Whether to attempt to publish via the traditional model or to publish independently is, and should be, a business decision.
With traditional publishing, the publishing company is buying the rights to your work as their raw material to make money. They pay you a royalty for the use of your intellectual property but it is a licensing deal the same as Mickey Mouse’s mug on a t-shirt is. There is nothing wrong with this model. You just have to find the right company; the one that sees the value in your work as a money-making commodity.
With independent publishing you will have to buy services to help you prepare your product for the market (unless you know how to do it all yourself – with the exception of editing your own work). You have to pay for those services and it’s up to you how you want them packaged and what value you place on the services you purchase. The onus is on you to shop around for the best services to suit your needs.
Think of it this way:
You’re a farmer and you grow carrots. You can try to find a wholesale company that will purchase your carrots at a discount (so that they can mark them up and make a profit), wash them, package them, put their company name on them, distribute them to stores and handle the shipping and retailer relations. Your job is just to grow the carrots and find the right wholesaler.
Or, you can sell your carrots yourself. In addition to growing the carrots, you can buy a carrot washing machine, design and order packaging, bag your carrots, load your carrots into the back of your pickup truck and take them to the farmers’ markets. You’ll have to pay for your booth space and your signage and you’ll have to choose the right market for your carrots. (You’ll likely sell more carrots at the local farmers’ markets than you will at art markets or fairs.) You make all the profits, after you’ve subtracted your costs.
When you remove the emotion from your decision and look at it from a business point of view, you simply need to decide which model works best for you. You don’t need to defend the wholesale, big box model or you’re a bad grower. You don’t need to defend the farmers’ market model or you’re the little guy battling the big corporate monster.
For those who know their market and want to reach it themselves through their own efforts, who are willing to shoulder the costs and tasks of running a business (editing, cover design, marketing) and producing a product worthy of customers’ interest, the self-publishing model is a great alternative to the traditional model. If you’re not interested or willing to do that, then your choice is the traditional model.
Which one is more risky? It depends on you and what you want for your business and your writing and publishing career. Traditional publishing puts all the decisions in the hands of a company whose goal is to make money using your work. Self-publishing, or creating your own independent publishing imprint, keeps the decisions in your control and you make the profit from your work.
If you’ve decided that you can handle running your own publishing business and require a la carte publishing services that won’t cost the moon, I recommend Summer Bay Press.