Back in the early days of my publishing attempts, I found a book in the company book exchange. It was an innocent-looking little tome of about 200 words called "Manuscript Submission" by Scott Edelstein. I'd never heard of the guy, but I picked it up because I was totally lost as to how to get my novel to market, and wanted a springboard.
As it turns out, I recommend that book to anyone who has an interest in getting their work published. I can't begin to list the lessons that have helped me in good stead through the years in generating contacts, getting my foot through the door, and putting together submissions packages.
But the biggest lesson I learned from that book, and from other sources in the publishing industry, is this: There is no substitute for doing your homework on your options. And the first option any writer has is whether to pursue a contract deal or self-publish.
Whether you want to seal a deal with a print publisher, ePublisher, subsidy publisher, or any other type, you need to understand their business model. Most reputable publishers do NOT ask the writer for any money. I say most, because there are self-publishing houses that provide good services to authors for a fee. You must understand what you're walking into before you sign anything. If you are not looking to self-publish in print, you'd better not be paying dime one, unless there is an agreement for cover art and editing services involved. The problem even with most of these deals is, the cover art tends to be copy-and-paste rubber-stamp crap, and the "editing services" tend toward a cursory once-over without any in-depth correction of grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.
Now, I know Kindle doesn't charge a penny for publishing using their services, and that's a big attractor for authors who don't have the cash resources to invest in professional services to prepare their work for market. They also hear horror stories about publishing houses who give their authors a pittance while the editor-in-chief rakes it in on the backs of the writers.
The truth is, you're going to pay, sooner or later. You either pay for professional cover art and editing before your Kindle version goes live, or you give a portion to your publishing house for providing those services for you. If you self-pub, you will pay a flat fee for those services, and when those are paid off through sales, the rest is your profit. (writing may be an art, but publishing is a business. Remember that). If you sign a contract, the terms of the contract rule. The publisher will pick up the up-front costs for those services in return for a share of your profits. The House will also provide distribution through their own vendors, which generally means a wider exposure than self-publishing, where you are totally on your own.
Look, it's your work. What you do with it is up to you. I'm just tired of seeing writers get taken for a ride by "publishing houses" that make more money from writers than they do from book sales. I'm also tired of seeing writers sell themselves short by rushing work to market that's only half-finished, namely unedited, and them they wallow at the bottom of the list with 20 sales instead of being the best they can be.
As a writer, you can take readers on a ride through whole worlds of your imagination. Don't cut yourself short by skimping on the polishing services you need to complete the work. If you self-pub, get it edited by a professional. It's an investment that can only pay for itself in the long run.