The Difference Between Traditional Publishing & Self-Publishing
Years ago my answer to this would have been, "Quality." I was one of those people who thought those who self-published were those who couldn't make it in the traditional market. Go ahead and throw things, I deserve it. Hang on, let me wipe the rotten vegetables and fruit from my screen… Back then I would have never considered going that route, especially with a small publisher interested in my work. But I was naïve about the true differences between the two.
It's true, anyone can self-publish which means there is a lot of sub-par work out there. However, there is a lot of sub-par work in traditional publishing too. Out of all the traditionally published books I've read in the last two years there are only a handful of them that I really liked. Seriously. And you know what? I've read some outstanding self-published novels (Anne Riley's The Clearing, Kristie Cook's Promise, Purpose, Krissi Dallas's soon to be traditionally published Phantom Island: Wind). There is good work on both sides of the fence.
If you haven't heard about Abbott Press then you will soon. They are the self-publishing press I decided to go with instead of a small publisher who was interested in my novel. (By the way, I just wanted to reiterate that I love small presses and fully support them and their novels. It just wasn't the right choice for me and my book.) Your novel has to pass content evaluation for Abbott Press and then there is an editorial review in which you can potentially gain the Writer's Digest mark of quality if your novel is up to their quality standards.
The introduction of this mark of quality has the potential to change the answer to that question about the difference between traditional and self-publishing. In the near future the answer will no longer be "quality" but instead, "author royalties, author control, and retention of rights". The future looks brighter every day. For an in depth look at my process with Abbott Press so far check out my post on it here.