We live in an amazing time. If you have a story to tell or an idea to share, you can write a book and publish it for free, making it accessible to billions of people. This moment is unique to human history, and I think everyone who has a story to tell should take advantage of it. To help get you started, in this post I’m going to give you ten simple steps on how to write and publish a book yourself.

How to Write and Publish a Book for Free

There are a lot of different ways to go about this. In the past three years, I’ve published six novels and two novellas. What I’m going to share today are the steps I followed to publish my work.

Disclaimer: Following these steps will not make you the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. I’m not discussing in this post how to market your book, build an audience, or get an agent that will help you sell your work.

This post is a simple outline of how to take your book from your head and put it into the world where people can read it.

Also, if you plan to take your book to a traditional publisher, you should not publish it on your own first. This post is for people like me who have stories they want to share with the world.

Want to learn how to write a book from start to finish? Check out How to Write a Book: The Complete Guide.

How to Write and Publish a Book: 10 Steps

Ready to learn how to write and publish your book? Here’s what you’ll need to do.

1. Capture the Idea

Every book starts with a raw idea. For some authors, this may be a character or two and a general idea of the journey those characters will take. If you’re a planner like me, you’ll have the entire story plotted out beat by beat in an Excel spreadsheet.

Either way, you need to capture the idea of the book so you know what you are writing.

2. Write the Book

Arguably, this may be the most difficult step. Not because the tools aren’t available and easily accessible; but rather because this is the step that requires an investment of time and energy. Writing a book takes dedication and discipline.

This month, after my family went to bed, I spent two hours writing. Thirty days later, I have a completed first draft I’m ready to take to step three. Writing a book takes sacrifice, but it is possible.

Any writing program will do to write your book in. I use Microsoft Word because it is what I’m familiar with. Google Docs is a free word processing program that will save your work in the cloud.

Want more suggestions? Here’s our roundup of the ten best book writing software programs.

3. Edit the Book

If you have money to invest in this the production of your book, this would be the first place I’d invest it in. A great editor can move a book from an “I did this in my basement alone” project to a “this is a professionally produced book and you should all revel in its glory” novel.

If you are like me (a working stiff with five kids to feed), then there isn’t any money to invest in things that won’t guarantee a financial return. When I edit a book I first read the entire book twice.

They I run the entire novel through Grammarly. There is a free version of this program that will catch basic errors.

I then trade editing services with other authors and ask readers to read the book for me (it’s taken me three years to build up this network). This process will catch 90% of the grammatical errors in my books.

4. Ask Readers to Read the Book

Before you put your book in the world, have someone else read it and give you their thoughts. I promise, there will be things in your book that make total sense to you that feel like gibberish to a reader. You won’t be able to see these things on your own. Someone else needs to find them for you.

Ideally, this reader will be someone who enjoys the genre you are writing in. For example, if you are writing science fiction, you need a reader who enjoys science fiction. A reader who hates science fiction will read your book and politely say, “It’s okay, but I didn’t really get it.” That kind of feedback is an unhelpful waste of your time.

5. Decide on the Formats

Are you publishing an ebook, a paperback, or both? Do you want to stick with Amazon (the largest distributor in the world) and take advantage of things they offer to authors who publish exclusively to them, or do you want to go “wide” and publish your book on multiple platforms so it is more widely accessible?

These decisions may sound intimidating, but don’t let them scare you.

Each additional place you add and form you chose to put your book in will add formatting in step seven because each publishing platform requires a little different type of manuscript. An ebook is formatted a little differently than a paperback. A Microsoft Word document uploaded to Amazon will look a little different than one uploaded to Draft to Digital.

If this scares you, keep it simple. If this is your first time publishing a book, I’d recommend starting with a simple ebook on Amazon. Once that is done, you can expand to a paperback and to other channels like Kobo and Draft to Digital.

If you know up front that you want to get the book in as many places as possible, but you only want to format it once, I’d recommend Draft to Digital. They’ll take the book you upload and put it everywhere (even Amazon).

Here are links to the top three different publishing platforms I’ve used (note: these are US links; if you are outside the United States you will need to google your country’s links to these sites):

These three places are all free and they will allow readers anywhere in the world to access your book.

6. Get a Cover

If you have money, this is the other place I would spend it. Every reader in the world judges a book by its cover. That’s why books have covers. A great cover will help your book get noticed and start readers on an optimistic foot when they begin reading the first page.

For my first novel, I made the cover myself. I got a free image from unsplash.com. I then added text that image using Microsoft PowerPoint. To be clear, it is a bad cover and no one but my close friends and family read that book. At the same time, I was new at this and trying to figure everything out.

For my last five novels, I’ve used a professional cover designer. Again, if you have the money, I’d recommend you go this route.

7. Format the Book

This is easier than you think. Every publishing platform has its own tutorial on how to upload a book. On most of them, you can upload your Microsoft Word file directly.

Formatting a book becomes complicated if your book contains images. As long as you stick to text, this process will be easier than you expect it to be.

The key to formatting the book is reading (not skimming) the instructions on the site. You’ve spent a lot of time and energy creating this thing. Don’t short sell it now because you can’t be bothered to read the instruction manual. Watch and read all the tutorials the site has to offer before you start uploading your documents to it.

8. Upload and Publish Your Book

Once you’ve got it looking like you want, it’s time to hit that publish button and send your book out into the world.

9. Tell Everyone

Publishing your book to a site makes it available, but unless you tell people where it is, they aren’t going to organically find it. After you’ve published it, you have to let people know it exists.

10. Celebrate!

Sometimes the hardest thing about writing and publishing a book is that once it is done, you want a parade. Instead, you get a “cool” from your friends and family.

I recommend planning your own celebration.

After I publish a book, I cook a really nice dinner for my family. We eat something together we don’t usually eat. It’s my way of having a mini party to celebrate what I’ve done.

It’s Your Turn to Publish

We live in an amazing time. You don’t need anyone’s permission. You don’t need anyone’s approval. You can write and publish a book for free. All you have to do is put in the work.

Have you ever published your writing? What was that experience like? Let us know in the comments.

PRACTICE

For today’s practice, you have two choices.

1. Celebrate someone you know who has published a book. (Maybe you!) Share the link to their book in the comments.

2. Get started writing your book right now. If you’re at step one above, free write about your book idea to help you figure out what your book is about. Or, if you’re ready for step two, write a scene from your book.

Take fifteen minutes to write. Then, share your writing practice in the comments below so we can celebrate with you. And if you share, be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

Jeff Elkins
Jeff Elkins
Jeff Elkins is a writer who lives Baltimore with his wife and five kids. If you enjoy his writing, he'd be honored if you would subscribe to his free monthly newsletter. All subscribers receive a free copy of Jeff's urban fantasy novella "The Window Washing Boy."