Democratic ideals pervade our society; we believe that everyone should have a right to decide things for themselves. That's how our politics work -- well sort of. And increasingly that's how publishing is working. In fact that's one of the appeals of self-publishing because it does an end run around the publisher, who has traditionally been the gatekeeper.
Some writers today don't want someone else to decide whether their story is good enough, particularly since the decision is subjective. Instead, these people want to publish their work and let readers decide. In this way, each story should be able to find the audience most likely to receive it well. But the internet is huge with billions of pages and terabytes (or more) of content. It is very hard for me as a writer to be found by just putting up a web page and advertising.
That's why sites like Smashwords exist. Readers go there to find content to read. Goodreads in another place readers congregate and where a write might find an audience. Scribd and Wattpad also come to mind for find readers, but my experience suggests that none of these sites get enough traffic to help me enough to sell my work. What I need is either a large following or a spot on the Amazon home page.
And so despite the trend toward self-publishing, the only way I can see of reaching enough people to really sell my book is by using a publisher. And the minute I say that I must be ready to give up some of the royalties I would receive otherwise. But that's not a big deal; Smashwords wants a cut too. And the one advantage a publisher has that Smashwords does not is the publisher will promote my book and help me promote my book. Smashwords gives my pointers and tips for promotion but it's not the same.
A publisher will also be able to give me feedback on a draft of something which for me is great. I need that feedback to stay on course. One reason my first book took so long to make it really good is I kept going off the road without realizing it. It is was only the constant rejections that made me realize something wasn't right.
But using a publisher isn't all roses and sunshine either. They tend to be slow. It's been three weeks since my publisher first contacted my about a contract and I am still waiting for the final version so I can review it and see what they are offering. In that same time, I could have written and published several chapters in my next novel.
Still I'm thinking I'm better off with a publisher than without one. Many other writers think otherwise. And I understand their reasoning. Frankly I'm struggling to come to terms with this point. I guess it will depend on the deal I am offered.