Excited to publish something but ultimately too overwhelmed by the process to get started? Is it worth the trouble? What does it entail?
To help you sort out how to get started, I'll offer you the two most accessible directions to take:
1. You are interested in publishing on a smaller scale. This direction provides you with several options, the two most notable being: either self-publish or submit to smaller publishing houses.
Choosing to query to a smaller market will increase your chances of being published. Smaller, independent publishing houses have their eye (eyes?) out for fresh talent, and therefore always accepting of manuscripts from first-time authors.
However, smaller publishing houses can only print a limited number of copies of your book (unless, the suppliers demand for your book increases significantly.) The copies of your book will be distributed to only smaller businesses (if any at all). Also, your publishers will not cover the expenses of promotion.
Bottom line: This option is not for you if you are looking for instant profit. (Then again, you're a writer, you have no real interest in instant profit anyway).
2. You are interested in publishing on a grander scale. This means national, mainstream publishing houses. This route can lead you toward: getting a larger number of copies printed, having promo and travel expenses covered, and being distributed to larger book retailers (Barnes and Noble)!
Bottom line: None of this is guaranteed. Even when you're published. But the chances significantly increase. So again, this option is not for you if you are looking for instant profit.
Most national publishers will not even look at a submitted manuscript unless there is a literary agent who is pitching it.
The first step then, to get into the big business is finding a literary agent. This process requires two main steps:
1. Find a literary agent to submit to and research them. The most common way to do this is to read their blogs. Find out what their tastes are. Would they have interest in your genre? What other writers have they represented?
2. Submit your work to them. They will specify to you in their submission guidelines exactly what materials you should send them. Usually an agent will require three things: a query letter, a synopsis, and a sample from your manuscript.
How do you research an agent? What is a query letter? A synopsis?
While you can Google any of these questions, a great source I can point you to is Nathan Bransford, a literary agent who enjoys sharing his pearls of infinite wisdom among us power-hungry amateurs.
If you go to his blog, you can get a better understanding of what exactly a query letter and synopsis entail. I am recommending his blog because he provides insight into what agents are looking for in a query letter, a synopsis, a manuscript, and even an overall genre.
Also, for a preview of blogs of literary agents you can surf through, scroll down his homepage 'til the list of agent sites pop up on the left side.
Browse, taste-test, and see if anything sticks to your liking.