What do you want to achieve?
Before you jump into the publication process, it's worth spending some time to consider what you want to achieve by publishing your book. Your goals for your book will determine which route you want to go down and where you want to invest your time, energy and, in some cases, money.
I want my book to be on bookshelves
If you want to see copies of your book in shops and on shelves, you'll want to go down the traditional publishing route, either via one of The Big Five, a smaller publishing house, or a crowdfunding model such as Unbound. All of these sell books directly to retailers and whilst it is possible to penetrate into physical bookshops with self-published books it is still one of the larger challenges facing self-publishers.
If your dream is to walk into a bookshop and pick your book off a shelf, it's worth pursuing the traditional publishing option.
I want lots of people to read my book
Both traditional and self-publishing routes have the potential to lead you to huge audiences. The Amazon Kindle bestseller charts reveal a mix of e-book-only self-published books as well as top titles from The Big Five traditional publishing houses; whereas the print bestseller lists from Nielsen BookScan and the Sunday Times inevitably focus on the traditional, bookshelf part of the industry. Remember, though, that this is all potential: publishing a book never guarantees that you'll reach actual readers.
Social publishing options can also lead to huge reader numbers - Wattpad in particular boasts hundreds of thousands of sign-ups per day from readers and writers alike and it's entirely possible to organically build a readership in the thousands or tens of thousands. Social publishing such as this does not tend to directly result in financial reward, though it can open doors to new and further opportunities and can be a strong motivator for newer writers.
I want to make a living from being a writer
The dream of many writers, this has always been a frustratingly elusive goal. Even successful, traditionally published authors are likely to supplement their income with teaching work, journalism, professional writer services and unrelated day jobs. It's only the very top tier writers who are able to dedicate themselves comfortably to writing and nothing else. As the days of large advances are mostly in the past, even if one book is a huge success it doesn't guarantee that it'll keep you going until the next book - especially if you take a long time to write.
The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society revealed the results of a survey in 2017 which concluded that the average income of an author in the UK is £10,500 - well below the minimum wage. The Author's Guild in the United States determined that the average pay for a full-time writer in 2017 was $20,000.
Even the most entrepreneurial of self-published authors still augment their income by providing online courses and delivering talks at conferences, or by creating non-fiction guides to their own success. Often their books - the reason they got into self-publishing in the first place - can end up being a relatively small part of their overall portfolio.
It's not impossible, of course, but do bear in mind that only a very small number of professional writers are able to make a living from books. Alas, we can't all be JK Rowling. Don't let this discourage you from pursuing publication, but it's important to know what you're getting into.
I want my friends and family to own a physical copy of my book
Owning a physical copy of your book and being able to share it with your friends and family can be hugely important and rewarding, without needing any wider success or recognition.
Hybrid companies will usually furnish you with physical copies of your book, but be wary of tempting offers which could see you left out of pocket and either without a finished product or a garage stacked full of crates of thousands of unnecessary books. Some hybrid companies will also require you to give up your rights to the material itself, so it's often better to put the book together yourself.
As with all things, be sure to read the small print.
Print-on-demand services where you compile the book yourself and provide a cover make it very easy to get your hands on a physical copy of your book. It's fast and can be surprisingly high quality. Doing tiny print runs on a custom book is likely to be expensive on a per-unit basis, so it isn't the way to go if you're planning wider distribution - but if you need a handful of copies to pass around at the next family gathering it's a flexible and satisfying approach. There are many options here, including small, local printing specialist firms as well as online services such as Blurb and Lulu.
On a larger scale, the likes of Ingram Spark have emerged to provide professional self-publishers with a route to print editions of their work, using much of the same technology as the Big 5 publishers. Whether this is appropriate will depend on your wider ambitions.
Traditional publishing also gives you the thrill of being able to hold and distribute a physical copy of your book, of course, but the process is frequently long and difficult - this is assuming that you have been able to find an agent, edit the book, put your manuscript out on submission, get picked up by a publisher, edit it again, and finally get to bookshelves. None of that is a problem if you're seeking full publication, but it doesn't make sense for smaller, personal projects.
I want to make loads of money
If you're driven by a raw desire for money, being an author is one of the worst ways to find success. Although it is of course possible to achieve financial stability and success as an author, it's a difficult and long road. As we've already discussed, the vast majority of authors need to supplement their income with freelance, part-time, or full-time work.
If money is what you're after, there are many other activities and jobs which can offer considerably more stability and higher income than writing for arguably less effort.
On the other hand, if you're doing this course and haven't quit already it likely means that you are a writer. So let's carry on.