This is just the overview of these topics - the First Draft of this information. I don't think anyone could or should take my posts and consider they know everything they need to know to do [damn near] anything.
Here's my take on things. As bookshops and libraries know, books from certain publishers are going to be good quality. Sometimes I think the writing is average (I'm such an expert???) but the editing, formatting, and physical quality of the book are going to meet industry standards - EVERY TIME.
For whatever reason a writer decides to go the non-traditional publishing route there is a danger of becoming living proof of the maxim "Garbage in, garbage out." Most POD companies print exactly what is sent, unless you purchase an editing package. Certainly what you upload to Lulu, Amazon, or even LSI is going to be what is printed.
When publishing in a non-traditional fashion, the responsibility falls to the writer to meet the industry standard. The reason this sometimes doesn't happen is either the writer does not fully understand or is unaware of the industry standard, or they honestly think they have met it but missed to the point that it is horribly noticeable.
Notwithstanding content, the main glaring errors in self-published books are formatting and editing. Most people say editing is the number one area to pay attention. I have to say here that just because someone is an English teacher doesn't mean they can edit a book properly. They might be pretty good on the line editing (proof reading) aspect, yet even there the industry has some oddities that non-industry people might not know - one is the single space between sentences.
I know that is a bit of a crossover into formatting, but book formatting is unique and there are industry standards there too. One item where I deviate from the standard is fonts. I struggle to read a font with serfs, so I don't use them in my books. That is not the norm and because I do it doesn't mean anyone else should. But I'm not going to go to all the work to get a book I struggle to read.
Going back to content for a moment, I bet dollars to donuts Glyn Pope (from Monday's comments) will attest to the value of a content editor. When I beta read mss for people, I content edit. I touched on this last week when I wrote about things like the flow of the story - sometimes rearranging a paragraph here and there. There is a lot more to it than that, so review previous posts and notes about the short story contest and contest judging for more information, and search other sources of information too.
My favorite goof is when people teleport and walk into a room, then later walk in again in the same scene without leaving between the two entrances. I saw this in a traditionally published book by an imprint of one of the big publishing houses. Why is this nonsense important? Because stuff like this stops the reader from reading.
The only time a writer wants a reader to backtrack and read a section again is because it is so good that it resonated with the reader. Other than that, you want the reader always moving forward, and the story has to keep moving forward for that to happen.
There is overlap between what a content editor and line editor will catch. For example, both will catch words that are over used. That is a good thing. The more experts you can have look at your ms with a emotionally neutral eye, the better. Getting an ms edited is well worth the money and as I've said before, this is one area people seem to skimp.
There is nothing wrong with going with a POD company, but do research the options in printing and publishing, and of the companies out there. Look for posts on forums and blogs about that company and take the pulse of people who have worked with them before. If this is the right option for you, then don't let anyone rain on your parade.
Be aware that all the marketing will fall to you in this route. It isn't easy. There are lots of snake oil sales people and worthless services you can spend a fortune on and have zero results. There are no easy answers and anyone who says there are is scamming.
Even for writers who wouldn't publish if their ms isn't picked up by a big lit agency and a big publisher, knowing this stuff and paying attention to the details in your ms will help you get there.
Here is something to read: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/7215342/Self-publishing-Good-news-for-budding-authors.html