I used to think of self-publishing as academics think of self-publishing, and it bore all the stigma of being painted in tar. But of course the times have changed. As when cheap mass printing technology and distribution made chapbooks feasible in the 1700s, and the rise in mass literacy made readers of nearly everyone, the digital printing age has revolutionized book creation and distribution again.
I realize that means a very democratic mass can enter the marketplace, and that a very great deal of what is available has less literary merit as a result. But it's very Darwinian as well: survival of the fittest, and all that.
I have read many an article and blog post arguing either side of the debate. So, here's where I weigh in: I'm the "cosmopolitan rat" of Isaac Rosenberg's war poem, who travels back and forth between the trenches.
On the one hand, I see enormous value in the gatekeeping function of editors. I am currently writing stories at the rate of a couple a month for consideration by one press, and getting feedback on them from three editors. What amazes me every time is that when I think the story is done, and even good, the feedback always points out fundamental things that the story requires. I don't just mean tweaking, but fundamental issues with the story and what's going on. I feel challenged, and frankly honored that these editors are willing to put in this time and work with their authors to make the end results so much better. (And at this point I'd remind you that I have enormous hubris as a writer, having a job in the profession and a PhD in English. I mention this because I usually think what I submit already rocks!)
And at the same time, there are certain works that won't get to the market any other way. They may have limited mass appeal (like family memoires), or they don't reflect a publisher's shaping of their lists. And in those cases, why not self-publish? Musicians make CDs all the time without signing with a recording house, and with a lot less stigma. Sometimes the music is good, and sometimes it isn't. The market gets to vote with its money, right? And that's why I think the term "indie-publishing" better reflects the current self-publishing state.
Still, even with my wonderful hubris, there is no way I would self-publish anything without having a PROFESSIONAL EDITOR work on it for fundamental issues (not just proofreading). Over these last years of writing, submitting, revising, and starting over I've learned that no matter how good I think I am, a good editor is going to dismantle a manuscript and make it better.