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Writing Fiction: An Introductory Guide: Publishing

A guide to the craft and business of writing fiction.

Traditional & Independent Publishing

Introduction to Publishing

 

There are two different ways to get your book published: traditional publishing and independent publishing, more commonly known as self-publishing. 

 

Publishing contents

Manuscript Word Count Guide - Basic guidelines for what length your novel should be, depending on the genre and audience age. 

Manuscript Formatting Guidelines - Basic guidelines for formatting your manuscript before you send it to an editor, agent, or publisher.

Finding an EditorRegardless of whether you are going the independent route or are submitting your work to a large publisher, your work will need to be edited. Learn about the different types of editing, how much editing will cost, where you can find an editor, and how to submit your work.

Finding an Agent - If you're looking to be traditionally published, it's a good idea to hire an agent who can sell your book to the right publisher. Find out what you need to know here.

Traditional Publishing - Find out what traditional publishing is, what steps you should take to get there, and how to find the right publisher for you and your manuscript. Includes listings for publishing scams. 

Independent Publishing - Find out what independent publishing is, what steps you should take to get there, the types of independent publishing services, and how to find the right one for you and your manuscript.

Independent Publishing ToolsThese are just some of the tools you can use to publish your novel, from formatting your manuscript to creating the cover design that will have readers flocking to your book. This list also includes places where you can find freelance editors, cover designers, and more for a cost.

 

Free vs cost

There are online resources listed within this publishing guide that have a cost associated with them. This has been noted in parenthesis with each listing.

 

Traditional vs. Independent Publishing

Wondering whether you should go with independent or traditional publishing? Let Jane Friedman help you decide which is right for you and your manuscript with her article: Should You Self-Publish or Traditionally Publish?

 

A note on audiobook publishing

Audiobook self-publishing has different requirements from print and ebook self-publishing and is not covered here at this time.

 

Manuscript Word Count Guide

 

For each genre, publishers will expect a manuscript to be a specific length and it will make life easier for them and for you, if you adhere to this before you submit your novel for publication. Below is an estimate for each of three categories: general fiction, genres, and children and teen/young adult books. Make sure you double check these with any publisher you're planning to submit your novel to. You may also wish to do a survey of books recently published within your genre or age range to have a more concrete idea of what you should be aiming for. 

 

1 book page is approximately 250 words, so 320 pages = 80,000 words.

 

General fiction word count guidelines

  • Flash Fiction: 100 - 1,000 words
  • Short Stories: 1,000 - 8,000 words
  • Novellas: 20,000 - 50,000 words
  • Novels: 50,000 - 110,000 words

 

Genre word count guidelines

  • Fantasy: 90,000 - 100,000 words
    • Paranormal/Urban Fantasy: 75,000 - 95,000 words
  • Historical fiction: 100,000–150,000 words
  • Horror: 80,000 - 100,000 words
  • Literary fiction: 80,000–100,000 words
  • Mainstream women’s fiction: 90,000–100,000 words
  • Mystery: 80,000 words
    • Cozy Mystery: 70,000–80,000 words.
  • Romance: 65,000–80,000 words depending on the publisher's imprint 
  • Science fiction: 90,000–125,000 words
  • Thriller: 90,000–100,000 words

 

Children & teen/young adult word count guidelines

  • Picture books: 500–700 words
  • Easy Readers: 500 - 1,500 words
  • Chapter Books (For ages 7-10): 5,000 - 15,000 words 
  • Middle Grade: 30,000–50,000 words
  • Teen/Young Adult: 50,000–80,000 words

Manuscript Formatting Guidelines

 

When it comes to the formatting of your manuscript, always check with your agent or the publisher you are submitting to as they will have specific requirements. That said, here are some very basic guidelines most publishers and agents will want you to follow.

 

  1. Type your document, don’t handwrite it.
  2. Use a single, clear, 12 point size font. Some good font options are Courier, Courier New, and New Times Roman.
  3. Use only black text on a white background.
  4. On the first page include your real name, contact information, an accurate word count, and the title of your work.
  5. If you write under a pseudonym, put that beneath the title.
  6. Put your name, story title and the page number in the header on every subsequent page, in the format Name/Title/Page Number. Generally, you can use a key word from your title and not repeat the whole thing on each page if it's long.
  7. Left-justify your paragraphs. Right margins should be “ragged”.
  8. Ensure there is at least a 1 inch margin all the way around your text. This is to allow annotations to be written onto a printed copy.
  9. Use double spacing for all your text.
  10. Don’t insert extra lines between your paragraphs.
  11. To indicate a scene break or point-of-view change use the # symbol instead of a blank line.
  12. Indent the first line of each paragraph by about 1/2 inch (1 centimetre).
  13. Underline anything that should be bold or italics, rather than changing the font.
  14. Put the word “End” after your text, centered on its own line.
  15. Be consistent in your formatting. 
  16. If you are printing out your submission and mailing it in (rather than submitting it electronically), use good quality plain white paper and print on only one side of each sheet.
  17. If you are submitting on paper, don’t staple your pages together. Package them up well so that they won’t get damaged and send them off.
  18. Standard manuscript formatting maintains an average of 250 words per page, which helps with estimates. If you have an 80k manuscript, it should be about 320 pages or more. 
Finding an Editor

 

Know the types of editing first

Note that there is no industry standard here and different editors and publishers may use different terms interchangeably.

Sensitivity Reading - This is a review with an eye toward accurate representation of marginalized groups, such as people of color, those who have been through severe trauma, or are disabled. Keep in mind, this is not something a traditional editor will do, and finding a sensitivity reader is mostly shouldered by the writer themselves.  Learn more in this article: Gut Check - Working with a Sensitivity Reader

Assessment - This goes over the big picture of your novel including plot, characters, story structure, and writing style. The response will be generic with a 2-5 page letter and no markup in the manuscript, but might include references where the author can brush up on skills, if necessary. 

Beta Reading - This is the same as an assessment only it's done by friends, family, fans of the author, and fellow writers who are non-professional editors working for free. Please do not ask your librarian or bookstore associate to read your manuscript. 

Developmental - This type of editing covers the same things as the assessment but on a much deeper level, helping the author with core storytelling skills, rewriting or reworking plot points or characters until everything is working well.

Substantive - This is about fine-tuning major elements such as the plot and character arcs in a final draft of a manuscript. This is the first step an acquiring editor at a publishing house will take with a manuscript. If it requires more than this type of editing, they will likely reject it. 

Line Editing - This is about improving paragraphs and sentences and targets things like word and phrase overuse, showing vs. telling, using all five senses in settings, eliminating cliches and more.

Copy-Editing - Similar to line editing, this targets other paragraph and sentence misuses to correct things like sentence structure, grammar, word usage, and ensures elements of the story stay consistent, such as the color of a character's eyes. Some editors will do both line and copy-editing in one pass, but not all.

Proofreading - Is for double checking the manuscript for formatting errors, and any other mistakes that were missed during copy-editing. 

 

Factors in editing costs

There's no getting around it, quality editing is expensive.

  • Editors often charge per word, per page, or an hourly rate, so the longer your book, the higher the rate. 
  • Each type of editing has its own cost. Developmental is the most expensive, copy-editing is in the middle, and proofreading is the least expensive.
  • Do you have footnotes and citations? Though mostly found in non-fiction, they will add to the cost of your editing. 
  • If you have a short deadline and the editor is willing to do a fast turn-around on your manuscript, it will likely cost you more than the usual rate. Otherwise, you may need to wait at least six months to work with them or you will need to choose someone who isn't your top choice.
  • A writer with less experience will need more help, which means the cost of editing will be higher.
  • The more experience an editor has and the higher the demand for their services, the more they're going to charge. 

 

Common editorial rates

Here is an Editorial Rates Chart put out by the Editorial Freelancer's Association. (Note their disclaimer at the top of the page.)

 

Considering an editor

  • You want an editor who has worked in your genre before and has good credentials within the industry. If you can find evidence of their good, hard work, great! 
  • Editors don't take every project that comes across their desk. Make sure they are asking you the right questions about you and your work to find out if they can work well with you and make a difference with your manuscript.
  • Check within your writing network to see if someone you know has had success with an editor that might be a good fit for you.

 

Finding an editor

Here are several online resources for finding an editor:

Editorial Freelancer's Association - (Cost) Includes editors, writers, indexers, proofreaders, researchers, desktop publishers, translators, and others who offer a broad range of skills and specialties.

Editors of Color - (Cost) Here you’ll find talented individuals from a rich range of racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, with a wide variety of interests, experience, and expertise.

Fiverr - (Cost) Freelance services on demand: graphic design, editing, digital marketing, writing & translation, and more.

Kirkus Editorial (Cost) Purchase the editing package you need and an editor from one of the top publishing houses will read your manuscript and give you feedback. (Note that they do not represent manuscripts to agents or publishers.)

NY Book Editors (Cost) A team of editors from the Big Four publishers who help independent authors take their manuscripts to the next level.

Publishers Marketplace (Cost) See agents' webpages, editors' buying patterns, deals pages, and a proposals board for writers that can connect you to agents and editors. 

Reedsy (Cost) This is a great online place to write your novel, but you can also find experienced editors here too! Sort through the listings by genre or type of editing, get quotes from multiple editors before making your choice, and more.

Self-Publishing Review - (Cost) Get your book into professional shape with our editing packages. See the website for details on what each package contains and how it works.

Sensitivity Reader Directory - (Cost) Includes readers who belong to a wide variety of marginalized groups such as those who are disabled, a person of color, LGBTQ+, or belong to non-Christian faiths.

 

Submitting your manuscript

As every editor may have different requirements it's good to ask the following:

  1. How do they want to receive your manuscript: printed on paper and mailed through the post office or electronically via email. 
  2. How do they want your manuscript formatted: what fonts can you can use, where do they want your personal information, and other things.
Finding an Agent

 

What is an agent?

Agents are the people who sell your book to the publisher. Because they know which editors and publishers are more likely to purchase specific types of books, they are a valuable asset to an author. 

 

Reasons you DO need an agent 

  • Most of the larger publishers buy their books from an agent, so you're more likely to get in if you have an agent. 
  • Agents earn a 15% commission of your advance and royalties, so the larger your advance is likely to be, the more an agent will want to work with you. 
  • Agents can help get your work published in a foreign country.

 

Reasons you DON'T need an agent

  • If you're planning to publish with a smaller press.
  • If you're novel is in a niche genre/market (such as LGBTQ Romance).

 

BE CAREFUL

Agents do not charge fees for their services. They earn money based on how well your book sells. So avoid those who charge you money up front.

 

Finding an agent

Here are several different online resources where you can find an agent:

Agent Query (Free) The internet's largest free database of literary agents.

Duotrope - (cost) Duotrope is an established, award-winning resource for writers and artists. We help you find publishers or agents for your work. We also have submission trackers, custom searches, deadline calendars, statistical reports, and extensive interviews. 

Publishers Marketplace (Cost) See agents' webpages, editors' buying patterns, deals pages, and a proposals board for writers that can connect you to agents and editors. 

Query Tracker (Free) Find literary agents, organize and track your queries, and explore agent data.

Writer's Market (Cost/Free print book through the library) Find places to sell your writing, manage your submissions, get industry news, Q&A's with publishing experts, and more. You may also want to check out the Recommended Reading section of this guide for a print edition of Writer's Market that is available through the library.

 

What to submit to an agent

Query Letter - A one-page pitch letter that gives a short description of your novel. See the Recommended Reading section of this guide for books on writing query letters, or check out The Complete Guide to Query Letters by Jane Friedman.

Novel Synopsis - A one or two page summary of your novel from beginning to end. Yes, you'll want to include all the spoilers! 

Sample Chapters - Always submit chapters from the beginning of your novel, never the middle or the end. And never submit your entire manuscript. Agents will ask for more if they are interested. 

 

Possible responses

Once you've submitted everything, the agent will either get back to you and ask for a partial or full manuscript, or they won't get back to you at all. If they don't, it's not the end of the world. Find another agent and submit your work. Note that you may need to edit or rework your query letter if you consistently don't hear back from anyone. 

Traditional Publishing

 

Traditional publishing - what is it?

In traditional publishing the author submits their manuscript to a publisher either directly or through an agent. An editor at that publishing company will then look at it and determine whether or not the publisher will publish it. If they accept the manuscript, they will then buy the rights to it, which can include payment of an advance to the author. The author will then need to work with an editor to finalize the manuscript according to what the publisher wants. The author will receive royalties once the book starts selling and after the publisher has received the amount of the advance in return. Books published this way are primarily the books you will find in brick-and-mortar bookstores.  

Writers are known to get many rejection letters before they get the coveted acceptance letter, as these publishers are very selective in what they publish. These authors rarely have control over what their book cover will look like or what the title of the book will be.

Up until somewhat recently, this was the only way to publish. See the Independent Publishing tab for more information on other ways to publish your book.

 

Steps to traditional publishing

  1. Finish your novel. 
  2. Make it the best it can be with extensive editing, which may include the help of a critique group and/or beta readers. 
  3. Determine what genre you're writing in, if you haven't done so already.
  4. Find an appropriate agent or publisher for your work.
  5. Prepare your submission material. 
  6. Submit your manuscript, query letter, and other material to the appropriate agent or publisher.
  7. Wait to hear back.
  8. Prepare to query another agent or publisher and start again if you've not heard back or were rejected.

 

Publisher listings

Duotrope (Cost) Duotrope is an established, award-winning resource for writers and artists. We help you find publishers or agents for your work. We also have submission trackers, custom searches, deadline calendars, statistical reports, and extensive interviews. 

Query Tracker (Free) Find literary agents, organize and track your queries, and explore agent data.

Writer's Market (Cost/Free print book through the library) Find places to sell your writing, manage your submissions, get industry news, Q&A's with publishing experts, and more. You may also want to check out the Recommended Reading section of this guide for a print edition of Writer's Market that is available through the library.

 

Literary contests 

31 Free Writing Contests: Legitimate Competitions With Cash PrizesIt can be hard for a writer to know where to start looking for competitions, and how to tell if they’re legitimate or not. So the folks at The Write Life have done the legwork for you. Here are 31 reputable, well-reviewed free writing contests for poets, fiction writers, essayists and more.  

Contests sponsored by Winning Writers -These are the current annual contests sponsored by Winning Writers, located in Massachusetts. They also have a list of The Best Free Literary Contests, but you do need to sign up for their free newsletter to access it. 

Writing Contests, Grants & Awards - This database includes details about the creative writing contests—including poetry contests, short story competitions, essay contests, awards for novels, and more—that we’ve published in Poets & Writers Magazine during the past year. We carefully review the practices and policies of each contest before including it. Ours is the most trusted resource for legitimate writing contests available anywhere.

 

Publishing scams

Friends Don’t Let Friends Fall for Publishing Scams: Look for These Tell-Tale Signs - Ruth Harris and Anne Allen are a couple of publishing industry veterans working to help new writers create their best possible work and launch it successfully into the marketplace—whether you’re going indie or taking the traditional route.

Contests and Services to Avoid - Winning Writers finds and creates quality resources for poets and writers. They have compiled a list of contests and organizations you may wish to avoid. Many appear to be disguised vanity publishers, whose goal is to sell you expensive personalized products and attract you to conferences. Others may charge you membership or service fees for which the benefits are questionable, or which can be obtained elsewhere for free. Still others claim the right to publish your entry whether or not you win a prize. Winning prizes from these organizations will add little to your resume, and may even make you look amateurish to publishers and other poets.

Web Resources that Help You Identify Scams - Winning Writers has compiled a list of organizations on the internet that can help you identify publishing scams. 

Writer Beware Writer Beware’s mission is to track, expose, and raise awareness of the prevalence of fraud and other questionable activities in and around the publishing industry. It is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. 

 

Submitting your manuscript

As every publisher may have different requirements it's good to ask the following:

  1. How they want to receive your manuscript: printed on paper and mailed through the post office or electronically via email. 
  2. How do they want your manuscript formatted, which includes what fonts you can use, the line spacing, where they want your personal information, and other things. 
Independent Publishing

 

Independent publishing - what is it?

Independent publishing is also known as self-publishing. In independent publishing, an author will do most of the work on their own or hire others to help them, including the editing and formatting of their print or ebook. They will then send it to a company such as Smashwords or Amazon/Kindle Direct Publishing(KDP), who will then sell it for them. 

 

Steps to independent publishing

  1. Finish your novel.
  2. Make it the best it can be with extensive editing, which may include the help of a critique group and/or beta readers. You will also want to hire a professional editor to further polish your prose.
  3. Determine what genre you're writing in, if you haven't already, and check the word count guide to see if you're on target for your genre.
  4. Determine what self-publishing services you will use. Will there be more than one? Will you publish in print, ebook, or both?
  5. Design your book cover, whether you do it yourself, or hire a professional.
  6. Format your manuscript for print and/or ebook formats, according to the publishing services you chose.

 

Types of independent publishing services

Vanity Publishers - These publishers charge authors a fee to publish their book and at the same time, authors agree to purchase either a specific number of copies or marketing services from the publisher.

Hybrid Publishers - While hybrid publishers are selective about what they publish, and work to make sure the books are well edited, have a good cover, and well marketed and distributed, they still charge authors a fee to publish the book. 

Shared Publishers - These are similar to vanity and hybrid publishers, in that they will charge the author a fee to publish the book, but they are interested in investing in the author for more than one book. Some larger traditional publishing houses are getting into shared publishing. 

Print-on-Demand Publishers - POD is flexible and more cost-efficient for the author than most other options because it means the book will be printed only when someone has purchased a copy. However, this does mean that the cost per unit is higher than other books. The publisher may or may not include marketing in the agreement. The author keeps their rights to the book.

Self-Publishing Services - The author pays for everything, including the editing, cover design, marketing, and printing. Some self-publishing services will offer these services for a price, or the author can find these services elsewhere. This is even more flexible than POD publishers.

 

Self-publishing services

Note that the Publishing Scams section below offers reviews of these services and others not listed here.

Draft 2 Digital (They make 10% of what you sell, with no upfront costs/Accepts Microsoft .doc, Microsoft .docx & RTF files only) Helps with formatting, turning your word document into a readable ebook, and distributing your book to any of the eleven stores they currently work with which include Amazon, Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and more! 

IndieReader (Cost/Internet Based) Provides tools and services to help improve your book’s credibility and discoverability, making it easier for you to get it where it belongs: in front of readers. IndieReader can also get your book into Edelweiss, one of the online catalogs used by many (but not all) libraries and independent bookstores.

IngramSpark - Publish your book in hardback, paperback, or ebook, then get it distributed to retailers and libraries around the world.

Kindle Direct Publishing (Free, Authors earn up to 70% royalty on sales) Get your book published on Amazon in ebook and print. Includes help with formatting and cover design. 

Kobo Writing Life (Free) It's as simple as creating a Kobo Writing Life account, upload your manuscript, and set the price. We’ll add it to the Kobo catalogue within 72 hours and keep it there as long as you want.

Self-Publishing Review - Self-Publishing Review offers a publishing service for authors looking for the best of both worlds – the freedom of self-publishing with an all-inclusive service – SPR Books. Keep all of your Amazon royalties, and get a “published” ISBN, editing, cover design, formatting, and assistance uploading your book to Amazon KDP. SPR Books also features built-in book marketing.

Smashwords (Our commission is 10% of the retail price for sales through our retail distribution network, and 15% at the Smashwords Store/Internet Based - Accepts Microsoft .doc and EPUB files only) Offers quick and easy ebook distribution to most of the world's largest ebook retailers.  We provide free tools for marketing, distribution, metadata management and sales reporting.  At Smashwords, our authors and publishers have complete control over the sampling, pricing and marketing of their written works.  

 

Audiobook Services

Debating whether or not you should turn your book into an audiobook? Check out this article first: The Ultimate Guide to Self-Publishing Audiobooks.

ACX(Audiobook Creation Exchange) - (Cost) ACX is an Amazon company and marketplace where authors, literary agents, publishers, and other Rights Holders can connect with narrators, engineers, recording studios, and other Producers capable of producing a finished audiobook.

Findaway Voices - (cost) Find and work with narrators to turn your book into an audiobook. 

Soundwise - (Cost) Sell books directly to your listeners, build a community by respond to their comments, track and measure your marketing strategies, choose your own prices, and keep control over your listener email list.

 

Literary Contests

Book award contests: Are they worthwhile? - Fiona Raven and Glenna Collett are book designers with 60+ years of experience who wrote Book Design Made Simple and submitted it for awards. Here is what they learned from the process, as well as a list of legitimate awards at the end.

DIY: Book Awards for Self-Published Authors With hundreds of thousands of self-published books hitting the virtual shelves every year, indie authors need to find ways of standing out. Winning one of the many book awards for self-published writers is one way. Let Publisher's Weekly help you choose which one is right for you.

Top Ten Self-Published Book Awards For Independent Authors - If you’re looking for self-published book awards, IndieReader describes the top 10 awards and what it takes to enter.

 

Publishing scams

Note that these lists identify legitimate contests and self-publishing services as well as scams.

Award and Contest Ratings The Alliance of Independent Authors monitors the self-publishing industry through its Watchdog Desk, headed up by John Doppler, which identifies legitimate contests as well as rogue author and publishing services that overcharge, under-deliver, or in any way confuse or exploit authors for financial gain. Many contest and awards programs fall into this category and some questionable award schemes have been running for years. The ratings here offer the opinion of the Watchdog Desk, based on the principles outlined.

Best and Worst Self-Publishing Services - The Alliance of Independent Authors monitors the self-publishing industry through its Watchdog Desk, headed up by John Doppler, which identifies rogue author and publishing services that overcharge, under-deliver, or in any way confuse or exploit authors for financial gain. Ratings of these self-publishing services are based on careful appraisals of multiple criteria, including pricing and value, quality of service, contract terms and rights, transparency, accountability, and customer satisfaction.

Publishing Service Index - Put out by the Independent Publishing Magazine twice a year, this index lists self-publishing services, and includes a review of each. You may wish to start here: Publishing Service Index: What it is and how to best use it.

Writer Beware Writer Beware’s mission is to track, expose, and raise awareness of the prevalence of fraud and other questionable activities in and around the publishing industry. It is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. 

 

A note on cover art and layout

We have all heard the phrase "don't judge a book by its cover", and we all know we shouldn't, but we all know we do it. Keep this in mind. If you do not have any graphic design experience, you may want to hire a professional cover artist who can make your cover look attractive to anyone walking by. If someone doesn't know your name, the first thing they see is your front cover, and then your back cover, if they get that far. Make sure they want to pick up your book!

Likewise, make sure your layout and formatting is professional and easy to read. For example, margins should be large enough that you won't lose words in the binding, but not so big that your book takes up more pages than it needs to. 

See the section on Independent Publishing Services to find people like cover artists who can help you make your book look professional and attractive.

 

More Information

Start Here: How to Self-Publish Your Book - Jane Friedman's guide walks you through every step from print books to ebooks.

A list of organizations that help independent writers get their work published can be found in Specialized Organizations under the National Organizations tab.

 

Independent Publishing Tools

 

General tools & freelance services

Please note that this list has not been organized into subsections because many of these service providers cover all aspects of book design and publishing. There is, however, a short list for do-it-yourself graphic design at the bottom. 

Calibre - (Free/any platform & USB drives) A powerful and easy to use ebook manager. Save time managing your ebook collection, use it anywhere and with anything, view your ebooks, download news/magazines from the web, share and backup your library easily, edit the books in your collection, satisfy every ebook need and get support.

Fiverr - (Cost) Freelance services on demand: graphic design, digital marketing, writing & translation, and more. Note that some of these services may start at prices lower than most (around $5.00), and others on Fiverr may be more expensive.

Jutoh - (Cost/Windows, MacOSX, Linux, Chrombook, & Raspberry Pi 2) Easily create ebooks in Epub and Kindle formats: publish on any ebook distribution site, including Amazon's Kindle, Apple's iBooks, Google Play, Kobo, and more. Your readers can use Kindles, iPads, iPhones, Android tablets and phones, Macs and PCs. You can also create PDFs suitable for sending to print-on-demand services.

Kindle: Building Your Book For Kindle - (Free/Kindle book) This free guide will walk you through the necessary steps in creating a professional digital file of your book using Microsoft Word 2010 for quick upload to Kindle Direct Publishing.

Pressbooks - (Free & Cost/ Internet Based) Pressbooks is simple book production software, built with the web in mind. Create interactive web books, PDFs for print, and ebooks, all from one place. Write your own book on Pressbooks or import an existing manuscript, then choose a book design theme, and export into all the file formats you need to publish your books.

Publishizer - (Free) Every year, over 1,000,000 book ideas are rejected by traditional publishing. Our agents seek to discover the great book ideas among them, enable them through crowdfunding, and spread them through negotiating publishing deals.

Reedsy - (Free & Cost for Additional Services/Internet Based) Built for distraction-free writing. Our formatting toolbar makes it easy to apply styles as you write. Reedsy also has a marketplace to help you find editors, designers, and marketers to help your book become distribution ready when you're finished.

Scribus - (Free/Windows, MacOS, Linux, FreeBSD, PC-BSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, Solaris, OpenIndiana, Debian GNU/Hurd, eComStation, & Haiku) Helps you layout the finished book, and includes support for vector drawing tools and many file types, emulation of color blindness, and rendering of markup languages.

Smashwords Style Guide - (Free/downloadable book formats: Epub, Kindle, or PDF) This free guide offers simple step-by-step instructions to create, format and publish an ebook. It's required reading for any author who wants to distribute their book via Smashwords to major ebook retailers such as Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Scribd, & Kobo. 

Vellum - (Cost/MacOS) Design ebooks and print books easily, assemble ebook boxed sets, advanced copies for early feedback, add store links to help readers buy your book, and generate ebooks for Kindle, Apple Books, Kobo, and more.

 

DIY graphic design

Adobe InDesign - (Cost/Windows & MacOSX, Internet connection required) The industry-leading page design software and layout app lets you create, preflight, and publish beautiful documents for print and digital media. InDesign has everything you need to make posters, books, digital magazines, eBooks, interactive PDFs, and more.

Canva (Free, Cost Version, & 30-Day Free Trial/Internet Based & iOS) A user-friendly graphic design software with a wide range of drag and drop templates. Create your book covers with Canva.

Gratisography - (Free) High-resolution pictures for your personal and commercial projects. Pictures are added weekly and are free of copyright restrictions. All pictures are captured by Ryan McGuire of Bells Design.

New Old Stock - (Free) Vintage photos from public archives free of known copyright restrictions.

Pixistock - An on-demand, photo, caption + graphics library, designed to help you create, plan and share better, more profitable content across your entire online presence.

Reshot - (Free) Handpicked, non-stocky images. Yours to use as you wish.

StockSnap.io - (Free) Uploads hundreds of free photos daily.

 

A note about costs

Keep in mind that while you don’t have to pay a lot of money for services, such as cover design and formatting, quality work will usually cost more, the same as it does with professional editing services.