I self-pubbed my first novel (called Bubbles Pop, and available for free today on the Kindle through Amazon if you’re interested), and I can tell you that it’s been a rocky ride. I’ll do the cons first:
1) It can get expensive and time-consuming. I tried to do it on the cheap at first, editing and formatting and designing the cover myself. As a web developer by trade, I could handle the work, but it sapped many, many hours. And without any marketing campaigns, it just sat there for six months, with a grand total of about three sales. It’s only #90 in the Kindle store today because it’s a freebie and I did an advertising blitzkrieg to get it there. Don’t expect to just send it off and let Amazon or Smashwords take care of everything for you; it’s hard–and often futile–work.
2) There’s a lingering bias against self-published books. Many popular review bloggers won’t even look at them, and there are a lot of people who assume the only reason you self-pubbed is because you’re a lousy writer who couldn’t publish “the right way.” People who read your book may say dismissive things like, “With some cleaning up by a ‘real’ publisher, this could have been amazing,” even if you followed the same exact process that Random House would have.
3) It’s all you. You don’t have a big conglomerate buffer against harsh public opinion or financial ruin. You can’t blame the editing team for screwing up a proofread, or the graphic artist for sticking you with a lousy cover. All of your peers are also your competition. It’s not only tough to juggle every aspect of the production process, but holding yourself responsible for absolutely everything can take a big psychological toll. You have to have a thick skin and a indefatigable stubbornness to stick to it.
And now the pros, which I think are worth every one of those complaints above:
1) The copyrights are all yours, and nobody can take them away. You’re not locked into an indefinite contract with someone who could throw you by the wayside and forget you there, letting you and your work languish in obscurity. The book is yours; if something isn’t working, you can do anything you want with it.
2) The royalties are all yours too. You have to let the vendors keep their 30-40%, of course, but there are no big houses taking 85% and then playing accounting tricks to push it up to 90, or agents who take another 15% slice for the rest of your life. Any expenses are out of pocket up front, and then they’re done. Anything you make is yours to keep.
3) Even though you’re responsible for everything, you also have complete control over everything. The publisher can’t shove a terrible cover or short-sighted editing decision down your throat, and then threaten to yank the title and demand their advance back if you don’t comply. They can’t mess up the e-book conversion or price it way too high for the market and ignore any protests you make. You can produce a work in its entirety the way you envisioned it, without anyone’s permission, and handle your own business decisions.
I hope this helps. Overall, I would recommend self-publishing, but you need to be prepared for the hard work and risk that comes with it. Ultimately, both self- and traditional publishing are grueling endeavors, and your success will rest 99% on luck.