I'm a member of an online writers workshop. There is a very active message board, and occasionally the subject of self publishing comes up. It is usually hotly debated, with some people vehemently opposed to the idea, while others view it as a viable option to the long haul of trying to get something published by one of the traditional houses. I try to steer clear of these arguments, because it's rather pointless. Either you believe in self publishing or you don't. To me it's the abortion issue of publishing. You can argue all you want, but in the end it's useless. You're not going to change anyone's mind. Anyway, I thought I'd post my response here, too:
I self published my first novel, Into the Sunset, after several near-misses landing an agent. I was frustrated and worried that someone else would come up with a similar plot as my novel, which would have completely screwed any chances I had of landing a "traditional" publisher. I still believe my novel is good enough for a small publisher, or even a large house. Would it have benefited from another pair (or two) of editorial eyes on it? Of course. What wouldn't?
But that's not to say my manuscript didn't go through an editorial process. I had my former creative writing teacher read an early draft. She gave me extensive notes which were invaluable to me, since this was my first attempt at a novel. Later drafts were read by fellow authors, and I received some constructive feedback. I workshopped several chapters in my writing group. Additional comments I received from agents were also incorporated into the mss. Finally, before I went to print, I had someone who works in publishing proofread the manuscript (I'm proud to say I have only found a few typos in the finished product, much less than most hardcovers I read).
I am glad to see self-publishing making slow, but steady strides. There are even awards, such as the Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards. Not all self published books are crap. Tom's point in another thread was that readers just want a good book to read, and they aren't looking at who published the book. This is true to a degree; the problem, though, is if you have written and published a great book (or a good one, or a shitty one), how do you get that prospective reader to know your book exists? That's the rub. And there IS still a stigma against self-pubbed books, though I think that will slowly change as better books are published. Let's face it, publishing is in flux right now, houses want to go with the tried and true, and not many authors can actually make a living being a novelist.
I am seeking an agent for my second novel (as I work on my 3rd and 4th), but I have no delusions that I will score big and quit my day job. So, having that attitude, it doesn't bother me if I have to self-pub again in the future. At least I'll have complete control over the product, including cover design. I will not allow myself to put out something I don't consider ready.
So my advice to those considering self-publishing: Go in with your eyes open, expect to work hard, and put out the best product you can. This includes workshopping your manuscript, getting it proofread, and please, please get a professional to design the cover. You can judge a book by its cover. ; ) Oh, and don't expect to make money.
By the way, I consider these endless arguments about self-publishing absurd. It's the abortion issue of the writing world. If you don't want to self-pub, DON'T. If you are pro self-pub, then you can pursue that route if you choose.