This is the dawn of a new era in book-selling not because people are self-publishing—authors have done that for a long time—but because it's finally cheap and easy to self-publish. What that means is, all those people who always wanted to write a book are coming out of the woodwork, writing their books and then putting them up for sale, either as ebooks or POD (print on demand) books or both. The Kindle store is glutted with ebooks, hundreds of thousands of them.
Of course, quality varies considerably. Some self-published authors don't understand the importance of editing or even, sad to say, of proofing. Fortunately, technology provides a taste-before-you-buy option, either through the"Look inside" function or the downloadable free sample. There are plenty of good self-published books, but you do have to find them.
To quote the Bard, there's the rub! It's difficult for a new author who doesn't have the benefit of an established fan base to get noticed in the rapidly swelling crowd. One thing I have noticed in the months my books have been for sale is that is that there is not, in spite of what you might hear, only one marketplace. Yes, the Kindle store is the single most popular ebookstore. It is very well designed and Amazon's software is great at recommending new things to buyers (although they need a button that says "I only bought that CD or movie or video game as a gift for my nephew. Please stop suggesting these things to me!"). But it's also harder to stand out in the Kindle store. I think that's one reason why I have seen more sales lately in the Sony and Apple iBooks stores than on Kindle: less competition. After all, the books have the same covers and blurbs in all three stores; they are the same product but in different-sized marketplaces.
A second reason is the fact that both Sony and iBooks offer a way to make a self-published book free. All you have to do is 1) publish your book on Smashwords, 2) opt in to sending the book to other retailers, 3) make the book free on Smashwords, and 4) wait. In less than a week, your book will be free in the Apple iBooks and Sony ebookstores. Of course, being able to give away a book works better as a sales strategy if you have more than one book. But even when you only have one book out there, giving it away can get you a lot more reviews and get your book noticed on book bloggers' sites. And you don't have to make it free forever.
Also, as I mentioned in an earlier post, Apple is selling internationally, so my books are available in iBooks for readers in the UK, Canada, and Australia as well as the US. Amazon sells to other countries, too, but I haven't seen more than a few random sales, and again, I attribute this to more competition.
Of course, there is also the question of whether vendor sites treat self-published books differently, which is why I moved my three books from the PubIt platform to using Smashwords to publish in the Barnes & Noble Nook store. It's too early to say how that's working, but the outcome will determine what I do with the next two books, which should be coming out in about two or three months.
If you're reading this because you've self-published, I would be interested in hearing what markets are working best for you. If you're still in the planning stages, please feel free to post a question in a comment.