Lurking on various forums frequented by self-publishers, I’ve been surprised by how much some will spend to bring forth their works — thousands of dollars in some cases — for editing, graphic design and publicity.
I have published four ebooks and spent almost nothing. Smashwords is a free ebook distribution service. WordPress hosts blogs for free. I’ve spent about $20 per year for my domain name. I created my own cover images and book trailers (and yes, maybe they show it, but for now they suit me and making them was a creative experience in itself).
I have no personal experience to compare my approach with any other, but this is what I think:
Large expenditures do not guarantee success. Don’t go into debt.
Start out with free or cheap options and judiciously add paid-for enhancements.
I have recently posted my thoughts on “professional editing,” so will say only that there are many options other than costly ones. Editing makes a work better, but expensive editing is no magic bullet.
If you are self-publishing in print, hire a graphic artist to design your book covers. Unless you are confident of your abilities to put together an eye-catching image, it may be worthwhile to do this even for an ebook.
As to publicity, I suspect it can be a bottomless well for cash. Don’t keep dumping it in if the results fail to delight you.
The thing about starting out with bare-bones, free or cheap options is that you give yourself the chance to see how well your book(s) will do simply as themselves, supplemented with your own marketing efforts. Here is a list of things almost anyone can do. I’ve tried a few of them myself (and I am by no means a natural when it comes to marketing).
If your book isn’t doing as well as you hoped it would after a few months or a year, have a meeting with yourself and strategically select enhancements — graphic design, advertising, the services of a publicist. Add one at a time and see what difference it makes. The thing about self-publishing is that you get to call the shots. No one is going to take your books off the market if they don’t generate enough sales within a specific time.