The simple answer is that it should cost you nothing to publish a book. If you've written something that a publisher wishes to publish, you will be paid for the work. The publisher bears the cost of printing. But if you haven't found a publisher yet, or are simply interested in printing a few copies of your child's favorite artwork with her simple story, there are a number of companies that you can pay to have this done.
Self-publishing, or vanity publishing as it is often called, is the process of printing your own book (see Resources). Cost is based on a variety of factors: manuscript length, page size, type of binding, color use inside the book as well as final size of the book itself. Self-publishing can cost between $1,000 and $3,500. Remember that if you have a computer and access to a publishing tool such as Quark Express or PageMaker, you can create the softcopy of the book yourself. You can then print the book using a high-quality printer at a local professional copy store.
You can print hardcover or paperback. Paperback books that are between 48 and 800 pages can be trimmed to one of the following sizes: 5 by 8, 5.5 by 8.5, 6 by 9, 6.14 by 9.21, 6.69 by 9.61, 7 by 10, 7.44 by 9.69, 7.5 by 9.25, 8.25 by 11, and 8.268 by 11.693. Hardcover books that are between 108 and 800 or more pages can be made with an optional dust cover. The sizes for these books are 5.5 by 8.5, 6.14 by 9.21, 6 by 9, or 7 by 10.
Most publishers will print using full-color for both the pages and the covers. This will cost more than simple black and white, but may be worth it if you're printing the book as a special gift or momento. Publishers will also register your book with the Library of Congress, get an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) number, register your book with Books-In-Print and create a Copyright Notice as well as supply bar codes to the back cover if you intend to sell the book. You can request an ISBN number (the unique 10 digit number that is used to order and sell you book) yourself from R.R. Bowkers (see Resources below). You can also generate a Copyright Notice relatively easily by placing the copyright symbol next to your name on the copyright page of your manuscript.
The prices are less expensive for digital printing. If you want a classic, offset printing, you must order at least 2,000 books and can anticipate paying significantly more. If you're printing at a local copy shop, the price will depend on the weight and quality of the paper, as well as any binding or color printing requests.
You can have your book published in approximately 30 days, although it will take 60 days or more if you want full-color pages. Be sure to return any proofs quickly, as the publisher won't move forward on the project until proof approval has been received. If you choose to print the book at a local store, the turnaround time should only be a few days.