Need Your Advice: Agent, Self-Publishing, or Traditional?

I have just completed my umpteenth edit round on novel #5, and it's in the hands of my beta readers. (If you are interested in being a beta reader, please let me know at I'd love to put it in front of a couple more readers.)

My professional proofreader has also taken a first look, and he'll have another crack at it before it moves on to the next step. On a side note, as a romance novelist, I find it really helps to have a male proofer. They are less likely to get caught up in the story and miss the little things.

At this point, I am at a crossroads, and I'd welcome input from other published authors. Many of you have taken multiple routes to publication, and I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Why Not Traditional?
Since I've already published four other novels, all through the same publisher, the first question is "Why not publish through them again?"

I adore my current publisher, and I learned so much about this business through them. However, we seem to have stagnated a bit, and even if I decide to publish other stories through them, I'd like to mix things up a little bit. Even they admitted in one of our weekly author get-togethers that authors tend to do better if they have experience with multiple publishers.

(Why do I feel like I'm describing a "We've agreed to see other people" scenario?)

However, I really like the traditional publishing route. It's less work for me, and I can focus on writing. My first inclination is to find another traditional publisher...problem is, I'm somewhat of a niche writer. My time period is Colonial and Pre/Post-Revolutionary America. Think French and Indian War up through the Revolution and into the beginning of the 19th century. Other than my current publisher, there aren't a lot of publishers that focus on that area. Actually, make that none - at least that I have found.

But, if that wasn't enough of a niche, I decided to make book #5 a clean/secular romance. (I hope to eventually go back and rewrite the first four.) There are some Christian elements to it. After all, I am writing characters in 18th century America. If there were none, that would be a little odd. I could probably find plenty of publishers if I turned it into a Christian romance; however, I've never quite felt qualified to evangelize through my writing. (Ever since I got a face palm from the group leader when I answered a question in Bible study, I've been a bit skittish.)

So, at the end of the day, I have a clean/secular romance in a genre in which hardly anyone publishes. (Good thing I'm not writing for the money, eh?)

What About an Agent?
Not sure why working through an agent has never appealed to me. Maybe it's because I figure it would be hard to find an agent likely to take on my book if it doesn't cleanly fit into a publisher's standard categories. If you think I'm dismissing this too quickly, let me know.

The self-publishing route has two drawbacks for me. The first is that my mother-in-law is my biggest fan, and she will only read paperbacks. I know there are print-on-demand options for self-publishers, so that's not a show-stopper, but it is soooo much easier to work through a traditional publisher who handles everything. And that leads me to the next, and probably more pertinent, issue. I really want to write, not handle the logistics of publishing.

Thank You!
If you've made it this far, I want to thank you for listening. Truth is, I think I found my answer in the act of sharing my dilemma. (It's amazing how often that happens!) Nevertheless, I would really love to hear what you think. I have several weeks before I start to hear back from beta readers, so there's plenty of time to change my mind again.

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