There are hundreds of publishers: magazine publisher, book publishers. Fiction and non-fiction publishers. Big, well-know publishers. Medium-sized publishers. Small publishers. University publishers. One-man (or woman) publishers. Take a look at the list on Wikipedia.
Finding the right publisher for your book isn’t always easy and can be a gamble. I’m sure most writers would like to be offered a publishing contract from one of the big five publishing houses.
But those publishers are looking for books that have the potential to sell thousands—tens of thousands—copies. Not all stories fit their criteria. (And I’m not sure what exactly that criteria is.)
So what about the mid-sized publishers? Mid-sized refers to the number of books they publish each year rather than the size of the publishing house. One of the positive aspects of a mid-sized publisher is that they usually don’t require an agent. A disadvantage is that they’re often genre or type of book specific. (Fantasy only or poetry only, etc.) If your book doesn’t fit what they publish, too bad. Also they usually don’t have the same vast distribution network (or budget) that the bigger publishing houses have.
But maybe your book doesn’t fit in any of the mid-sized publishing houses. What are the advantages or disadvantages of using a small publisher? Would that be better than self-publishing?
One advantage, in my opinion, is you get an edit from someone who has a stake in making the book the best it can be. (Whereas hiring an outside editor may give you a good edit or it may simply be an edit that improves what you’ve written, but really hasn’t brought the story up to the level it needs to be in order to stand out from other books.) Also, the advantage is you don’t have to pay for this edit. You don’t have to pay to have the book published. And most small publishers have found distributors that will get their books to booksellers (in addition to listing them on-line).
A major disadvantage with small publishers is they’re often a one or two person outfit. Because of physical and monetary limits, they’re only going to accept and publish a handful of books a year. If the owner falls ill, dies, or runs into financial problems, your book may be in limbo for a long time. And worst of all, some of these publishers go bankrupt or abscond with the writer’s money.
So which publisher is the best? That depends on the book and the writer. I always recommend writers check Editors and Preditors before sending off a manuscript or signing a contract. (I use this site for checking agents, too.) Also, if you belong to a writers’ group, such as RWA or MWA, check their approved publisher list. That will give you a good idea if you’re considering a reputable publisher.