I frequently get asked questions about self publishing and traditional publishing. I'm by no means an expert in either; my first book was traditionally published (meaning it was picked up by a publishing house), so I haven't been through the whole process of self-publishing from start to finish. However, A Lamb and a Llama did start out as a self-published venture before it was picked up, and I am still heavily researching that world. I'll share with you a few of the things I have learned (and am learning).
Traditional publishing is what many authors strive for. This means your book is picked up by a publishing house. They cover the costs and process of printing, and, possibly some aspects of marketing depending on the size of the publishing house and the contract you have agreed upon. The obvious advantage to this is that it is cost effective for the author, and your book will probably look very nice. You will have help in your corner in terms of getting your book exposure (a good publisher wants to make back their investment, after all!). And, there is the "street cred" that comes with having a book traditionally published, especially if you manage to land a deal with a large publisher. One of the most valuable aspects of traditional publishing (in my opinion) is the knowledge and experience that comes with a publishing house. You are working with a team of professionals who want to see you and your book be successful. Of course, as with any business, there are good and bad publishing houses, so it's wise to research any publisher before you send in a manuscript.
Like most things, traditional publishing does come with its drawbacks. First, there is the matter of actually finding a publisher and having your book accepted. Many publishers require you first find an agent and submit through them. You will also have to give up some of your creative control. A publisher may allow you to use your own illustrations or photographs (for picture books or anything requiring graphics) or provide input on the book's overall design--or they may not. Publishers work to maintain a specific quality and brand, and not every publisher will let the author collaborate on the production side. You may also need to make changes to your book that you don't necessarily want to make. This is another reason to research publishers and seek out those with a reputation for having good editors-- you want your book in good hands. You are also subject to the timelines of the publisher in terms of release dates, sales, and so forth. Depending on your contract, you may also have to grant your publisher first right to refuse any future books before submitting elsewhere (which isn't really an issue if you like your publisher). From my perspective, I don't necessarily view these as drawbacks if you are working with someone reputable and experienced, but if you want full control over your book, traditional publishing may not be for you.
Self publishing allows the author to maintain all control of the book. You decide when you want it released, you decide what version your readers ultimately see. You head up all promotion, design, marketing, etc. You can decide where you want to sell your book and if you want to do digital only sales or print-on-demand or offset printing. The obvious benefit of digital is that it allows instant distribution and low cost. However, some book formats, such as picture books, present better in a printed format. Print-on-demand has the advantage of letting you only print what you sell, which can save you from financial risks. The disadvantage to this is that the quality is not as high as offset printing and the cost-per-book is higher. Offset printing is higher quality and a cheaper cost per book, but will set you back a few thousand dollars for a small print run. It will be up to you (and your budget) to decide which route to go.
Some of the biggest drawbacks to self publishing are that you carry the full burden of cost, and you don't have professionals helping you out (unless you pay them). Authors who have the right drive can do very well in self publishing, but it is not for the faint of heart. There is also sometimes a stigma that a self-published author is not a "real" author. As the world of publishing changes, I see this becoming less and less of an issue. A number of self-published authors have built up a fan base and are as successful or more so than traditionally published authors. If you have a good number of sales and are still interested in being traditionally published, you may have a higher chance of getting picked up later on if you can document your success.
So there are a few little tidbits! I would love to hear from those who have self published or work in the publishing industry. Feel free to comment and share your thoughts!