Hilari Bell has been called the poster child for persistence. The first novel she sold was the fifth she'd written, and when it sold she was working on novel fourteen. She now has seventeen conventionally published novels with two more under contract, and is now branching into epublishing her backlist novels and her writing tips.
She likes board games and "decadent" camping. (In a pop-up trailer with a space heater, a stove--even a toaster!) She says camping is the only time she gets to do enough reading...though when it comes to reading, there's really no such thing as enough.
She's also a member of the best writing critique group in the universe. (Her opinion, anyway.) And you can find their webpage at http://thewildwriters.com/
American Idol has proved that few people can accurately judge their own talent--but that said, the publishing world is changing significantly. To self-publish while you improve your craft, or not--this is the new question.