When I first started writing seriously, many years ago, getting published was the ultimate recognition of opening up heart and soul onto the page. Yes there was the fire of inspiration, the slow burn of getting the words down, and then the smoldering work of revising and refining the poem, essay or story. I remember writing two essays about my Dad and thinking that if I could get those published I would be a satisfied writer. As it turned out I placed both essays and rather than quelling the need to be published it simply started a bigger fire.
Over the years I have published essays, poems and stories. Novels are a bigger and more difficult sell and so far I haven't reached that goal. Agents and publishers all have their individual needs, likes and moods and who knows what preference or mood a manuscript will meet when it's first read.
In response to so much rejection and so many frustrated writers the world of self-publishing opened up. What first appeared as a panacea to writers started to grow little horns. Self-publishing was not initially looked on as a good thing in many cases it resulted in those authors being looked at in a bad light. Traditional publishers refused to look at future work of these self-published writers except in rare cases where the writer was able to spread word about his book across the world. As publishers saw the chance to make a lot of money they offered contracts to the writers and self-publishing took on a more respected image.
As that image grew more and more writers chose that route. The result of that was many awful books being printed and sold. A lot of online/ebooks and other self published books held lots of mistakes between their covers as if proofreading was a foreign activity. Some great books have been self published but many more examples of poor writing led to self publishing being a dark tunnel of failure through seeming success.
Today many more writers are going the route of self publishing print and ebooks as the big traditional houses have built castle walls and wide moats, guarded by armed editors and first readers, around themselves. Still many of the writers I know refuse to self publish as they see it as a failure to snag an actual big house. I sort of agreed for a while but have made some modifications along the way.
While I would still choose to seek a traditional publisher for novels and memoirs I am becoming more comfortable with self publishing poetry or short story collections. Not that I would give up a search for a small traditional house, but I've opened my options. The gift is in the finished project and seeing my own words between the covers of a book. It will be up to me then to make sure any of my self published work is advertised and exposed to the largest number of readers possible.