It is true that in today's competitive world of traditional publishing an agent is almost a necessity. There are those however that for any number of reasons choose instead to self publish and become an independent or "indie" author. Many will tell you that because this route has grown in popularity that there is no longer a stigma associated with it. That is not true. Many still question a self published author because of the ease with which someone can publish. There is no guarantee of quality when anyone can publish anything at any time.
As Indie authors we must work harder and smarter to set ourselves apart from our fellow authors. We are in a way competing with other indie authors as well as traditionally published authors because we are trying to get noticed but instead of looking at it as competition try to see it as association. The beauty of readers is that they tend to devour books one after the other so if you can get an association with a genre or author that they already like it is that much easier to stand out. With books most times it is not one or the other so much as it is one of many.
I have written about the importance of editing and making sure that when you do publish yourself you still go through the diligence of a traditional publisher in order o give your readers a product they will respect and want to follow with more of your work. When publishing on your own you have far more creative control as well as all of the rights to the book and for those reasons alone it is a very attractive option. I just want people to be aware of the level of commitment required to promote the story when going down this path.
It is not impossible, far from it. In fact there are a number of well known indie authors that have done well and live the dream so many of us have to be full time writers. It is however, more work to be an indie author. You are in charge of one hundred percent of promotions, marketing strategies, sales, networking, distribution and anything else that may arise. Without the branding of the traditional publisher and their team it can be significantly more difficult to break in to a number of locations. If you are willing to put in the effort though it can be worth it because you are able to retain all of the rights and keep every cent of the royalties without anyone else trying to take a cut.
There is no one right way to publish. There are several paths within each journey. It truly is just a matter of finding what works best for you and being willing to put in the work to make it once you have found the road you feel most comfortable traveling along.