometimes put limits on how much you can enlarge an image and of course if you enlarge a JPG it starts to get crappy fast anyway. The different e-publishers have different minimum and maximum cover size requirements. Be a standup guy or gal and put the license credit in your copyright text, please. (Not always necessary, but always appreciated.) Also, make sure a photo you are considering licensing is not marked “Editorial Use Only.” In practical terms that probably means they didn’t get a model release. On Dreamstime there are two boxes: “RF” and “Editorial.” Make sure the RF box is checked and not just the Editorial box.

    1. And if you are outside the United States, check your local laws. Canadian release requirements, for example, are more stringent than those in the US for certain image uses.

    2. Marc, I’m planning to take a picture of the Lincoln Memorial. I gather I do not need to get a release from the Park Service? I did a wee bit of copyright work a couple decades back, and I’ve been figuring it’s federal property and unprotected. I hadn’t even considered a property release, not knowing about them.

  8. A tangent here: what do you think of Dean”s advice that even short stories should start at $2.99? His argument is you get better, more loyal readers at that price, and your Amazon royalty percentage doubles.

    1. Martin,
      I don’t know. I’m of two minds on it. If I put a short story at 2.99, then the collections of 5 will have to be… 6.99 which seems like a lot. OTOH the short stories I put at 2.99 — one by accident! — sell better than the others… so… I don’t know. Mostly, I think what holds me back is not wanting to go back and change all the prices. Meh.

      1. The solution is obviously not to sell your stories in collections of more than three, and keep the price down but not to where you’re stealing from yourself. If they’re reasonably lengthy I think this is perfectly reasonable.

      2. Also, please note that I am hearing anecdotal remarks along the lines that people are starting to actively filter their searches to avoid .99 or even 1.99 price points on the theory that most of the stuff at that level is bottom-feeding. This is another reason I don’t price at that level, when I do price at that level I put in a big comment about how this is a special promotion, and I’d rather give something away than sell it too cheap.

        1. .99 cents seriously shorts you as a writer, now – and 1.99 is not much better, even for just a couple of short stories or a novella. We kicked it around a couple of years ago at the Independent Authors Guild discussion group, and pretty much decided that 2.99 – 5.99 is about the sweet spot. The price of a cup of good gourmet coffee; any less and you are cheating yourself and undermining serious authors, much more and you are pricing yourself out of range.

              1. I’ve changed them on smashwords already — I’ll change B & N and AMazon tonight.

                1. Ah Sarah, did you make any changes to these stories? I had purchased them earlier.

                  1. If you’ve bought a book on Smashwords, you can always download the version which was in publication when you bought it as well as the currently published version, IIUC. Once somebody’s bought a book, you can’t take it down completely: people who have already bought always have access.

            1. If you feel like sharing, I’d be interested in hearing how that turns out in three or six months or so. One upside to being busy – you don’t have the spare time to obsess over the daily dips and spikes in sales!

      3. I put up five flashes or short fiction (other people’s short shorts) at 2.99 a collection. It comes to about 7,000 words total. Then I add a bonus chapter.

    2. Don’t know about our esteemed hostess, but I found it bang on with two caveats:

      1) I write erotica. It’s not entirely comparable to other genres although since I don’t (can’t) write pure stroke stories I’m probably a better indicator than many.

      2) “Short” is an ambiguous term. (Not in erotica: in erotica it’s a term we just hardly ever use. *cymbals crash*) I have a few short stories I *specifically wrote* to sell for .99 and/or give away. They are all less than 5k words. I wouldn’t try to sell one of those for $2.99, but I might sell a pair of ’em for that much. After that my minimum length is 10K words(ish) and up to 25K words or so. For a while I had them priced in tiers by length (.99 to 2.99.) I upped the price to $2.99 across the board. It didn’t hurt sales and in fact they are rising (but I suspect they are rising for several interrelated reasons.)

      As we’ve discussed here I think the average reader save on the very far left of the income curve has somewhat disassociated price from length on ebooks. As long as they enjoyed the story and it isn’t over in five minutes, they really don’t care whether it was $1.99, $2.99, or $3.99. After that it starts to reassociate. I’ve heard this from several different readers and haven’t had one yet tell me that of course it makes a huge difference for a dollar either way.

      On a tangential tangent, I find I have what seems to be a fairly unusual ability: when I just sit down to write a story, it comes out its “natural length,” but if I sit down and specifically intend to target a length I usually hit it pretty close to the mark. Me: “Brain, I need a thousand-word flash for OSTSWFA.” My brain: “Okay, boss. *typetypetype* Here you go. 967 words.”

  9. Marc is quite right about fonts. If you own a font and use it on a book cover, you have no problem legally. (I mean, that’s the whole point of HAVING the font.) And if you don’t own a font and use it on a book cover, it’s unlikely anyone’s going to care enough to drag you into court and attempt to prove it (computer forensics are expensive). Of course, you SHOULD own the font. Now, ‘fonts in the cloud’, where your blog uses a font that’s piped in from elsewhere, is an emerging and contentious area. But we’re talking about a book cover here.

  10. “But the problem with that is that the lottery guys keep picking the WRONG numbers.”

    The story of my life. A few times a month I go pick the right numbers and they still can’t get it right. What is more I’m sure I would be a good rich person if I was just given the chance. I promise never to look down my nose at someone and to never think I’m better than anyone for having money. You would think I was a shoo-in, but they keep calling the wrong numbers week after week. I mean come on they need to meet me half way here. I can only do so much on my end. I’m picking the right numbers what more do they want. 😉

    1. Given that the politicians keep demanding we give income tax cuts to people who don’t pay income taxes, I maintain that limiting lottery prizes to those who buy tickets is unreasonable.

      But if you think that being a “good rich person” does not include paying off … er, making donations to politicians and publicly advocating for higher taxes on lottery winners you need to think again, this time with the other hemisphere.

      1. Oh I would happily accept winning the lottery for just waking up one morning, but I figured I should put in at least some effort(a dollar a month at the least though I tried to show extra effort by spending two most months). That way they knew I was serious about it. I figured it couldn’t hurt my odds. Doesn’t seem to have made a difference though.

        Well the only thing I left out of what I think is the definition of a good rich person(having never been rich I can only guess at what constitutes good in this instance) is spending loads of money. That might be a difficult challenge, but one I think I’m up to the task of doing.

  11. I put away $40 each week in my own indie publishing fund so I’ll have enough to do my first book up right when it’s time. I don’t miss the money – it just means that I eat sandwiches twice a week instead of going to Chili’s. 😀

  12. As a corporate accountant originally trained as a communications theorist (no money in that) I will quibble slightly on the linguistics here.

    It is NOT”on the cheap” — it is managing overhead. You are reducing external costs that add little to the product. Elaborate packaging that does not enhance the reading experience adds cost, not value. Call this “Value Focused Publishing” rather than “On The Cheap” and you will similarly focus your thoughts more productively.

    1. And you can fill more squares on your Buzzword Bingo card.

      Just kidding, RES, you have a good point about approaching “cheap” as compared to “having lower overhead cost.”

      1. Thanks – it was a terrible struggle to avoid the debased conception of “Value” as it is employed by marketers.

        It is vitally important to maintain focus on your product and to distinguish it from the package, which also means knowing your consumer. I expect we have all cringed at tales of interior designers calling up bookshops to order “Thirty feet of books, leather-bound in blue, green and red” for filling client bookcases, just as we have likely met people whose bookcases indicated the titles therein had been chosen not according to the owner’s reading taste but to impress visitors with the owner’s reading taste. That is probably not the market niche you want to be developing.

        1. It absolutely is. Nobody ever opens the books. You can get away with anything. And they don’t pay any attention to the cover price, either. If I could break into that, I’d be golden.

          1. I agree, the only problem is that publishing high quality, leather-bound books (in this case high quality strictly defines the physical characteristics, not content) is expensive. If you fail to develop a market, you can go seriously in the hole.

            1. Perhaps the trick is to get the owners of the Leather Bound POD Books Provided To Order… very very drunk. Then get them to sign that you get to put the words in, for a reasonable compensation. Then profit!

  13. It is always good to see an expert willing to share with those less experienced people. I will never publish (other than on my blog) anything because I don’t do rejection well. And, that old built in shyness that makes me afraid of doing new things still overwhelms me at times. The thought of publishing makes me feel that way – afraid that is. However, I am fascinated by the whole process of writing real books, stories that resonate with people . . . sigh. I envy (I know one of the seven deadlies) those with the confidence and talent, and self discipline to write books, fight the good fight to get them published, even Indy Publishing. Wow. Sigh . . .

    1. Karron, you should do what makes you happy, and if you don’t want to publish, don’t publish.

      But twice in my life now, I have done something for fun and it never even OCURRED to me that somebody else might be interested in it… Until one of my friends said, “Hey, I’d pay for that.” One of them was an industrial jewelry design that a friend of mine now makes as his full time job. The other was writing. I don’t have any training in either industrial design, jewelry design, or creative writing. It just happens. If it happens, don’t fight it. Be open to possibility. 🙂

      1. It isn’t that I don’t WANT to publish, it is simply that I can’t imagine doing so and anyone else wanting to read what I write. Hence, the teeny tiny step of sharing on my blog.

          1. Apparently someone wants to read what you write, Karron. Perhaps she has an excess of spare time, but she seems willing to spare some of it on your writing. Imagine that!

                1. Nothing to lose, Karron — the worst thing to happen will be she affirms your judgement that your stories are fine for you but not what the public will buy.

                  Although, with the presidential election in twenty-eight days I am daily amazed at what the public will buy.

          2. I have several “starts” written. Let me do some spell checking etc. (Says the chicken little, shaking in her boots.) Meanwhile, you can read some of my simple stuff at my blogsite. if you would like. I simply have no idea how you find time to do everything you do.

              1. Yes, well . . . check your email when you get a second. Maybe I should change my name to procrastinator, I seem to resemble that remark.

  14. I did a binge on Sarah Hoyt’s stories last night and this morning I am groggy after an adventurous night of running through rooms and shouting “are you there?”

    I think I’ll read her stories in the daytime– just before bed is NOT a good idea. 😉

        1. I had to invent a new pen name when a horror story popped into my head. Man, I need to clean out the basement more often. There was some stuff in there that had been fermenting WAY too long. It’s… scary.

          1. We had a root cellar when I was a young one. My mother would send me down to bring up potatoes, onions, and bottles. I would scare myself silly.

            1. That wasn’t the basement I meant. 😉

              But while we’re on the subject, my room really was in the basement when I was a kid. (And my office is now.) I wonder if that’s part of my problem. Too much time lurking underground.

        1. It’s in the future history leading to Darkship Thieves. Same world as Castor and Neptune’s Orphans. I have promised Baen a compiled future history with a story ever… 50 years or so.

          1. I have also read Castor and Neptune’s Orphans and really enjoyed it too. I keep looking for Darkship Thieves on Kindle. I will have to take the time to go to Baen.

            1. I keep meaning to write a short novel as a sequel to Ariadne’s Skein. In the middle of the turmoils, where bios are getting killed in horrible ways, she goes back to find him and try to get out of Earth. The story started poking fifteen years ago, but I know it will be about 40k to 50k words, and there was no market for it… now it’s different. I just have to find time.

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