The difference is that you choose the best people for your project and you finance the development rather than passing off the financial responsibilities and giving up control to a publisher. Does that sound like something you're ready to pursue?
If you're still on the fence when it comes to deciding if indie publishing is right for you, here are a few things to consider.
- Bypass the waiting process. -- Publishers have their own schedules and multiple projects to manage. That can lead to a delay in your book going to market. Indie publishing lets you push through the process faster (although that doesn't mean putting out a half-assed rush job).
- Maintain creative control. -- Just because a publisher has a preferred cover art designer, typesetter, or editor in mind, it doesn't mean that person is the best fit for your project. You can release an even better book when you have the ability to choose the best people for the job. When you're the one footing the bill and making the decisions, you have the freedom to do that.
- Keep more of the earnings per book. -- It's no secret that authors with traditional publishers earn a very small fraction of the total selling price of each book. That's why you have to sell thousands or tens of thousands of copies to earn a decent income from your work as an author. And these days publishers expect you to do much (if not most) of the book marketing work. That means you have to try to make those thousands of sales. When you indie publish your book you earn a far higher profit per book. Since you're still the one responsible for marketing that book, you can ease up a bit. You don't have to sell nearly as many books under this model to earn the same amount (and more) than you would with a traditional publisher. Less work, more money. If you're the entrepreneurial type, this decision would make the most sense.
- Test markets or sell to limited markets. - If you're publishing in a fairly new niche, you might not have a lot of market research available that's relevant to your new market. Indie publishing allows you to issue a limited first print run so you can test markets before committing to something more dramatic. It's also a good option if you're knowingly targeting a small niche market -- one so small that traditional publishers have no interest in pursuing it (or your book).
In no way do these represent all of the benefits of indie publishing or mean that there aren't also drawbacks. To go about it professionally for example, you'll need to spend money. You can't legitimately do everything that needs to be done on your own -- not in the most effective ways possible at least. You'll also have to deal with the project management side of publishing. And yes, you'll have to put a lot of time into that dreaded thing called "marketing" (although these days traditional publishers expect you to do that anyway). In the end, it's about choosing what's best for you and your book.