Self publishing and traditional publication both have the same goal: to publish your work. But, despite this, they might as well be two completely different industries.
First off, traditional publication is the old school way to do things. It goes a little something like this: write, edit, throw your book away, pull it from the trash, rewrite, edit, die a little inside, edit, send to an agent, get rejected, send to two hundred more agents, get rejected, die more inside, give up, redo it all over again with a new book if you've got the balls to keep going. If you think I'm joking, I'm not. The route of traditional publication killed John Kennedy Toole after all. If you do manage to preserver through it all and land a decent agent and a decent publishing house for one of your manuscripts, don't expect smooth sailing ahead. The publishing company will send the book to an editor, who will suggest rewrites, and unless you want to muck up the publishing process (which is already averaging 1 to 2 years of time to complete) you'll just do them. Once your book is hacked into 'sellable' shape, they'll finally put it out for sale. So now, 1 to 2 years after winning a publishing deal, you think you're done, you think you can sit back and enjoy royalties, right? Nonsense. Unless you're James Patterson, you're paying your own way when it comes to marketing. The publishing house doesn't have time to sell people a book from an author no one has heard of, that's your job. Press releases, social media, blog posts, and alike is on you to put together. But, as I'm sure you're scoffing to yourself right now, let me tell you the life of a writer isn't that of Stephen King. You're not going to be a millionaire over night, or quite possibly ever. Traditional publication's royalties for first time authors is less than 15%, perhaps even worse than that. If your book sells well, happy day to you, you probably won't be dropped by your agent or publisher. If your book flops, may God have mercy on your traditionally published soul.
Self publishing is a whole other world. It is looked down upon because anyone can do it and there are a fair share of scammers out there. Let me just say, if you're looking at a place that's labeled as a "vanity press" punch yourself in the face. Vanity presses won't make you money, they will take your money and destroy your hopes and dreams, that's just a given. Now, this isn't just because I use this route, but I say the best place to self publish a book is through Amazon. While other places charge hundreds, if not thousands of dollars up front, Amazon is free to set up and publish through. Even better, your royalty can either be 35% or a whopping 70% if your book is over $2.99 on Kindle. Both of these are far better than the traditional publishing deal. The major downside to self publishing is that it's all you. Writing, editing, marketing, formatting, cover designing is all you. Editing is a hassle, don't think you're great at it because you can find typos in menus, your not such hot shit. Learning to edit takes time, lots of it, I'm still learning and probably always will be. People go to college for this stuff, it's not something you can skim the manual with. Cover design used to be the bane of my existence, until Amazon debuted their Cover Creator that is. It's only for e-books (Amazon's paperback publishing company, CreateSpace, has everything already figured out, it's free and easy too by the way) but it still is a great tool. Its easy, they provide you with many designs and stock photos to use, although I'd suggest buying stock photos from another site (so far in my publishing life, those pictures have been my only expenditure, the rest is all profit). Amazon and CreateSpace are by far the best bet for self publication in my opinion. Still not sold on my thought process? Well, the major upside I still haven't mentioned is the speed of publication. For E-books, once you upload your file and set prices, it takes 12 hours, 24 for paperbacks. I've been publishing through Amazon for 6 months and I've already published 5 books with a 6th on the way. 6 months isn't even enough time to publish one book the traditional way, not by a long shot.
Long story short, if you're a writer you can't be lazy. There's always work to do no matter how you choose to publish. But, keep in mind that independent writers are on the rise, taking their rightful spots on bestseller lists everywhere. Amanda Hocking, Hugh Howey, and all the countless other independent powerhouses, I salute you and hope to be one of you some day soon.