Yesterday I rejected a blog comment by "Miriam" asking how much it costs to publish a book. I didn't reject the comment because of the question, but because of where it appeared, on a recent interview post that had nothing to do with the subject. My contact information is all over this website, if you want to ask me a question, please don't tag it onto a random blog post, just e-mail it to me. I've written more about the costs of publishing than anybody else I'm aware of, so I did a little Google experiment.
If you Google "Self Publishing Cost", the top two results are both from this website. The first discusses in depth the cost of publishing a print-on-demand book with Lightning Source. The second discusses the cost of publishing a book on an offset press. Here's an old blog post that contrasts POD with offset, and here's one that looked at color on-demand economics. Another post goes beyond printing, to the cost of editing and book design, and here's a rather long post that got into the risks and profits in publishing.
But there are two costs that I don't often write about directly, because they involve putting a price on my own time. As a self publisher, I don't purchase the rights to manuscripts, I write my own. Long time readers know that I considered publishing a book version of this blog a couple years ago, a fact I was reminded of that early this week when it showed up in the Amazon catalog:-) If I were to publish a book of blog posts today, maybe taking the top 100 of the nearly 350 posts I've written, we could estimate my time investment at over 800 hours. The vast majority of that time would be attributed to writing the posts, but there would also be time spent on selection, cover design and web management overhead. I'll leave out time spent in correspondence. If I lowball the cost of my time at $25/hour, that's a $20,000 investment. Do I believe a collection of my blog posts could earn $20,000 in gross sales (let alone net), not to mention the cost of editing and proofreading? Not a chance.
A second example would be the cost of writing the laptop repair book I'm waiting to get back from my editor. While I've been writing about the subject for years, the book was basically written from scratch, starting last summer, and involved a good deal of research into esoteric problems to distill what I thought was necessary for mainstream readers. I'd put my investment at roughly six months, and I'll let you assign my salary. Do I think I'll earn it back with the book, which I'll launch as an ebook and which may never make it to paper? No. While it's possible, it's really an example of a writing project that got under my skin until I had to finish it, but given the approach I took to the material, I think the market will be limited.
The obvious point I'm trying to hit poor Miriam over the head with here is that the cost to publish a book isn't some one line answer. I could say that none of the books that I published through Lightning Source cost me more than $100 to publish, but that would only include the setup fees. The setup fee to publish a book by any methodology is the most inconsequential cost involved. And none of the above discussion even touches on marketing, though in my case, the excerpts on my website do all the book marketing. But I hear again and again from potential self publishers who explain to me at great length that they only have a very limited budget publish their book. They also don't have any time to spend researching or promoting title, so could I just whisper the secret of success in their ears. All I can whisper is, "Good Luck".