|From The Hyperliterature Exchange|
Of course, one thing publishers CAN do is get your book into bookshops, and in a world where the majority of book sales are still print, this has value. I'd love a print deal myself - though an ebook deal, entailing swapping a 70% royalty for 17.5%, would not arouse my enthusiasm.
When writers protest they will settle for nothing less than a traditional publishing contract, a frequent reason they quote is 'validation'. Search for 'validation' on AbsoluteWrite and you'll come up with ten pages of quotes. Just as vanity presses turn your text into a book in your hand (at a cost) so the big publishing conglomerates will allow you to hold your head up and say you are 'properly' published (at a cost).
Authors certainly aren't hankering after a contract for the sake of the money, given the size of most advances. And any lucky trad-published writer who makes a small fortune (earning 8% of the price of her book) has made a big fortune for her publisher. The writer of a popular book can make more on his own, and faster. I've noticed that new writers with a trad deal are much less likely to bandy figures about than indies.
Does a legacy deal let you off the chore of marketing? No. The majority of books get little or no promotion, unless the author does it himself.
Editing? You might get lucky with a brilliant editor. Or you might get one who wants you to rewrite your novel to fit her ideas, or one who misses nonsenses in the plot. I enjoyed Lee Child's Bad Luck And Trouble, but when the protagonists needed to find out what the sixth track on Jimi Hendrix's second album was called, they walked a long way east on Sunset to a record store and bought the CD. Really? They didn't just google it on their smartphones?
For those whose spectacles are still firmly rose-tinted, you need to read several scary and true stories of writers' experiences of publishing when it all goes wrong in this thread.
EDIT: I believe I have found the identity of the first person to call traditional publishing the new vanity publishing - Scott Nicholson, here, July 6th, 2010.