This may be opening a can of worms, but I wanted to weigh-in on this subject. I'm sure that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of sites out there that espouse one over the other. If you are looking for that kind of site, look elsewhere. That isn't the purpose of this entry. I think both have their purpose. Both have good points and bad points. Pitfalls and positives. No matter which way you go, the bottom line should not be money. Yes, you can make money, but the focus should be on getting your thoughts/ideas/dreams out there. To weave a tale that people will remember, and more importantly, enjoy. If money is all that you love, save us from yourself and become a lawyer.
Back to the point.
This is the easiest way to get your story out there. It's free and easy and you can get something published in literally minutes. There are several self-publishing sites out there, the two that probably have the most exposure are Lulu.com and Amazon.com (see links below). All you have to do is follow their directions, and boom! You have a story ready to be delivered to the masses. You even get a sizable profit from the sales (over 70%). Like I said, quick and easy with a high payout. You don't have to fight with thousands of other manuscripts to get the attention of an editor (or their assistant). You don't have to wait to get it published. Sounds awesome, right? Maybe not so much.
The biggest mark against self-publishing is the lack of a professional editing staff. Wait! Didn't I just say that you wouldn't have to worry about getting the attention of an editor? Yes, I did. However, the lack of a professional editing staff means that you don't have someone scrutinizing your work and ferreting out all of the mistakes that might detract from your story. Even if you have a really good reading circle, they may not find all the little things that an editor might. I've read some self published stories. The ones I have read had some really interesting story concepts and characters. However, all of them had issues that seriously detracted from the story that an editor would have found. Issues that made them almost unreadable at times. It was a pity because I really enjoyed what I was able to read. Some of the issues were typos (spell check won't find them all!), irrelevant historical information that had NO bearing on the story, excessive use of "Deus Ex Machina", overly successful characters, and even one case where the first person view changed to another character and I couldn't tell the difference (very confusing!).
So, if you are wanting to go the route of self-publishing, push your reading group to really scrutinize your work. Don't assume that everything you write is perfect. Write. Re-write. Re-write some more.
Although it is a lot harder to get a book professionally published, there are some significant pluses. For one, you get the experience of a professional editor and their staff to help you maintain a coherent story from start to finish. Another thing you'll get is distribution to all markets. You also get the marketing power and prestige of a publishing company. Once you get published through a professional publisher, a LOT of doors are opened. Some publishers only take manuscripts from agents or published authors. Someone who is self-published won't necessarily get the attention of an agent and you won't be considered a "published" author by some companies. Agents and publishing companies do cut into your profit margin, but at the same time, they can shop your story around to people who wouldn't normally look at your work.
The downside to traditional publishing is that it takes a lot of time. You have to compete with a lot of other writers. You have to research all of the publishers and what they do, and do not, want, write cover letters, format the manuscript, and spend money on postage (most publishers won't take digital submissions). The Writer's Market is a good place to start. They have a print copy of their book as well as an up-to-date site full of just about everything you could imagine.
Whether you are self-publishing, or going the traditional route, you need to make sure that your story/poetry is read by as many people as you can find. The more feedback you get from them, the better. Encourage them to be honest and take their criticism with grace. After you do that, sit down and figure out which way you want to go.
If you are interested, you can check out my self-published short story here: The Forgotten Arch (ebook). It was submitted to Lulu.com for their short story competition as part of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It is also Free. Shameless plug, I know.
Till next time (I promise I'll have a new story soon).