So, that 10-2 window for the plumber? He came after 5. And it was too late to do all the work I needed done. So now there's another appointment for (supposedly) first thing on Friday. This is probably not the best way to turn a new customer into a repeat customer.
Anyway, it's time for a writing post. This week, I had a question posed by a high school classmate: what do you do to get started once you've written a book? Taking the plunge into pursuing publication is probably scarier than looking at that blank page/screen to start writing a novel. The good news is that there may be more publication opportunities than ever before. That's also the bad news because it means you have to be even more knowledgable about the business than ever before in order to make good decisions.
The first thing you need to do is educate yourself about the business. There are whole categories of books at Amazon on publishing and the book business (the Writer's Market for the year is a good place to start). You can also find these books at a library. A lot of agents, editors and authors have blogs and Twitter accounts where you can get information.
Meanwhile, you need to educate yourself about the market and where your book might fit in. Are there any other books and authors out there that seem similar to yours in subject matter or tone, so that you think readers of these books might like yours? Visit a bookstore and browse to see what's out there. Do some Amazon searches and then follow the "people who bought this also bought these" rabbit trails. Take note of who the publishers are, how recently these books were published, how they're selling (the ranking ), number of reviews, etc. If you see a lot of books like yours, that could either mean this is a hot market or that it's a saturated market. If you see no books like yours, that could either mean there's no market or an untapped market. Your book could still sell, regardless, but it's good to know what's out there. Read the books you find and then take another look at yours to determine if it's really of publishable quality or if it needs more work.
Another way to educate yourself is to meet with other writers. Find a writing organization and attend meetings. Romance Writers of America and Mystery Writers of America allow unpublished members and tend to have local chapters with meetings. Many cities have writing groups. Attend a writing conference. There are some big ones sponsored by national organizations that focus on particular genres, and there are local and regional conferences that cover multiple genres. Many science fiction conventions include a writing workshop or have panels on writing and publishing. These can also be good networking opportunities, as publishing professionals often attend, and you may even be able to schedule a one-on-one session for pitching a project. An internet search will give you a lot of listings.
There are online communities, as well. Forums like the Absolute Write Water Cooler (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/) or Backspace (http://bksp.org/) give you a good place to meet online and learn about the business.
It does help to have done your research before you meet with other writers or publishing professionals. There's nothing more annoying than a new writer who just expects the more experienced people to present her with the keys to the universe when it's clear she's done absolutely no work on her own. Most of us remember the days -- years, even -- we spent reading books, going to conferences, etc., so we'd rather not spoon-feed others who expect to just be told everything they need to do. And never give a manuscript to an author, expecting feedback, unless you've been invited to do so.
Once you have some knowledge, you can make a decision about which path to publication you want to take. You can try submitting directly to a publisher, though fewer publishers these days are taking unagented submissions. This is more likely to work through smaller publishers (but research them carefully before you submit to make sure they're real publishers and not scams -- you should never have to pay money to a publisher). You can submit to agents, who will submit your work to major publishers. Or you can independently publish.
For more discussion on the differences between traditional publishing and independent publishing, look at a post I wrote last year on this topic: http://shanna-s.livejournal.com/2014/02/26/
My general recommendation is to at least try submitting traditionally first because it gives you a sense of where you fit in the market (are you being rejected for the quality of your work or because you don't fit a market niche?), it helps you build the thick skin you need to survive, and if you do sell a book this way, you can always decide to independently publish later, but you'll have that traditional publishing credential and more of an established audience that will help you stand out from the crowd. Don't think of independent publishing as any kind of shortcut. It's more like going into business, and you need to know even more about the industry than you do as an author going the traditional route.