If you can get writers to ignore the stigma attached to self publishing fiction and discuss it seriously it seems that the biggest stumbling block is knowing if the novel is actually good enough to publish.
There's the rub indeed. How do you know your novel is publishable? If you haven't got a support group of published writers who can help you decide, what can you do? Who will tell you? And where do you get the courage to do it?
There is so much badly written work being self published and any writer who has a C.V. of published works does not want to add to that pool.
So how can a writer find out if the novel is publishable? Sending it to an agent or publisher in the traditional way very rarely brings any helpful comments.
There are manuscript assessors. The U.K. assessors often are or were publishers, editors or even retired agents. My American friends think it is dreadful to spend money on a critique. "Do it yourself," they holler. But how many writers have the confidence to weigh up their own novel? We often think it's ready to publish but is it truly?
There are novel competitions, some are free, others cost a lot, but if the novel is short listed, or merits a critique then surely it has publishable value? Or does it?
There are now publishers' schemes like the Macmillan New Writers scheme or the Harper Collins authonomy: http://www.authonomy.com/faq.aspx website which depends on reader popularity. Problem there is that there is always someone somewhere who hates your novel and someone who loves it and it might be possible to rig support!
So where do writers go with their novels, the novels which agents say "it's good but I don't where to publish it."? Where do writers go with those novels which get good critiques but no agent or publisher takes on? Where do writers go with short listed or competition winning novels which still don't get a traditional publisher?
What do we do? I'm thinking we need a writers' publishing collective for self publishing, with editors to guard against the hopeful new writers who have a way to go yet before publishing standards are reached. Oh, and excellent PR people to blow away the 'vanity' or 'not good enough for real publishing' comments.