It's not difficult to make a profit self-publishing your non-fiction books. Especially if you already have a market or you're a teacher or you put 'Twilight' in front of whatever you're titling your book.
However, if it's fiction... or mystery. It's a bit more tough.
In the writing world, here are some of your options:
1) Big Publishing Houses: Write a great book (or from what I perused at B&N this weekend, enough to get by) get an agent (time and money) get an editor (time and lots of money) find a publisher (lots of time...for not a lot of money)
Money spent: $5,000 +
Money received if it's a best seller: $$$$$
Money received it it's not a best seller: $
2) Small Publishers or Independent: Write a great book, get an agent (time and money) get an editor (time and lots of money) find a publisher (less time...but you may have to provide for some of the costs)
Money spent: $500
Money received: $$
3) Self-publishing: Write a great book, you don't really need to get an agent, get an editor (I still think this is important but the options on price is varied or you can do it yourself) find a good-self publishing route and go with it.
Money spent: $1000 (depending on editor and self-publishing option)
Money recieved: $
4) The-crazy-recluse-writer approach: This is something I'm considering for my next book.
Here's the thing... no matter which option you go with, unless you're a big name, you have to do all the marketing yourself. What's the best ways for a writer to market? They can go into bookstores and book clubs but their newest and most widespread option is -- on-line marketing.
I think the future will be books read online or on kindle (sony-reader, etc...) or google books or on mp3 or other audio format.
I think writers need to set a goal... a realistic goal. For my next book, I doubt I will be in the small group that sells over 100,000 copies. I'm realistic. In fact, if I go route 1-3 I still don't think I will sell over 1000 copies. And having to give money to the publishers, if I sell 1000 copies, I will, at most, make $5000.00.
Then it hit me. More than 1000 people have read my blog in the last few months... and it's not near as interesting.
So here is what I've come up with: I could go into a bookstore and hope people want to spend $15 dollars on my book or I'm gonna take a page out of the wikipedia handbook... beg for money online.
I won't ask much. $1 to read my book. Now, I'm gonna make it available on-line for people to read for free but if they like it, I ask that they give the writer $1. I've placed my book online for free before and one guy gave me $10.00 to read it.
Okay, so you're doing the math... $1 for a read means you will need 5000 readers to reach your goal. Yup. But I think it's doable. I will twitter the hell out of it, blog about it, make a facebook account, tell my friends and send out public thank-yous to the bigger contributors.
I don't know. Maybe. Well, it's an option anyway.
Ultimately, I think writers need to think outside the box on their publishing options.