Cost / benefit analysis… from an author? Well, that should make you laugh, anyway. Seriously, it’s profession for mugs, if you look at it from the straight ‘work / earnings’ (cost / benefit) point of view. That of course rests on ‘all work is equally hard or pleasant or possible’ which is plainly false. The earning part is so wildly variable as to make it very hard express accurately. For a handful of people, fairly little work has indeed given a very good return. For most of the rest… the inverse is true.
Thing is, all work isn’t equal. Neither is speed or capacity… or quality. Nor is benefit entirely measurable in dollars (as they say: Money can’t buy you love, even if it does allow you to rent a reasonable facsimile). So the cost / benefit is more about what it is worth to you and how much time and effort you are prepared to invest.
A large part of this is point of view: To a petty government bureaucrat, demanding you spend $30 000 on a job that can be done to the same effect for $300 is perfectly fine. It’s not their $30 000, and they don’t give a rats butt about the collateral effects on you. To you, it is not quite the same situation! When the cost or difficulty is not being borne, it is very easy to to demand the ridiculous. When it is… you want to know just what exactly you’re getting for your 30K. In the case of bureaucrats – all you’re really getting is a $29 700 bill to get them off your back. In the case of the book you’re writing, to a VERY small extent, some readers are your ‘bureaucrats’ in that they have expectations which can be way out of line. “I spent $3.99 on your book. That gives me the right to dictate what you write next, when you write it, what happens to the characters etc. Oh and the right to nobble you on social media and/or the next Con and lecture you about what you have done wrong, what politics or religion you can express, or what you should do in future.
The joy about this type of reader is 1) they’re rare 2) while most authors are far too polite (me too) you can actually ignore them quite well. They only stand out because most readers are not like that. That doesn’t alter the fact that writing doesn’t make you business savvy, and, unless this is purely a hobby (in which case the benefit are not monetary), somewhere down the line you have to start looking what each phase is worth to you. And yes, I am fine one to talk, because I have been all too prepared to accept lower monetary gain for the benefit of doing what I want to do, or what I believe in.
The thing is it is a calculation you really need to enter into from the get-go. Look, everything from how much you invest in research (time and materials) to how much you spend on a cover or invest in social media to advertise your book… you need to evaluate, or this is going end up ‘I spent 5 years living on ramen, spent my inheritance, and sold 500 copies…’ and you may be a little unhappy. Some things are worth investing in – you can afford them, or cannot afford not to. Sometimes you can get a bargain, but mostly you have to trade off costs against benefits and reach decisions.
The thing to be aware of is that some things have much larger benefits, and they depend on your point of view. That extra month’s worth of research into the dye-shades possible from plant extracts? If most of your probable audience are interested, and you’re interested, and that will set your book above others in that audience’s eyes… it’s a good bet. If you are just rabbit-holing, it’s one line and one out of a thousand readers care… don’t, unless you want that book to take the 5 years… On the other hand the returns from good editing, for a lot of us, is actually worth spending money on (the problem is of course good editors are rare). Good covers, likewise.