One of the big debates going on in the publishing world involves the rise of self-publishing as a viable business and creative model. There's the traditionally published side that thinks self-publishers are amateurs and selling themselves short, and there's the self (or independent) publishing side that thinks that traditional publishing is an outdated business model. Since I have a foot in both camps, sometimes even with the same book, I thought I'd take a look at some reasons you might consider self-publishing -- and whether those are good reasons.
Red Light -- stop and reconsider
You're impatient -- why waste so much time getting an agent, then submitting and selling a book, then waiting to get it slotted in by a publisher when you could have it up for sale next week? While timing is a benefit of self-publishing, rushing into it because you just can't wait to be a published author is a bad idea.
The publishing industry just doesn't understand your genius because you are a special snowflake -- good books do get rejected, but if you're getting poor responses to your writing from publishers, there's a good chance readers will react the same way, and if you can't deal with rejections from publishers, then reader reviews could send you over the edge.
You want to call yourself a published author -- don't go into any kind of publishing to give yourself validation, and you're in for some harsh surprises if you think that posting something for sale at Amazon will send you into some elite group where you'll get the secret handshake.
You want to get rich quick -- yes, some people have made tons of money with self-published books, but you hear about them because they're unusual. Most people don't make massive amounts of money, and it takes time and effort to build a readership.
Yellow Light -- Caution -- if these things apply to you, you might need to have a lot of other stuff work in your favor, so do some research
You don't write genre fiction -- most self-publishing success has come in genres like romance, fantasy, science fiction and mystery. So far, literary fiction and non-fiction haven't done quite as well.
You don't write quickly -- self-publishing success seems to be a snowball thing, with more books available leading to more sales of all the books, and readers expect new books frequently. It would be hard to sustain a career with a one-book-a-year pace.
Green Light -- Proceed if the way is clear (but look both ways first)
You write quickly and can produce a book every few months -- this is different from impatience (under Red Light). Most traditional publishers will only deal with a book a year from an author (with some exceptions, like category romance). If you can produce more than that and maintain quality, you could possibly take advantage of setting your own publication schedule.
You mix genres -- if your books could sit on the mystery shelf or the fantasy shelf or the romance shelf, you may be more likely to find readers via online booksellers where you don't have to pick a single shelf.
Your books are in a genre that's now passe in traditional publishing -- publishers have a bad all-or-nothing tendency. If something does well, they want a lot more books just like it and glut the market, then when the existing audience can no longer support that many books the trend tanks and the publisher doesn't want anything else like that anymore. But the readers who bought books like that in the first place probably still like that kind of thing and can no longer find it. Self-publishing can target that niche with books traditional publishers wouldn't touch. Most publishers consider chick lit to be dead, for example, but I understand that books like that sell very well for those authors who've kept writing and are self-publishing.
Your books fit a niche underserved (or unserved) by publishers -- I was surprised to learn that sweet romances (no sex scenes) do really well for independent authors, but it makes sense because it's really hard to find romance novels without sex these days unless you go to the inspirational market. If you want no sex and no religion in your books, you won't find that in traditional bookstores, and it would be a hard sell to a publisher. But apparently you can find an audience if you self-publish.
The rejections you get from agents or publishers have nothing to do with the quality of your writing but are along the lines of "I'm not sure I could sell this" or "I wouldn't know what to do with this" or "There's not really a market for this." -- A big publishing company has very different business practices and profit/loss expectations than an individual, so a book that would be a big loss for a publisher could still be profitable for an individual. Big publishers tend to be risk-averse, and a rejection that's more about the market than about the writing may not mean the book isn't viable.
If the Green Lights apply to you and you're honest with yourself about any potential Red Lights, then you might have the potential for self-publishing success with the right book and with professional-quality production.