Answer: Well, your question starts off with an incorrect assumption.
Self publishing does work. It’s worked for hundreds and hundreds of years. Poor Richard’s Almanack was certainly a success – it was printed starting in 1732. William Blake was very successful self-publishing his work starting in 1783. Jane Austen was pretty successful – although, to be accurate, she went vanity press before there was a vanity press. Walt Whitman? Successful. Marcel Proust? Another success. Virginia Woolf? Success.
More successes include: Alexandre Dumas, Amanda Hocking, Anais Nin, Barbara Freethy, Beatrix Potter, Carl Sandburg, D.H. Lawrence, David Chilton, Dean Wesley Smith, Deepak Chopra, e.e. cummings, E.L James, Edgar Allen Poe, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ezra Pound, George Bernard Shaw, Gertrude Stein, H.M Ward, Henry Thoreau, Hugh Howey, Irma Rombauer, J.A. Konrath, Jack Canfield, James Redfield, John Grisham, John Locke, K.A Tucker, L. Ron Hubbard, Lisa Genova, Margaret Atwood, Mark Twain, Michael J. Sullivan, Richard Evans, Rudyard Kipling, Stephen Crane, Stephen King, T.S. Elliot, Thomas Paine, Tom Clancy, Upton Sinclair, William E.B. DuBois, and Zane Grey.
And there are plenty more.
So … self-publishing DOES work. It works well, it works every day, and it works for more and more authors every. single. day.
There are some ridiculous answers and misconceptions that others have about self-publishing that go with your errant question that have to be addressed:
Most indie authors have their books edited.
Many indie authors have their books professionally edited. Edited, in fact, by the very same editors that the Big Five publishing houses use.
Indie-published books don’t have a reputation of being ‘amateurish.’ The assertion that indie-published books are amateurish is a lie perpetrated by legacy publishers and scammers who parrot that nonsense for personal gain – usually wannabe editors.
In many cases self-published books are as good as – IF NOT BETTER THAN – the books put out by legacy publishers.
So what is the draw of going legacy? It must be the awesome marketing that you’ll get (you won’t get any marketing at all) and the riches you’ll get paid in royalties (there aren’t any; you’ll get 14.5% in royalties as opposed to 70% royalties if you go indie publishing).
The only thing legacy publishers have left is to lie about how difficult it is self-publish, and how much money can be made by going with them instead of going indie.
Don’t buy into the hype.