If you are contemplating indie (self-) publishing your book, Dean Wesley Smith's blog (linked below) is a must-read. His latest post on trends in the indie publishing field contains much food for thought, much of it encouraging for the writer, not so much for traditional publishing.
If you agree with Smith, you're probably going to end up publishing on your own. But is there a time when you are better off trying the traditional route, querying agents who will shepherd your book through the submission process to mainstream publishers?
My sense is now no. As Smith points out, publishers are very keen on having writers sign restrictive contracts. When a friend of mine sold his book to a big publisher for a large advance, for example, they required that he work on that book exclusively until it was out on the market. No matter that my friend also had another book looking for a publisher with another agent. You can wait a long time for a book to come out, and be required to sit on any other work.
Another reason not to publish traditionally is long-term cash flow. If you sell to a big house, they restrict your royalties and often keep rights (such as to e-books) for themselves. You may get money up front, but if your book doesn't sell, that's pretty much it. Your book goes into mothballs forever.
But there is one good reason left to try for a traditional publisher. That is when you believe you have That One Big Novel in you, and after you write it, that's it, you've got nothing else to give. If you value the idea of your Baby, your Magnum Opus, getting the royal treatment from the people who have, for decades and decades, been the ones deciding Who Are the Real Authors, then I would try my hardest to get that one novel published, and to have myself be validated as a Published Author.
If you are someone who, like Dean Wesley Smith, loves to write, loves to tell stories, has a million words inside you bursting to get out, then I'd go the indie route. You can build your own publishing empire the way you want. You don't have to be validated by someone else, and you don't mind if your books don't sell 100,000 copies in the first month. You're in it for the long haul.
Me? I like to think I've got a dozen books in me. I'd like to think Breakfast with Pandora books will become a place that readers look to for good reads. Then again, I've got that Magnum Opus on my computer, too, and that desire to join The Club.
Who knows. Maybe eventually I can do both.
Etwart says: stay tuned for my self-published middle-grade novel about Pygmy hippos in Cyprus.