Getting your work published by a major publishing house is usually a difficult task, from what I’ve heard. Once you get your foot in the door and have a successful first book, it is much easier to get your second contract and so on, but you could spend all of your life trying to get in with major publishing houses and never get in. If you do get in, you will have much wider exposure, usually, but you will be bound by the terms of their contract. You may earn a nice amount off of it, you may sell hundreds of thousands of books and hardly make anything. It all depends upon the publishing house and the contract.
If you are approached by a publishing house and given a good offer, go for it, but if you want to get your work published and you don’t want to have the possibility of years of work getting it in with a publisher, self-publishing may very well be a good option, especially if your book geared towards a smaller market (i.e. More of a niche topic and wouldn’t have universal appeal).
I’m personally pretty biased towards self-publishing because it has worked well for us. With self-publishing, though, they say that writing the book is only 5% of the work. You don’t just write it and produce it, you also have to sell it. Having a pretty good hold on basic marketing skills is imperative if you want to sell any books. I know of people who have self-published high quality books and yet, they have thousands of them sitting in boxes in their garage or basement because they can’t sell them. With the internet, it is much easier to set up a website, network with other businesses, and establish yourself in the market much more quickly than it was say 15-20 years ago. But, it is still a lot of work. I’ll tell you that firsthand!
In addition to marketing your book, you also need to be prepared to invest a good deal of money upfront to actually publish your book. Book printing is not cheap. However, if you can invest enough the first time around to have a high quality presentation and you can print 1000-5000 copies, the cost per book will be quite low, allowing your profit margins to be much higher.
My personal, inexperienced advice is to start small and work with the budget you have. I started with a 32-page booklet, which had a black and white cover and was printed with our local printer for around $150 for 100 copies. The profit margin wasn’t very high, of course, but I was able to use the money made from that first printing to pay for the first printing and a second printing of 100. Little by little, I’ve been able to save to be able to do larger printings and, with Handmaidens of the Lord, to finally have something with a glossy color cover! If you can’t afford to publish even something small, producing an ebook is an excellent option. You could use part of the proceeds to pay for the actual printing of your ebook if you were eventually hoping to print it. For more information on ebook-writing, check out my article here.
Writing and producing a book should never be a solitary task, even if you are self-publishing the book. None of us are skilled at everything. Focus on what you do best and pay others to help you in areas you are weak in. I love to write, but grammar and syntax are not my forte. In addition, graphic design is something I despise. Not only am I not skilled in the area, I am not patient enough for it! So, I always enlist the help of some wonderful people in these areas which frees me up to write and market books rather than agonize over such details. In the end, the finished product is much better than I could ever hope to produce alone.