Self publishing is something that used to have a stigma attached to it. Historically, the dream was to get picked up by a ‘proper publisher’, while self publishing was something that only rich people did if they were unable to find a publisher that would buy into their dreams. The idea was that if you were talented, a good publisher would pick you up. If not, then you could pay a vanity press to print your work for you, so that you could say you were a “published author”.
Today, the publishing landscape has changed a lot. Print on Demand technologies are things that even a lot of traditional publishers are using, and getting books printed is cheaper now. There are also more online retailers, so there are more avenues for people to get their work seen. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people are buying paper books – so publishers are operating on thinner margins, and are much less likely to want to invest in author development, proofreading, technical reviews, editing, design and marketing for an unknown author that they aren’t confident will end up on the best-seller lists.
Self publishing could be the answer to those difficulties because it allows authors to demonstrate that there is indeed demand for their work. Most talented authors have more than one good book in them, so it makes sense to try to build up a following before you approach a publisher. If you’re writing niche non-fiction books, then it could be that when you self publish you will be able to fulfil the level of demand that your title has anyway. This is particularly true for hobbies with a relatively small following, or for things like the history of a given town, where there is a comparatively small target audience. With fiction, yes, there is a chance that you will be able to attract a huge audience, but if you publish your early works yourself and then keep building on the story there is a good chance that you will be able to attract a traditional publisher later and publish a collected works as well as your later titles.
It’s a lot easier to sell ebooks and digital downloads than it is paper titles. The titles are cheaper to make, the overheads for publishing them online are minimal, the margins are much bigger for the stores that carry them, and the friction for the purchase is next to nothing. This makes it easier to build up a fan base, and is what will help to attract a publisher in the long term. Self publishing online is more likely to net you a decent income too, and you can do it without having to pay a ‘middle man’, so many people are opting to run their own blogs, make their own PDFs and just sell direct. Doing this means that you miss out on the marketing help of a publisher (even online publishers will help to market your titles), though.