Writing your novel is the easy bit; getting published is when the hard work starts.
Okay, only joking about writing the novel being easy - of course it isn't. But it is also true that your job is far from over just because the manuscript is finished.
The journey of publishing a manuscript can be as long and as arduous and as challenging and as demanding as writing the novel ever was.
You have three options for getting published:
Getting Published The Traditional Way
It’s a long hard road, and you know that the odds of being published are against you (although, not as bad as you might think as that page will show).
There are several main advantages of going the traditionally published route that I can see. The first, and it's a big one, is that if you can get a publishing contract, it does give your book a lot more credibility. The publisher has stated firmly, "This is a good book, and we think so to the extent of investing our money in it," and that will give readers confidence.
As it is, with self-published books there is no quality control. The barriers to entry are practically nil, and so anyone can publish, and there is a lot of dross for sure, and how can the reader know yours isn't in that category?
The next advantage to getting published traditionally is that the publishers will traditionally provide you with an editor to polish your manuscript, whereas if you self-publish you have to find your own. This advantage is being somewhat eroded too, however, by the fact that, more and more, publishers want highly polished manuscripts, to the extent of being print-ready, and authors may decide to get their work professionally edited before submitting.
Having said that (and this is turning into real 'on the one hand, on the other hand, on the third hand' isn't it!) - I suspect that publishers may need to reinvent themselves soon. They held an extremely powerful position as gatekeepers for so long, and that is gone. It wouldn't surprise me to find that in time they have to woo authors, and providing good editing services might be one way they do that.
But for now, the position seems to be that publishers do not require professionally edited manuscripts, but it may give you an edge; and self-publishing, if you are to be serious about it, absolutely does require professional editing.
The next advantage of being traditionally published is distribution. Publishers have streamlined channels to get novels into bookshops which you as an individual will struggle to emulate. There is nothing to stop you trying, for sure, and perhaps succeeding.
Another advantage to going with a traditional publisher is that of publicity. Traditional publishers will have a PR person who'll try to get you book signings, interviews and so on. It helps if you have a bit of a hook, something that's interesting about you. When I was first published I got a lot of media coverage because of the fact I was home-educating my son, which is very unusual in Ireland. That fact had nothing whatsoever to do with my writing, but it was a hook to hang the interview on, for both the interviewers and myself. "Woman writes book" is not a news story, so you can see their point.
Having said all that, more and more the publishers expect you to do much more of your own publicity, and so that advantage is being eroded too. And in these days of social media, it's far easier for authors to do their own publicity. Social media and other internet portals such as Goodreads also help word-of-mouth sales in a way that wasn't possible before.
However, there is still a good argument for traditional publishing if at all possible. You’re a writer, after all, not a business-person. And make no mistake, publishing is a business. There’s a lot to publishing all of which you’ll have to do yourself if you decide to self-publish.
And all of this will take time - time when you could be writing your next novel, and it’ll also take an investment of money.