With the ability to easily self publish these days competing with the difficulty of breaking through into the publishing house world, a lot of people are opting for self publishing. I've done a great bit of research into both and thought I would offer up a short quick little list of pros and cons on both. What direction should you go with that newly finished novel?
Anyone who has tried to get a book accepted with a publishing house can tell you, it's a long tedious process full of many rejections. That's just the nature of the game. Some of our most famous authors have let us know that it took them many rejections before that popular novel finally got picked up. If you're going the publishing house route, you have to be prepared for the many no's that are going to come your way.
The cons of going through a publishing house are that you have to do a ton of research. Finding a list of publishers that handle books like yours and are accepting submissions at the moment. You have to find out what their requirements are for submitting and almost every one has a different list. You need to put together a good cover letter, a synopsis, a bio, etc. The list can go on and on and each house is different. Your book proposal needs to be spot on. It should be enough to catch the eye of the publisher and that means it needs to be interesting and your grammar needs to be spot on. You need to make a good first impression if you want to get them to even look at your novel.
You new fangled kids today and your snazzy communication... back in my day we actually had to use snail mail. You had to put together your proposal package with a self addressed, stamped envelope to send your manuscript back. You would have to pay to send out your large envelope. And then...you waited. It usually took a couple of months to hear back from each publisher and most didn't take simultaneous submissions. So in the long run you could have been shopping your book around for a year or more.
We are lucky now to live in the era of email! It has cut the mail duration out of the process. Most publishers accept submissions via email but they also have very specific guidelines (such as no attachments. Some will not open attachments because of viruses). So if you're going the publishing house route, you have to do your research and be sure that you're submitting to someone who might be interested and make sure your proposal is as polished and professional as possible.
As you can see, the biggest con to publishing houses is that it takes time and research. You have to go through A LOT of publishers. You can also look into an agent (the process is pretty much the same as querying to a publishing house). The pro to an agent is that most big publishing houses (the ones you see on those popular books like Penguin, Random House, etc) will not accept unsolicited submissions. What that means is that if you contact them they won't even read it. They only go through agents because they consider them the middle man so they aren't wasting a ton of time on submissions that aren't up to par. If you do get accepted by an agent (and they don't get paid until you get paid) then that opens up tons of doors and possibilities. If you don't want to use an agent you will be limited to middle sized and small publishers.
The pro to going through a publishing house or an agent is that once you do get acceptance for your manuscript they handle the details such as putting you with a good editor, putting together the cover and layout of the book. Most importantly though, they have the widespread distribution. That is the biggest pro because they will get you out there and get you into actual book stores and in catalogs. This will ensure that you have some measure of success because they want to see a good return on their investment.
Looking now at self-publishing. The obvious difference is that you aren't going through someone you are doing it all yourself. You cut out that huge bulk of time shopping your book around. But that also means that you will be handling the business details yourself. You will need to find a good editor. Please don't skip this step. If you are serious about putting out quality work, you have to have an editor go over your work in great detail. I'm not talking about someone to just read through it and give an opinion. You need someone who will go through line for line and edit every aspect of grammar as well as content.
In addition to finding and working with an editor yourself, you will need to find the self publishing company that you want to go through. Ideally it will be a company that works directly with companies like Amazon and Kindle, etc. Back in the days of snail mail I was telling you about before, we didn't have access to publishing like this. There was self publishing but that usually meant that you needed to pay an amount to have a bulk run of your book printed. Now, with online sources so readily available you can find companies that will do your book and have it on reading devices and ready to print on demand. This equals out to no upfront cost for the actual publishing for you. Research and make sure that the company you're looking at is up to par. Create Space is a company that I've seen a lot of self publishers use. There may be a cost for their editing services or for them to put together your cover or provide cover art. So in self-publishing you will be paying for these yourself.
Also, if you do need a bulk amount of books to take to a signing or event you are going to have to purchase these yourself although you will be able to do so at a discounted rate. Speaking of events I will bring you to my final con of self-publishing. You have to do all of the promotion yourself. If you do get on Amazon and Kindle and things like that, there are a ton of other books both from a publishing house and self-published so your competition will be tight and your book might get lost in the shuffle. You will need to do a lot of self-promotion such as signings, blog tours, conventions, readings, etc. etc.
The biggest con to self-publishing is that your exposure will be so small that it will be hard to get your book to find traction and get in the hands of your readers.
Think of publishing like cake decorating. Publishing houses are like professional bakers. They deliver you a perfectly polished cake every time and even make sure that others see that cake. You can bake a cake yourself and sometimes you can do a job as professional as the cake decorators. However, some people do not have success when it comes to baking or decorating and probably should have went with a professional instead.
There are pros and cons for both and the decision really comes down to you.