Of late, I've seen many people extolling the virtues of self-publication. While I certainly don't want to tell people not to do it, or that it's a bad thing to do (I know people who have done it and been quite successful, and certainly have produced fine, professional looking material), there have been a lot of these which have tried to basically say that if you're not going into physical print, the traditional publisher really doesn't do much for you. The following is reposted from a comment to the most recent such post, this one by bigbananaslug. Note that his post is merely a trigger; I've read probably DOZENS of similar discussions in the last few months.
The following is also drawn from my personal knowledge and experience. I've been an actual traditional published author since 2003. I also offered my stuff online in an electronic publication form for several years before that. I've looked at the current state of self-publishing with consideration for using it if my agent can't sell some of the stuff I've already written, so I am not entirely unversed in these areas.
The traditional publisher offers something that not only DOESN'T the self-publishing route offer, but which the self-publishing route actively negates:
AN ADVANCE. And they do publicity and distribution (how much may vary, but the current distribution channels, even being pressed as they are by e-book tides of crap (mostly), are at least several thousand dollars worth of publicity.
They also do the editing, artwork, etc.
So on the traditional publisher side:
I offer Baen my latest book, Phoenix Rising. They say "Great", hand me $8k, get pro editors on the job, find distributors, start pushing the book to various markets, and find an awesome artist (Todd Lockwood) to do a fantastic cover.
Before book is published, I'm there with $8,000 I can spend to pay off debts, fix my house, and generally give me some leisure time to write my NEXT book. I also have to spend no time worrying about how to get the book into target markets, how it's going to be offered, how to collect the money, or anything other than registering that $8k on my income tax forms.
I have no actual idea how good my stuff is. I may think it's great, but it could suck. But I'm gonna get it published anyway. (and "suck" is the likely answer overall; I've seen the self-published maelstrom, and most of it sucks)
I have no idea where to find editors. Eventually I find one with a good rep. I pay him or her money to edit the book. Editor, being paid by ME rather than by publishing company, is less likely to really PUSH me in the editing process to make my book that much better; after all, if he peeves me I might just not PAY him.
I have no idea how to do proper formatting/publication of an ebook to look good. Eventually I either find someone who DOES (and pay them) or I figure out how to do it myself. I may or may not turn out to actually have done a good job
I have no idea where to find artists. Eventually I find one with a good rep and have him make a cover. To my specs. But do I actually know what SHOULD be on the cover, what image(s) will sell the book? Experience indicates that most authors DO NOT know the best choice for cover design and tend to obsess over the "right details" rather than the image that will sell the book. Oh, yeah, and I have to pay him. Good artists aren't cheap.
I have no idea how to market the book. Maybe I go with Amazon and have them put it up there, but how do I know that anyone will ever even SEE it? How do I kick it into someone's view? Maybe eventually I find someone who claims to know how to do this... and pay them. Maybe I do all sorts of work myself -- make my own website, run to every online forum and flog my book, run Zero Price "promo sales" on Amazon, etc, use Project Wonderful to advertise.
Before book is published, I have spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of my time preparing and trying to promote a book which may, or may not, ever sell a single copy. Like a REAL publisher, I have to assume it's actually a LOSS the first time out.
Overall, self-publication which takes itself SERIOUSLY (i.e., you're not just taking your fanfic-like product and shoving it onto Amazon without any other work) is for those with an awful lot of time and money to spare.
I would never have been published going that route. Understand this very clearly: if you like my writing, THANK the traditional publication route. Oh, MAYBE "Digital Knight" would have showed up, since I did finish the first three pieces of it and have it on Hyperbooks.com for years. But no Diamonds Are Forever, no Boundary, Threshold, or Portal, no Grand Central Arena, quite possibly no Phoenix Rising. I have neither the time nor the money to devote to that kind of thing. If I DID, I would also hardly ever WRITE anything, because all my spare time's already being used up.
And -- being deadly honest -- if I *HAD* written those books? Without the editing (and in the case of Baen, mentoring) process I have gone through, the books WOULD NOT BE NEARLY AS GOOD AS THEY ARE. I could go over every single one of the books I've had on the shelves and point you to areas that I would have missed the boat entirely on without editorial input. Starting with the fact that "Digital Knight" would have probably never had the other three sections added.
Getting an advance allows me to justify MORE writing -- to my wife and kids, as well as myself. Having to do all that work AND pay for it? Argues that I should never, ever write anything, or at least not anything for publication. Go back to fanfic, it's a lot easier there.