Ten years ago, no author of any stature would consider self-publishing. That’s starting to change. J. A. Konrath is a thriller author who’s fully embraced self-publishing and the ebook. Wil Wheaton chose to self-publish his book Star Trek, Memories of the Future. However, "starting to" isn’t the same as “already happened.”
Many review websites won’t even consider self-published books; some won’t even bother with small-press books. If you can get a self-published book into a bookstore, inevitably it will be placed in the "local author" section, even if it’s a genre book. There seem to be few ways to get self-published books noticed unless you’re already an author with some sort of a fan base.
What can change this situation?
Some self-published authors take what they’re doing seriously. They make certain their books are edited properly. They pay attention to having an attractive cover and a good interior layout. I believe they should go further and take the concept of self-publishing seriously.
Those authors could take time to review other self-published books. If such authors reviewed a book favorably, the book would stand a better chance of getting noticed. It would also help if those authors would band together to form associations. Such associations, both general and genre-specific, could promote standards for self-published books. They could publicize reviews and hand out awards to quality books. There would also be the mutual support and encouragement such writer’s groups offer.
Those two steps, reviews and associations, would go a long way towards making self-publishing a legitimate option for authors. They would show that a self-published book isn’t necessarily a crappy vanity project. They would promote good reasons for self-publishing, and prove that good works can come out of this process. These would also address the other question about self-publishing: can you make money from it?
There’s something to be said about the artistic freedom that self-publishing offers. It’s also true that some authors are making money putting out their own work. But right now there is the question of whether or not it pays financially to self-publish.
The answer to that question for the moment is, “Not unless you’re already an established author with a decent-sized fan base.” As was stated above, it’s hard for self-published books to get reviewed or placed in bookstores. Advertising is risky; there’s no guarantee that money spent will result in books being sold. It’s a Catch-22: you have to be known to make money, but you can’t make money until you become known.
The two ideas presented earlier to make self-publishing more legitimate would also help to make it more profitable. Lesser-known authors would get a boost in sales from reviews by better-known authors. Associations not only offer mutual support, but there’s the good publicity that can result from awards.
Offering more legitimacy to self-publishing would in turn make it a more viable choice for the author who also wants to make a living from writing. There are things that can be done now to get to that point in the future. I’m not certain if I’m ready to self-publish all of my fiction. I would like to know that, if I come to that point, I’ll be able to find readers and to earn good money. If these ideas are pursued, I might get to that point sooner rather than later.