1. Objectivity. When editors at major houses acquire a manuscript, they do so with no preconceived notions about the author. They select those manuscripts that are good enough to sell. Without this completely objective, highly trained line of defense, how will I know if my manuscript is good enough? Let's face it: we're not objective judges of our own work, nor are our friends, family, even critique partners. My critique partners are wonderful, but our perspective on each other's work is inevitably swayed by personal connection. Personally, I could never bring myself to self-publish, because I don't trust myself or anyone with whom I'm acquainted (even a freelance editor) to proclaim my book "good enough."
2. Editing. I've heard a lot of self-published authors talk about creative control, and how they wish to make their own decisions about their work. That's all well and good, but in my experience, as well as my traditionally published friends' experiences, editing is a very rewarding and collaborative process. When I get an editorial letter, it doesn't say "change this and this to this and this." My agent points out problem areas in the manuscript and suggests ways to fix them. However, I usually end up creating my own solutions for the problems my agent identifies. He doesn't expect me to blindly follow all his notes. It's perfectly possible to work with a good agent/editor while maintaining your own creative vision, provided you're open to criticism. And, in my experience, agents and editors are usually right. They know what they're doing, and odds are their comments will be spot-on. Again, this is a generalization. I'm sure not all editors are created equal. But I think there are far more authors who worship their editors and the help they provide than authors who complain about editors wresting their creative freedom.
3. Marketing. Yes, traditionally published authors are still expected to do much of their own marketing. But even with the expanding digital marketplace, hard copies still constitute the majority of book sales. People who recognize your book from Barnes and Noble will be more likely to buy it online later. Traditional publishers can get you into bookstores, which remains a huge advantage over self-publishing.
4. Stigma. Despite expanding digital options, there's still a huge stigma against self-published books. Why? To be quite frank, 99% of them aren't ready for the public eye. Many authors choose to self-publish because they're impatient. They don't want to spend years honing their craft until they're good enough for traditional publishing. They believe, as many new authors do (hell, I know I did), that their first book will be brilliant. They're the exception. They don't have to write four, five, six manuscripts before they stop sucking.
Once again, I'd like to reiterate that this isn't the case for all self-published books. Some are quite well-written and well-edited. But those books are easily lost amid the deluge of badly-edited, badly-written, and at times laughably awful books that flood Amazon's kindle store. No, not all traditionally published books are great literature, but there's still a certain standard set by publishing companies that most self-published books don't meet.
5. Experience. Publishers are experienced in everything, from marketing to design to editing to distribution. As a college student, I can't afford to hire professionals in order to address each of these issues.
6. National media attention. Traditional authors stand a better chance of booking radio shows, TV interviews, and reviews in national publications.
7. Sense of accomplishment. Of course, anybody who finishes a novel should feel accomplished. It's a huge achievement! But for me, getting accepted by a traditional publisher will bring a sense of accomplishment that simply doesn't exist in self-publishing. I made it. I am validated. There are writers out there who don't need to feel validated, but I personally require that extra confidence boost that comes with approval from a traditional publisher.
8. Your editor and agent push you. They push you far harder than a freelance editor would, because their paychecks depend upon the quality of the product in question. If my book isn't any good, my agent won't earn money. He makes me do revisions even when I don't want to, and now, eight months later, AILLEA'S CARDS is better than I ever would've thought possible.
These are the reasons I chose to pursue traditional publishing. But of course, I am just one person, and I am educated enough to know that not all worthy books will sell to major publishers. There are too many good writers and not enough contracts. So for those writers who elect to self-publish, perhaps that's the best path. Some people have great books that, for one reason or another, get passed over by traditional houses. This is particularly true of business-minded writers with prior experience in marketing/platform building. If you already have access to a large audience, as well as the money to pay for professional design and editing, then self-publishing may work out just dandy.
So what about you guys? Are you pushing for traditional publication, or leaning towards self-publishing?