In my humble opinion, I can't fathom why anyone would go with self-publishing as a first step towards trying to get published... unless they have assloads of money to blow or maybe such a fear of even one publisher rejecting them that they HAVE TO!!!
Let me say this: Many rejections from publishers is a right of manhood/womanhood that needs to be gone through, much like learning to relish your one-star reviews once you're published. It toughens you up, and as a writer, you need to be toughened up. Why? Because as a writer, at some point you're going to be putting your words-your baby, your soul in prose- out there under the microscopes of your readership. And there will be a variety of opinions of your work... being able to take them without weeping into your pillow every night is a learned talent. And it doesn't matter about an overwhelming volume of positive praise, either. 500 great reviews can be invalidated by one bad one in the authorly mind. So where were we? Ah yes, rejections from publishers...
Get them! If you're sending your manuscript out to find a home, you're taking the right steps towards possibly getting published. As much as your book is an art form, learning to handle the BUSINESS side of being a writer is an important lesson. There's lots of reasons you're going to be turned down... very few of them are a personal attack on you.. you'll never know thanks to form letters and such. Maybe you'll get lucky and get a reason WHY out of a few. Read those... give a tough look at your manuscript and see if that editor has a point that can help make your book better.
And don't think your book can't be better. Not that I am the most seasoned pro out there, but I am constantly trying to beat the suck out of my writing. It's a never ending process. Don't think your darling is so precious that parts of it shouldn't be killed... even on the published author side, we're all still constantly learning.
Self-publishing as a first step reeks of a certain lack of confidence in a writer's work. It smells of desperation to be in print BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. As if to say, "Listen, I'm pretty sure an editor would hate this, which is why I didn't submit it, but please please please read my words that I didn't have confidence enough to submit anywhere!" No offense, but if you don't think its readable, why should the rest of us be forced to read it? It's the same reason I try to avoid going to off-off-off Broadway shows in the city. Sure there might be a diamond in the rough out there, but I'm not going to sift through the mountain of suck to get to it. I leave the sifting for editors at publishing houses...
I'd only self-publish if, after hundreds of rejections, I had to see my work in print for my own sanity... maybe then, but you'll rarely see it in an actual bookstore. And a final point here.. god have mercy on your soul if you fall prey to publishing with a vanity press. A friend of mine HAD to see his book in print.. sent it to a "publisher", who said they'd love to publish it. For $25,000. For that he was promised: 1,000 hardcovers, signings, advertising, reviews. He put up money against his house.
Five years later, he can't get it into stores, only sells on Amazon, and at last count, has about 925 of them left.
So, aspiring writers, get out there and start racking up those rejections! What doesn't kill you only makes you (your book) stronger!