Traditional Publishing vs Self Publishing - The Pros & Cons
There's no doubt about it...self-publishing is blowing up. It's quickly becoming a more valid means of getting your story out in the world.
Hordes of authors have been asking this question--about which path is better, self-publishing or traditional publishing.
The short answer: It depends on what your goals are. So I'm going to quickly break down the pros and cons of each path.
Audience and reach: The traditional "Big 5" and smaller presses have been in business for a long time. They know how (and have the money) to get your book out into the world. Your book is more likely to end up in bookstores through traditional publishing.
Marketing: There are teams devoted to sales, marketing, and publicity, and it's their job (and in the publisher's best interest) to get your book to sell, and to get word out about the title.
Expert editing and design: When an editor acquires your book, they want to help make it the best they possibly can, so they put loads of hours into developmental edits. Publishers also have top-of-the-line designers to make professional covers, interiors, etc. They have it professionally copyedited as well.
$$: Most authors are paid an advance by the publisher to get their books published. It does not cost them anything to have it published (aside from 15% of earned income paid to a literary agent if the book sells).
They (often) sell your book's subrights (subsidiary rights, such as motion picture, audio, merchandising, foreign language, etc.) and create other formats for your books (ebook, audiobook) as part of the contract.
So, so very slow: Most books come out 18mo-2 years after they are acquired by an editor.
You don't have complete control over the editorial vision, cover, design, etc.
Not guaranteed: Traditional publishing is excruciatingly difficult to break into, even for those who have literary agents. Rejections abound, and your book may never actually sell and make it into the hands of readers.
You only earn a portion of the income from the sales.
Complete control over the book's content and design
Far speedier than traditional publishing
A wider range of self-publishers whose quality is improving, including more professional design and editing services
You own all the rights (including subrights) and earn all the income.
Can be costly
Your book may not have as wide of reach or as large an audience, and may not end up in big stores (Target, B&N, etc.)
Quality can be questionable
You have to do the marketing, publicity, and sales legwork (including subrights sales).
So what does that mean? At the end of the day, both paths are valid, and have ample pros and cons. It means that you have to ask yourself what matters most to you. If it's getting a couple of copies into the hands of your loved ones quickly, then maybe self-publishing is your best bet. If you want to become a bestseller and don't have the money to pay for a self-publishing deal, then aim for traditional publishing.