It is hard enough to write a book, but then comes the task of finding a publisher. Traditional publishers are not as likely to take chances with unproven authors. The Catch-22 is that if you can't get published, how do you get the 'experience' or track record to establish credibility.
Fortunately, for the 'newbie' or beginner, the advances in computer technology have made it possible for authors to publish-on-demand (POD), which greatly levels the playing field. This is not to say that one should avoid traditional publishers; after all they are more prestigious than self-published works that tend to be derided as "vanity" books. However, more and more reputable writers are turning to POD, improving the image of self-publishing even though there will always be some vanity press books.
The world of traditional publishing is rapidly challenged by self publishing especially with the rise of e-books and e-readers. Even though it is 'easier' (a relative term) to publish your book, there is still the problem of marketing your work! Simply because you write it is no guarantee that they will know about it, want to buy it, or read it. Authors do get some promotion if they have a traditional publisher behind them, but in my view, unless your book is a best seller, their marketing of your book is short-lived as they turn their attention to newer books in their list.
Being a self-publisher, you have to be resourceful, creative, and persistent in finding ways to publicize your book. Again, the modern tools of the Internet, especially social media, have potential to greatly help the little guy create a presence and get 'noticed' by the public.
I started with lulu.com for my first book, and continued to use it until recently for my 3 later books. Unlike some POD companies that charge several hundred or more dollars, lulu doesn't cost a cent for writers to use. You print as many or as few copies as you like so you don't have to stock a garage full of books which you may or may not ever sell. I must admit that when I perused the Discussion Boards on lulu before I started, I was a bit intimidated because of the many problems that some authors were having. On the other hand, other authors, and lulu support, were helpful in providing tips and answers for problems. In reading the comments, one rarely sees positive experiences because usually just the people with problems bother to post their questions and comments. My own experience has generally been positive, with many of the problems I had being "self-inflicted" from not reading instructions carefully. No company is 'perfect' and I have read about other POD outfits that appear to have many more complaints than lulu. Having done 4 books with lulu, it got easier with each succeeding book because I had learned what to do to avoid some prior problems.
Even print-on-demand companies like lulu have to keep innovating as the competition is fierce with new upstarts entering the growing field. I have found many advantages in using local printers for additional print runs because of no shipping fees and faster turnaround, for example. Also, I discovered that CreateSpace has appeal as an alternative printer to lulu by offering other innovations and much more reasonable shipping costs.
This CNET page is an excellent guide on 25 important self-publishing issues.
Some links to websites on self-publishing that are very useful:
The Passive Voice Aaron Shepard's Publishing Savvy Book Marketeer