Do you have an idea for a book floating around inside your head but aren’t sure how to get that idea onto the screen and published? Would you believe me if I told you it’s possible to self-publish for free? Well, it’s true! You can, with some effort, create an ebook and publish online while spending $0. As long as you have a working computer and internet access you are good to go.
Admittedly, it’s going to require more time and effort on your part than if you spend a few strategic dollars, but that’s the price you pay when you don’t pay cash. It will be up to you to not only write the book but also edit it, format it for upload to the online distributors of your choice (Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, etc), and design the front cover. Just getting the first draft finished can be a monumental task on its own without having to add all of this extra fussing required to get it ready for the final submission. This is where having expendable money can make your life a lot simpler, and you can choose to outsource the editing, formatting, and cover design, to others.
Nevertheless, the first step is getting your ideas into something resembling a first draft. To do this you have many options.
If you want that Office experience but haven’t paid for the full install you can always try the online counterparts.
Either of these cost you nothing. Your text is stored online for you so you know it’s safely backed-up. There’s a lot to like about this option, but not everyone likes having to be connected to the internet to get work done.
LibreOffice is a freeware MS Office clone. It’s pretty great for what it is, but I’ve encountered issues that more and more make me want to just go and buy MS Office. LibreOffice works great most of the time, but doesn’t handle Microsoft’s proprietary file formats too great and usually ends-up butchering the formatting. If you need to put a document together, or a basic spreadsheet, then LibreOffice will probably be more than adequate and not cause you issue, but if you need to open a DOC file or have a spreadsheet referencing lots of different calculations then you can run into formatting problems and bugs.
WriteMonkey, and others similar to it, are cut-down text entry programs that let you go fullscreen to avoid distractions. They are bare-bones, but still offer a selection of nifty features that may come in handy. These aren’t fully-fledged word processing programs and are more like Notepad on psychedelics.
Ommwriter takes the idea of removing distractions to a new level by creating a serene atmosphere with gentle colors, backgrounds, and audio, to keep you in a Zen mode.
Offline & Tailored To Writers
If the above aren’t quite what you are after then you may be looking for the next two programs which are specifically tailored to creating books.
yWriter is free book writing software that encourages you to separate your book into logical sections you individually work on, move around, enable/disable from being included in the final print, and so on. Instead of loading an entire manuscript and having to dig your way through to the different sections you wish to edit yWriter lets you jump right to the section you want. The Chapter and Scene method of organizing your project makes editing much more fluid. yWriter also has a few extra features such as character bio’s for your own reference, tracking the date, time, duration of each scene, whose perspective the scene is from, and a few other bits and pieces.
When you compare yWriter vs Scrivener it’s like going from wearing hand-me-downs to suddenly being kitted-out with a brand new fitted suit. Writing in Scrivener simply FEELS good and does everything so much better. Here’s the thing… the creator of yWriter himself, on his website where he distributes yWriter, recommends Scrivener for Mac users. Scrivener for Windows came out a long time after the Mac versions, so the original Windows version was missing a lot of features, but since the original Scrivener for Windows version was released it has now come leaps and bounds from the bare Windows version it began as to what it has become today in it’s latest releases. Here is an older review for Scrivener for Windows.
Scrivener is not free but does have a 30 day trial period. You are doing yourself a disservice by not spending the small amount of money asked for this wonderful piece of software. Most people don’t use the whole trial and opt to buy the product long before the trial period expires – it’s that good. Where yWriter is freeware but terribly clunky Scrivener is supremely polished and feature-rich.
Scrivener lacks some of the specific novel writing features of yWriter, but makes up for it in spades with all of the other feature Scrivener has that no other software does anywhere near as well. Scrivener has the same splitting of sections and allows you to nest sections many layers deep, has a research section for you to dump all of your notes and references, and automatically applies formatting to the final output as per how you configure. It outputs in many formats from PDF and DOC through to Mobi and ePub.
Scrivener for Windows lacks some of the features found on the Mac version, but the main features missing are specific to the Mac OS. At the time of writing there were also a few minor quirks in the Scrivener for Windows version, but nothing that is a deal-breaker and are minor issues that will likely be resolved in time. Realistically you won’t even know there is a difference between the Mac and Windows versions if you only ever use one or the other. Scrivener is THE tool for writers of all types, not just those writing their next bestselling novel.
I began my first book FOREX Trading for the Savvy Beginner: What you must know before risking your first dollar using yWriter, but nagging discomfort with it led me to try the Scrivener for Windows demo. Like most others I didn’t wait for the trial to finish before buying a license, and from then onward I have been another Scrivener fan.
Once you are satisfied with your first draft you can go back over your work and read it from your screen. If you can print it off then do so; Grab a red pen and read through what you’ve written while sitting somewhere quiet and away from the computer, and/or have someone else read what you have done and make corrections and notes. No matter how many times you read it on your computer you will find mistakes in a printed draft you never noticed on your screen.
Ideally you will have access to a professional editor, but this will be expensive – probably worth it, though. If you can’t afford to hire an editor then have a friend read through what you’ve written and be prepared for honest feedback. You need someone who is competent in English who can make valuable contributions and suggestions.
Again, ideally, you will have money set aside to hire a professional designer who can capture the tone of your book. If this isn’t an option you can find someone on Fiverr to do a simple cover for you.
If you are absolutely set on not spending any money then it’s going to be up to you. Some of you will already have art and illustration software installed and ready to go, but for everyone else you might like to download GIMP and Inkscape. GIMP lets you easily manipulate and crop stock images, while Inkscape will be the tool you use to design and create your cover. You will find plenty of free stock photos available online that you can download and use, or edit and use. GIMP and Inkscape are invaluable for the frugal designer.
I do find that Inkscape crashes fairly often, so be in the habit of regularly saving your work.
Preparing For Publishing
Different publishers accept different formats, but in general they’ll accept PDF’s, DOC, and ePub. Each publisher will provide their own guidelines on how to format the file and which file format is the most appropriate. Because formatting ebooks can be fickle there are services out there who will format your work so that it will appear on e-readers nicely.
To do it yourself, if you have exported to the Mobi format for uploading to Amazon there is a Kindle preview program available here to see how your work will appear on different types of Kindles. Once you’ve had a thorough look if there are any formatting issues you can take care of them and check again. If there are strange formatting issues or other problems you may wish to export as an ePub file and use Sigil to dig-down into the source to correct any issues.
If you are just exporting to DOC and need to make simple formatting adjustments I would suggest to avoid using LibreOffice due to it’s troubles with MS formats, and instead go online and use Google Docs or Word online to put the finishing touches on your book. Exporting clickable table of contents is affected in this way, which I discuss here.
Once all issues have been addressed you are ready to publish, and that’s how you self-publish a book to Amazon or Kobo or wherever. You may even wish to self-publish and distribute your book from your own website as a PDF.
So, that’s it! Ideally you’ll use Scrivener, have someone else edit for you then you do more drafts and revisions, pay for a great cover design, have the ebook formatted correctly, and then you are published. You can, of course, use yWriter or other free software to write and edit your work and finally produce a DOC or ePub file, use GIMP and Inkscape plus free stock photos to create a cover, and then upload your book for publishing and all after having spent $0. This way is harder as everything truly is up to you, and the lack of shine and quality will likely show as a result.
Now that you know how to self-publish it’s time to begin writing, or finish an old draft you have allowed to collect dust.