After running a book store that specialized in indie and self-published authors, I cannot tell you how many times I repeated the same information. Typically it started with, "Sorry you went that route." or "There are better ways." Since that store isn't there anymore, I thought I'd put all that information on a blog post for those who know me to refer others to.
Now, if you want to hand over large amounts of money then by all means pick whatever vanity press you want. They range from around $800 to $45000 before you get a book. Or you can do your research. Below are three great examples of services that are going to cost you, and cost you, and...
After you look at the options know there are better ways.
Step one: Write the book. Millions of people the world over have the thought to write one, most won't sit down to do it.
Step two: Research! Figure out what sort of publishing option is best for you. I have a nifty little break down on the site portion of this address that can help. Traditional, Independent, Self-Publishing/Vanity. Choose wisely.
Research each company as well.
Step three: Find the right people to work with. Doesn't matter which path you take, finding people who will work with you instead of making you a faceless number among their bank records is always important.
Traditional: (the ivory tower)
Step one: Clean up that manuscript as much as you can.
Step two: Write the Synopsis and Query letter. Make sure to double check these as meticulously as you did your manuscript, maybe even more so. This would be a good place to have an editor look over your work.
Step three: Find an agent.
Read each agents requirements and don't submit if you don't qualify. This is a waste of their time and yours. Agents, like publishers, are specific on what they want and even when. If you meet their stipulations then personalize your Synopsis and Query letter to them.
Rinse and Repeat
Typically with an independent publisher you have one person to get through, sometimes a small group. You shouldn't need an agent to find these publishers and you should NEVER pay them. They are investing their money in you and your book. The steps are the same as traditional but instead of finding an agent you are finding your own publisher. There are thousands to hundreds of thousands indie publishers out there. This is where your research is going to pay off.
The big parts to pay attention to:
Marketing: What do they do, if anything?
Cost: If you want books for personal appearances, what do that cost you?
Other Authors: These are people you want to work with as well. You want to share their books and want them to share yours. Make sure it's a fit. Mind you not everyone is ever going to like everyone else.
Self-Publishing / Vanity: (Let the Crazy begin)
There are as many opinions, points of view, facts and "That's not what I heard", as there are options.
Step one: Find a good editor. Even if you have degrees in English, Creative Writing or any number of other areas, someone else needs to look over your manuscript with a fine tooth comb. Yes, it's expensive but so are errors that will make someone put down your book or give it a poor review, and that's if they even purchase it.
In picking an editor, they should be able to give you examples of books they've edited and you can go look at the work on Amazon "Look Inside" option. If they don't or you are unsatisfied with the search, they should be more than willing to look at the first page or two in good faith.
This should run you most of your budget. $1-2 a page
Step two: Pick a publisher. There are, again, hundreds of thousands out there. My personal choices would be Createspace or Lightning Source but that's because I've been doing this for eight years and know how to do all the next steps on my own (and happy to pimp myself to you too).
Step three: Formatting. You want a professional looking book. The reader should be able to pick up your book and see no difference from any traditionally published novel. There are still options. You can go basic, think of your average mass market paperback. Or special, with fonts (not too many) and graphics (sometimes a must and sometimes just pretty). Then non-fiction has these options too.
With this you also need to decide what size and if you want hardback or paperback. I will always suggest paperback because of the cost effectiveness. Later, after you've made back some money, put out a special edition hardback.
Most books can be formatted for under $100, most far under depending upon the type of book and how fancy you want it to look.
(formatting is before cover because the spine of the book needs to be determined
Step four: Cover: This should fit your genre and be eye catching both in print and in those little bitty
ads on Amazon. Look at the little Kat Martin on my first novel. That's small! A little smaller in the picture than on the site but not by much.
Covers can range from next to nothing (be careful) to a few hundred, much like everything else this depends on what you want. Either you can be very specific with a designer or you can send your synopsis and see what they come up with. There are sites out there that you can find premade covers too.
And then...upload, proof, rinse, repeat until...you have a book!
Then starts the marketing and that's a whole other beast!