Within days of each other I read two items--one a blog post and the other an article from traditional media--that discussed the same phenomenon: the move towards bypassing traditional agents and publishers in order to self-publish, made possible by the new world of e-books.
The article, Authors Exercise Their "Write" to Self Publish, is unexpectedly positive towards self-publishing and quotes authors who earn a nice living without the support of the traditional publishing houses. The counter-argument is given by an editor who argues that the publishing house creates an excellent final package that is proof-read and looks great, and that authors are selling themselves short when they price their work at 99 cents.
The blog post is courtesy of Dean Wesley Smith who makes the more convincing argument that agents are unnecessary, unhelpful, and don't do anything that that an author can't learn to do himself or pay someone (such as an IP lawyer) to do for him--and without receiving a percentage of the author's sales. The same is true of publishing houses, though he suggests that you can submit to them directly (and avoid the agent) if you still want to go that route. His advice is to never cease writing new words, don't waste time endlessly polishing work, and learn to get your stories onto e-book platforms. The more you write, the better you get and perhaps by your 10th novel, you'll be good enough to write something that many people want to read, whereas traditional publishing houses only give you one shot--your first and only shot. If you don't hit it big right out of the gates, you probably won't be given another opportunity to sell a second or third novel, even if they're better.
Learning the business side and the design side--things the publishing houses traditionally had a lock on and is the scarier part for writers--is also doable and advisable. The EPIC BLOG POST is here and the comments are well worth reading. I also recommend immediately following up these reads with DWS's blog post on agents...again, read the comments!
I've learned so much from DWS and KKR in the short time I've been following their blogs and now it seems the traditional media are catching up to them! They've taken away a lot of the anxiety I had about writing and replaced it with a more go-get-'em attitude. The nanowrimo book I stopped abruptly before the end of November...IT'S BACK ON! and I wrote a few thousand words after reading DWS's advice. Thanks dude!