This makes me feel like I should explain how you, too, can print books - even if this undermines some of the mystery, and perhaps the magic, of my own books. I feel, however, that everyone ought to know these things.
You can publish your book for free. Honest.
This does not mean, however, that you can have someone else do all the work without having to pay for it. 'Free' means that if you're prepared to do the work yourself, you will not pay a single dime to have your book published, enabling you to make a legitimate profit.
I won't hold back. I'll give it to you straight. Here is what you need to do:
1) Write a book. By this, I mean do more than write a series of words from the beginning of the book to the end. You will need to consider a lot of elements that you've never considered, since when the book is done you won't be able to explain to the reader that elements of chapter three are explained in chapter six, like you do with your friends. Your book will need to stand up on its own, without anyone around to explain what you meant.
The result will be that people will misunderstand you. You'll want to do as much rewriting as you can to avoid this. Assuming you care.
Aside from the problems of publishing, be sure to include things in your book that most books have. Page numbers. Chapters. An introduction. An index if that's what the book needs. There are methods for creating these things and lists on line for what you'll need. Google search "Things a book needs to include" and you'll find a million pages. If you've never made an index before, look up "How to make a book index." Use google. That's why it's there.
2) Find Cover Art. This is a lot harder than it sounds. For a book, you will need a picture than you OWN - or at least that you have the rights to use, not just for the book cover but for marketing. Talk to your friends about the contents of your book and get their advice on what the cover should look like.
If you want art, get out and find an artist. Ask on your facebook if anyone you know can put you in contact with one. Meet the artist, discuss what you want, then deliberate on a price. Be cheap. Don't let the artist railroad you. You are not a famous author, you shouldn't be dealing with any artist that will ask for more than $200. If they ask for that much, they better be good. Make sure that they ARE good by looking at their portfolio. If there is ANYTHING about the portfolio that fails to impress you, find another artist.
If you want a photo, try to find a photographer. Photographers are easier to find than artists, and should charge you less. If he's a friend, you should be able to get the work for whatever it costs the photographer to actually make the photo.
You have several other options, however. Consider a graphic that is a simple pattern. Consider no graphic at all. Investigate the whole subject of book-covers. Teach yourself how to play a bit yourself with shapes or with fonts - but beware of including multiple fonts in anything you make. Follow the rule, ONE WORK = ONE FONT.
3) Steal from Others. Copy from other books. Copy their organization, copy the form of their chapter headings, copy their covers (not exactly, but in principle), write the blurb on the back of your book in the same context or mood, use the same clever devices that you find and do it without hesitation. Everyone else has.
4) The Free Part. Now, listen. These things above that I'm telling you, I learned these things while working for newspapers and magazines. I learned how to lay out a cover and to create a file that would make a good pdf. If you are serious about publishing, you will need to learn these things too. Otherwise, you will be at the mercy of others who will exploit the shit out of you.
I publish my books through Lulu. Lulu is all about making deals, giving advice, offering you resources and expertise in order to help you publish your book. All this will cost you much more money than you can afford and more money than your book is ever likely to earn. Lulu (and other companies) will charge you to edit your stuff, lay out your cover, book templates, how to market your book and so on. Ignore all this. Seriously, avoid anything that is 'automatic.' Lulu cannot offer you anything that a student working at your local university newspaper can't also do. If you really need someone to lay out your book or your cover, then find such a student. They will worship you. They will also happily show you how it's done. Because they're young and giving and they still feel people should know things.
If you're patient, you can work your way through Lulu's create a book page. This one. If you have a question, DON'T ask Lulu. Ask google. Lulu will ask you to go through a sort of gauntlet of pages, each of which will challenge you. Get through them one at a time, asking google questions about the pages and perhaps getting a friend to help you decipher the language.
If you can get through those six "easy" steps (hah hah ha ha!), it will not cost you any money to publish your book, or even to get an e-book version on Amazon, Nook or iTunes.
Thereafter, every other person in the world can buy your book with paypal or some similar system. When they buy your book, a percentage of the cost of the book will go to you and a percentage will go to Lulu, Amazon, Nook or iTunes. This means you will make money without spending any coin on pre-made copies. You will only make profit.
In effect, the book isn't even made until someone orders it. Lulu will not mind you not using their systems to publish your book because they will still be making money from you without their having to do any work. You make money for you and you make money for them. It is a perfect arrangement.
Now and then they will pester you to buy other things, but that is their business model. They won't punish you if you say no.
5. For Me, This is All Easy. And right now, I am unemployed. So if you really need advice, and you have no one to turn to, and you are willing to make it worth my while, I'll give you a hand. I'll walk you through the Lulu process if you pay me. I've been through the steps a lot, so I'm an old hand.
At the very least, perhaps I can give you a boot when you're stuck. As I remember, the hardest part of the process is readying an ebook for Amazon and their kind; the language is just goofy. When I get back to doing that again, pretty soon now, I'm going to have to remind myself how I did it last time.
Everything, however, gets easier with practice. Remember that. You can learn this stuff and get good at it. It's only publishing.