Sometimes other writers ask me whether they’d be better off self-publishing or working with a publisher. This is a response I often give.
Which is best depends on how wide an audience you want to reach, how much control you want to have of the finished product, and how much you want to earn. If you publish it yourself, you’ll have to *spend* some money, though if you do it through something like Amazon, the initial expenses are low, usually just the cost of having someone make a book cover and someone edit. You have full control over the book, but you also have full responsibility if something’s wrong with it. And you have to be really good at marketing and business to be able to manage that side of things, or you won’t sell many copies, if any.
Going through a publisher, there is no expense up front. (Some “publishers” will try to charge you money. They’re vanity publishers; they’ll print anything someone pays them to print. Steer clear of them, because a lot of people consider them not legitimate since there’s no quality control.) A publisher will pay you; you might get an advance of money when they accept the book, and you’ll get royalties. The publisher takes care of having the cover art done, takes care of all the editing, and does at least some of the marketing and nearly all of the business stuff; you just have to keep track of your own earnings.
With a publisher, you don’t have as much control over the finished product; you might not have any. You earn less, because the publisher only pays you a percentage of what they make from the book; the rest goes to paying cover artist, editor, marketing expenses, etc. And it’s harder to get in with a publisher, because they have high standards. You might have to try several before you find one that will publish your book, and it can get discouraging. But they also will usually be able to get your book available online and sometimes in stores.
Self-publishing, you’re responsible for every single bit of getting the book out there, and you might not be able to get it into stores because some places won’t even consider carrying self-published books. But you keep all profits from the book. I know some authors–mostly romance authors who also have a background in business and marketing–who are earning well over $100,000 a year self-publishing.
Sometimes the best way to find a publisher is to find an agent. Agents will take a percentage of your earnings but aren’t supposed to ask for money up front. They act as the middleman between you and publishers; you submit your book to an agent the way you would to a publisher, and once the agent agrees to take you as a client, they take care of sending the book to publishers for consideration. Some publishers will *only* accept books from agents, not directly from authors.