Self publishing is something I've been thinking about a lot recently. In the past, when it was so closely linked to vanity publishing, I wouldn't have even considered it. But now, with the success of the Kindle, it is becoming a much more credible route for a book that is perhaps not commercial enough for the big presses and it's certainly not one I'd discount for the future.
One of the things I've frequently done since I got my Kindle is to download samples, including many of self published books from both sides of the Atlantic. I've been surprised by the variation in quality. Some are easily up there with commercially published books, while some contain enough typos and grammatical errors to make them unreadable for me. Others contain faults which confuse me because I can't work out, for example, whether the author really doesn't know how to set out paragraphs or speech properly or whether the formatting errors are arising in the conversion of a document to a Kindle book.
Now as a writer I'm probably more tuned in to errors than the average reader and I also know none of us are perfect. We all make mistakes, of course, but most of them should be picked up in the editing process. For me more than an odd slip in a Kindle sample will make sure I don't go on to buy the book, however promising the story itself might seem, because I know I'd find it too distracting to read.
Yes, I am a language geek and perhaps I'm a bit anal about this, but I think if a writer wants to self publish it's important to make the book the best it can be before letting it loose on the world. When you've spent months or years writing a novel, why not give it the polish it deserves? If a writer doesn't yet have the skills to edit or alternatively the funds to pay a professional editor, then maybe they are not quite ready to launch a book via the self publishing route.
But please don't think I'm knocking all self published books, because I'm not. There are some really good ones out there and just because a book isn't picked up by a mainstream publisher doesn't necessarily make it bad. It's just that when you read some samples on the Kindle you can start to understand what agents have to wade through on a daily basis and you can see how occasionally books with promise must slip through the net.
There's a lot to think about before deciding to self publish. Whilst I'd much rather find a traditional publisher for my work, if in the future I decided to go down the self publishing route I would want to educate myself on the pitfalls before rushing in.