How to self-publish a book when you’re retired

By | August 28, 2017

The last time we hung out, I told you a bit about my attempt to cross off bucket list item #6 — write a book. I had just finished my first draft and decided to self-publish, i.e. fund and pick my own team of people to make the thing look professional before I throw it out into the world.

After the writing comes the publishing and the marketing. The writing is the fun part; the marketing is the scary part; the publishing part just seems kind of follow-the-steps.

Here are the publishing steps I walked and what I spent. In making my decisions, I tended to err on the side of thinking big rather than thinking thriftily for this project. All of the self-help books I’ve read told me to think big. If I treat this seriously, other people will too. Or at the very least, if I don’t take this seriously, why would anyone else?

1. Hire a professional line editor to murder your darlings.

You know how there are some areas in your home that are messy, but you’ve grown kind of immune to it because you’ve been looking at it for so long? Only when your housekeeper comes over do you actually notice the laundry in the living room. Editors are housekeepers for your book – a fresh pair of eyes, someone to point out the dust bunnies.

You can ask a friend to do this, but I think it’s kind of tacky to ask your friends to clean. Editing is a lot of work and your friends have their own lives. That being said, my bestie did take a look at my first draft and gave me some pointers before anyone else. But that’s because she’s the best and I’m a little bit tacky.

(Mary-Ann Kirkby is a successful self-publisher.)

I hired a professional line editor for the third and fifth draft. This guy reviews structure and pacing and tone and flow, rewording line by line if necessary and making notes in the margin. He knows the industry and doesn’t harbor a positive bias towards you, the author. He’s just focusing on the writing, trying to make it as easy as possible for the audience to enjoy your book. He speaks for the reader. What does the reader need?

If he’s any good, he’ll murder your darlings — your precious, precious words. Then he’ll dig out the decent bits and design a better journey for the reader. It will be painful, but worth the scars.

I gathered quotes from a few different sites and eventually went with NYbookeditors. I liked them because they provide a sample edit so you can decide whether you mesh with the person before you go all in.

The editor is the biggest reason to go with a traditional publishing house. They are an expensive necessity. It’s also the biggest reason to not go with a traditional publishing house. If you don’t like the editor your publisher staffs and you’ve already signed on the dotted line, well, so sad, too bad.

The total cost of this was $4,585.00.

2. Start a publishing company.

Starting your own publishing company is probably not necessary, but I did it to cross off a life bucket list item. Read about that here.

Cost: $286.07

3. Buck up.

You’re going to doubt yourself and your thoughts are going to occasionally annoy you. And by occasionally, I mean constantly. Why are you writing a book? You have no idea what you’re doing! Don’t you think you should do more research? Read more? Experience more? Other people have already said what you’re trying to say. And they’ve said it better. Nobody is going to take you seriously.

Grit! Failure is only in the stopping. I repeated that phrase to myself daily.

Cost: A fair amount of energy, but $0.

4. Find some beta readers. 

You need to find some beta readers for a preview screening. What does a slice of your target audience think of your handiwork? I asked my old book club for their help. They are experts at discussing what sucks and what doesn’t in literature. Especially with a glass of wine in hand.

I also asked a retired friend, my high school English teacher, my eldest sister, and the bestie that read the first draft. This gave me ten betas total initially. Six were able to get back to me with comments by my deadline. If two or more people complained about something, I examined those bits more closely. What’s really fun is when one person suggests deleting something that another person mentions they love. That contradiction happened a lot more often than I would have guessed. You can’t please everyone. You can’t write to everyone.

Cost: $7.19 (to send a physical copy to one of my beta readers).

My high school English teacher asked for a physical copy, so I mailed her one using She mailed her comments back to me. This was the first time I’d seen my words in print. Eek!

5. Edit.

As with step number three on grit, you should be editing pretty much constantly. You take the advice from your bestie and your line editor and your sister and your former teacher and your book club and you edit. You edit until the cows come home. Cows you’d previously insulted, so they’ll be home late. I wrote six drafts and by the end, I was so done with that pile of words.

Cost: A good amount of your energy, time and sanity. $0.

6. Buy Scrivener.

Scrivener is a computer program for writing. You can drag and drop and create folders and subfolders and research notes and outlines and corkboards and I could go on for a while geeking out about this product. It’s great. I love it. And no, Scrivener doesn’t give me anything for telling you how much I love it. Unless you click on this link –> Buy Scrivener for Windows (Regular Licence) when you buy it. Then Scrivener may give me something. I didn’t find out about the affiliate program until after I fell in love with the product if that makes it any better.

It makes the constant work from step #5 so much easier. And, if your text is simple with no graphics, Scrivener makes doing the formatting from step #7 easy.

Also! You can do your minute books from your company in here.

Cost: $40

What do you think of the cover?

 7. Hire a professional to design the look of your book.

Your e-book needs a cover. Your print book needs a cover and a spine and a back. You need a barcode on the back. The cover must dazzle eyes, look good in various sizes, in print and on screens with varying degrees of resolution. It must scream professional. The font, the spacing, the colors must all work together to entice your reader to enter.

You can design your own book if you’re into that sort of thing. I’m not. As you can tell from my website, design is not my strength.

Here is my list of things I wanted someone to do for me.

  1. Draw ten characters/illustrations.
  2. Make my retirement charts look pretty.
  3. Design a pretty print and e-book cover.
  4. Produce format-ready files for all the different platforms where I want to publish.

I struggled the most with this item. How much should I spend on this project? I can’t tell the difference between good design and bad design. I could go for the cheapest option for each part. Someone to draw the illustrations for a couple of hundred bucks. A pre-made book cover for $50. Buy my own barcode for $25. Figure out the formatting myself. That’s one end of the spectrum. The other end of the spectrum is a full service book designer who will do everything for you. Real publishing companies can spend more than $10,000 on book design.

I tried going the expensive route. My first choice was a book designer who would do everything for $3,000. I liked her because she wanted to read the book before she designed the look and I thought having one person doing it all would provide a bit of cohesiveness to the project. Unfortunately, she was going through a personal crisis and couldn’t help, so I went piecemeal.

Illustrator from $350.70.
E-book and print cover and formatter from damonza: ~$1016.50*

8. Make decisions. So many decisions. Long for a traditional publisher. Repeat step 3.

Here comes the research and the personalization steps. There are a lot of little, medium and big decisions along the way and a lot of random paperwork.

Where do you want to publish?

Publishing an ebook through Amazon and a print book through CreateSpace is a no-brainer. There are no upfront costs and it’s relatively easy.

But do you also want a print book through IngramSpark for possible larger distribution in the future? Or an ebook in the Apple store and the other e-readers? What about an audio book? These all require different formatting and they aren’t all free initially or easy.

I found Timber reading one of my library books.
…Okay, I staged this picture.

Do you want your own ISBN?

The International Standard Book Number is like a tracking chip for your book, a numerical representation of the barcode. Some countries (Canada!) provide these numbers for free. Other countries (The United States) charge $1,500 for 1,000 of them or $125 for a single one.

If you publish solely through Amazon and Createspace, they will give you an ISBN for free, but they become the publisher on record and that precludes you from using IngramSpark.

Make another bunch of decisions that are too boring to go into detail about, but are similar in vein and affect the total price accordingly.

Total cost of extras like this: $381

9. Hire a copy editor.

After you can’t bear another revision and you think your baby is ready for showtime, you hire a copy editor or proofreader. This guy will go over every letter and make sure you have correct grammar, punctuation, spelling, consistency and the like. Every time your reader discovers a typo, an angel loses her wings.

Cost: $530 from

10. Think about your goals again.

Yeah, you should have done this in the beginning. I was kind of fuzzy on the market section of my book proposal and loose with my expectations.

I wanted to create a book that tween-Thriftygal would feel proud of. This is why I decided against just printing out my first draft at a copy center, placing it in a binder, and using a label-maker for the cover. I needed the book to feel real. Professional. That was my main criteria. Hence the emphasis on professional everywhere in this post.

That’s it.

It would be nice to break even on the project, but I enjoyed the process enough to consider the expense a good investment in entertainment and self-improvement regardless. I’ve spent much more on my “see the world” bucket list. The satisfaction is in the doing.

Total cost of creating this book: $7,089.06. Oh geez, that’s a lot.


*I would not recommend

46 thoughts on “How to self-publish a book when you’re retired

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      I expect it to be ready in a week or two. But I’m always wrong about everything, so maybe longer. It will be available on Amazon.

  1. Herman Hudson

    First, I think the shot of Timber should be included in the book. Second, I love the cover. Third, I think the final cost you quoted sounds pretty darn good.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Really? This is my first book, so seeing the total made my head spin a bit. That’s several months worth of living expenses for me, but you’re probably right that it’s fairly reasonable for creating a book.

  2. Brian

    It seems to look good!! How many books do you have to sell to break even?

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      That’s a good question! I’m not 100% sure, but I think perhaps 2500 copies? I’m hoping to price it around $4.99 for the ebook.

  3. sahitya

    Long time stalker of your blog, and your cover finally compelled me to write a comment. I love it and I can’t wait to read your book.

      1. Craig

        I’d price it at $9.99, not $4.99. That’s a couple of coffees. People will meet your price at $9.99, especially before they read your thrifty wisdom.

        1. classical_liberal

          Agreed you may be pricing it a little low… If Craig pays $5 a day for his coffee, then a copy of your book should easily save him a cool grand in the first year.

          1. Thriftygal Post author

            My thought process was because of my own buying habits. If I bought a book for $4.99 and loved it, I would feel lucky. If I bought it for $4.99 and hated it, I would feel not annoyed. Not annoyed and gratitude are two traits I actively try to foster, so that’s why that price spoke to me. I’m still thinking about this piece though. I appreciate the feedback!

        2. Thriftygal Post author

          Yeah, I’m still struggling with this piece. My editor suggested $14.95 – $17.95 and I was like, uh what? I can’t wrap my head around asking anyone for money. Especially that much money! We’ll see. I’m reading a bunch of books on marketing and have a post started called “How to market a book when you don’t want to do anything.” 🙂

          1. Craig

            I pay $17 for two coffees and a bagel today. Seriously.

          2. Thriftygal Post author

            Yes, but coffees and bagels are sustenance! You can’t eat my book.

            I know. I have issues. I’m working on them. I appreciate your support!

  4. Katsiki

    Please tell us when it is available on Amazon. This is awesome!

    -One of your adoring fans

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      It’s at the formatter which is the last step! I’m hoping it will be ready in a week or two? That might be wrong though. I’ve already written a post “Bucket List Item Complete – Write a book!” and will publish it as soon as it’s done. You’ll be the first to know when it’s available!

  5. walter

    so did you at least TRY to get Judge Judy to write the forward (or is that the Preface)? or do people usually charge for such things? Congratulations Anita!! so close to the finish line. so have you charted the break even point including all the hours you put into this endeavor? say if you charged by your former hourly attorney rate? love the cover too. i think a photograph of you on a beach w/sunglasses and a nice cold drink, also taken from the same perspective above, would have worked just as well 😉 looking forward to reading your book Anita.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Haha. I have emailed and called Judge Judy so many times and have never received a response back from her. I just want to be an audience member! But I do talk about her being a badass in my book, so I would have loved to have her do the forward. She has no idea who I am though.

  6. Luis


    I love the cover – very clever.

    I’m going to buy the book on Amazon and I’ll provide a review as I did Jim’s book.

    Congratulations on this milestone and oh, don’t forget to read “Three to Get Married.” You placed it on your reading list; just make sure you read it.

    Semper FI,


    1. Thriftygal Post author

      You are too kind. Apparently, positive Amazon reviews are worth their weight in gold. Also, I just checked and “Three to Get Married” is indeed already on my book list. I put a little star next to it if someone recommends it to me twice, so I did that just now. 🙂

  7. Favourite Aunt

    Hi – an English fan here, can’t wait to read. So hopefully I will be able to download in UK. Enjoy reading your blog (except the recipes, which you would understand if you had had the misfortune of trying my cooking) and admiring your lifestyle bravery.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Yup! It will be available pretty much everywhere is my aim.

      Here’s a confession: I almost never cook, much less any of my mother’s recipes. It’s hard to motivate when it’s just me. And I’m not a very good cook. Shhh.

      The longer I’m retired, the more I think it’s brave to continue working a job one hates. 🙂 It’s super easy to live your life when you design it yourself. I want to shout this from the rooftop and this was the reason for the book.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      😀 Me too! When I saw it, I felt it was the cover. But then I second-guessed myself. And third. And fourth. All of your assurances are needed more than I can say.

  8. steve poling

    i did not see any mention of your “author platform” of which this blog is a part. You want to have a concerted multi-media effort to attract your audience to your work. I recommend Michael Hyatt’s book, “Platform” to show you a few good ideas

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Oh man. A concerted multi-media effort? That sounds suspiciously like work. I just checked and Platform is indeed already on my book list. Thanks!

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Thanks! I’m really struggling with the pricing. The universe has given me so much and I feel icky asking for more. I’m shocked that anyone wants to read what I write when it’s free, so my mind can’t grasp the concept of asking people to pay for my nonsense. I don’t think this is the right attitude though! My betas loved the book. My line editor loved the book. My copy editor loved the book. Maybe it’s not nonsense.

  9. John F

    How did you find the writing process itself? That is always the most diffiicult part for me.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      I love the writing process! By far, that is my favorite part. I’m happiest when I’m in a comfortable space crafting words on my computer. I wish everything could be that satisfying.

  10. John F

    For me it’s very difficult. But I write fiction. Procrastinating right now!

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Personally, I type into google “set timer for 45 minutes” and that’s my signal to write. I put my phone on silent, ex out of my email and facebook and just write until the timer tells me to stop. I do that for 2 hours every day and that seems to help a lot. Most of what I write is garbage, but 12 hours a week adds up and some of it becomes not garbage.


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