There is a myth that indie publishing is a cheap or (even better) free route to publishing a book. Likewise for traditional publishing, there’s a myth that if a writer gets a publishing contract with one of the big publishing houses, all doors will open for them - PR, marketing, book design, etc. - and never will they have to spend a dime of their own money.
Notice that I’ve called both of these concepts “myths”. Being a writer, and having success, no matter which route you take, will require you to spend some money, and in some cases, the amount you spend may be significant.
How can this be?! you might ask. Isn’t it free to make an ebook or set up a print-on-demand (POD) service?
Yes, it is free to create an ebook, and SOME print-on-demand services are free. Depending on the POD service you use, there are may be per-title setup costs. But, don’t assume that cheaper = better for you. Research is key here.
What about being picked up by a big publisher? Why do I need to spend money on author services? Doesn’t the publisher handle that?
There are some things your publisher may pay for, like editing and proofreading services, but unless you’re an A-list author (think Stephen King, Patricia Cornwell, Dan Brown, Nora Roberts), you may have to pay for some services independently.
Gone are the days when an author was picked up by a large publisher, was assigned an editor, and the tab for all promotional activities was picked up by the publishing house. For anyone who is not an A-list author, getting a publicist and setting up marketing activities may well be your responsibility, with the tab being yours to pay.
Also, the smaller the publishing house, the less services you are likely to get for free. This is not to discount the usefulness of smaller publishers, of course, because there are advantages to those publishers you don’t receive from larger publishers, like more personalized attention.
Hopefully, no one read this post and determined they cannot publish their book without $10,000 in hand first. This isn’t true. There are lower cost options available to you in publicity and marketing, no matter which route you choose to take. Also, there is no one right direction for every author. The key is just to be aware that it is unlikely you will spend nothing at all on promoting and marketing your book and then see it hit the New York Times Bestseller List.
Certainly, if someone has figured out how to do that, send me a message to let me know how they did it. That would certainly be worth sharing.