Once upon a time there were two ways to get your books in print, get a book deal from a big publishing house or send it to “Vanity” press. The first was unlikely, the second guaranteed–send them your manuscript and they print and bind it as is. Then you buy it wholesale and do with it what you can.
Both options are still available, the first just as unlikely as ever, but the second has morphed into a diverse industry with many iterations, and has come to be known as “self-publishing.” I must quibble with the term. Unless you have a printing press in your kitchen, you are not “self” publishing. What you are doing is “purchase of services” publishing.
With purchase of services publishing you can spend a small amount of money or a great deal. On the lower cost end is the service through Amazon. It utilizes an online technology that allows you to design your own book and purchase wholesale copies or make it available for online sale. They make money. You make a little–more if you buy wholesale and sell it by hand.
The higher cost service, such as iUniverse, offers you a menu of services where you can purchase any service related to getting your book out of your “typewriter” and into the reader’s hands: editing, proof reading, cover design, marketing packages, and so on. Same basic deal with how you sell and make money. With either choice they probably make more than you will.
Between the two extremes there are small publishers that do less for you than the big publishing houses, but cost you less than the iUniverses. I’m not going to talk about them because they are all very different from each other.
Be aware that many book stores will not accept books that are created by the lowest cost options. The higher end purchase of services publishers design their product so that it will be attractive in the store on consignment. That’s part of what you pay for.
So what’s an aspiring, novice writer to do? I think it depends on whether you want to invest your time or your money. With the low cost option you do it all: formatting the book, choose/design the cover, find another writer with whom you can barter editing and proof reading services, spend the time in front of the computer interacting with the publishing technology, etc. Your cost is your time, not your money.
Word of caution: don’t try to edit and proof read your own work, so you may have to pay for this anyway. You may find a writing group that will do this for you if you are willing to spend the time doing the same for others.
With the menu of services in the higher cost option, if you have the money, it’s all packaged. This can free up your time to do what you really want to do, write more stuff. Your cost is money, not time. Choose from the menu wisely or be prepared for sticker shock.
Either way is “expensive” to bring a book to finish. Whatever you choose, let’s do away with the term “self-publishing.” If you don’t like my alternative, find another. Or maybe that printing press in the kitchen is not such a bad idea.