There are strengths and weaknesses to both approaches, and for some people, their own strengths can compensate for the industry’s weakness.
*Speed-Strength- When you self publish, you can put out books as quickly as you can get them written.
*Editing-Weakness- You have to edit your own stories. Depending on the author, this may not be a big deal. Some people are able to edit their own work well, or have good betas who can edit it for them. Yet so much of what I’ve looked at that’s self published has clear editing problems, both structural (This scene does nothing) and spelling/grammar issues. Typos happen, yes, but they shouldn’t be so common as to make me want to grab my red pen.
*Volume- Weakness/strength both- This one is a mixed bag. On one hand, the sheer volume of self published books is daunting, from a reader’s perspective. I subscribe through a RSS reader to 3 blogs that focus on listing the free kindle books available each day. When I first discovered these in December 2010, they were posting a handful every day, maybe 25 or so. It’s grown over time, and at this point, there’s 300-500 entries PER DAY on that section. I can’t keep up anymore! I just skim, and stop if a title or author’s name catches my attention. For reference? Wednesdays are the most posts, according to my google statistics, Mondays the least. I’m far more likely to notice freebie ebooks through things like twitter and facebook though. Word of mouth is the best marketing tool, for ANY writer, self or traditionally published!
*Money-Strength- What money you do get is all yours. But on the flip side, you have to do all the work.
*Marketing–Strength– Traditional publishers can put your book in the eyes of millions. They can get them into book stores, featured on their blogs, etc. One thing I love, as an avid reader and writer both, is seeing which books from a publisher get blog coverage on their blogs. It’s like when you’re a kid, and you check out the new releases shelves in the book store–Oh wait, that’s something the publishers actually do too. The publishers and book sellers they enlist for it, push for different books to be in different places, often buying table space for the featured books. You know all those tables along the center aisle in your local book chains? They’re not just whatever the store employees happen to like that week. There are people who tell them what to put there. Getting it noticed by book sellers gives it prime turf, which means more people are likely to notice it. The more people who notice it, the more sells, with both methods.
*Quality control-strength- It’s possible, of course, for typos and poor editing to happen with traditional publishing. Even the best authors sometimes have them slip in. It’s just usually not to the degree that self published books can be. It’s rare to find more than one error in a traditional published novel. Given the number of hands it passes through before going to publication, there’s more chances to fix things.
*Speed-Weakness- Traditional publishing is SLOW. Unless you’re a celebrity who makes a big splash out of nowhere, or are in a position to whip out books in response to current events, giving a strong timeliness factor that means it gets fast tracked, the typical time for fiction is around 2 years from acceptance to print. Add in the time spent editing before you send it out, hunting for an agent, and all the rest, and it’s no wonder publishing is considered a bit of a dinosaur in our instant gratification society.
Is one better than the other? Not really. It boils down to what your strengths and weaknesses are. Personally, I’ve hated the times I’ve tried to do sales jobs. I don’t enjoy trying to convince people they need something they really don’t. I’m a good editor, as far as grammar and spelling goes, and I have lovely beta readers who will tell me if I’m off my rocker with the rest.