When I first started self-publishing, I did so out of the sense that what I was doing was not going to be something that could be easily condensed to fit a target market — what I called the "if you like that then you like this" crowd. I didn't want to deal with the henpecked dithering of marketers and editors who would sit there and mutter to themselves, well, it's not this and it's not that and it's not over there, either, so therefore we can't sell it. Sorry.
Me, I figured if I sat at a table and made my sales pitch directly to the people that mattered — the readers — I could do an end run around all such stupidity. I was half right. You can perform such an end run, and you can get books into the hands of an audience directly. But there are two issues.
The first is scale — you can't expect to do this on the same scale as a publisher who has the power to put your books at eye level on shelves around the country. You can expect to sell in the dozens, not in the tens of thousands. If people already know who you are, it saves you the step of ever having to build an audience in the first place. But building an audience through self-publishing is looking more and more like ice-skating uphill: a great way to burn a lot of energy and go nowhere. Occasionally someone gets a tailwind, but that doesn't translate into a workable practice for everyone.
That's the second issue: finding any kind of catalyst for growth. It's entirely too easy for people to simply publish in their niche and never grow much past it, even when they are under the aegis of a "legitimate" publisher. The constraints of SF&F (and horror, and mystery) can become quicksand in which few writers ever do more than sit and sink.
There are other ways to get noticed outside the box, but all of them strike me as being equally incremental. One project I have for myself this year is to get on a few more podcasts (apart from my TGT Media appearance), which might help spread the word a bit more. Doing things other than just a) writing or b) advertising one's writing seem imperative.
Just being "a writer" isn't enough anymore. One has to be a public figure, it seems — someone who does things that includes writing. That right there narrows the field, especially for those who have taken it upon themselves to go it alone without the apparatus of a formal publisher to distribute their work. This will not thrill all of us who dreamed of just sitting at a desk and being brilliant, but I suspect it was never that easy to begin with anyway.