Basically, there are largely three options open to you:
Literary Agents & Traditional Publishing Houses
Independent Publishing Houses
For all of these it’s probably worth getting the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook for the year (the latest edition that’s out), and other bits and pieces I’ve listed in the resources section.
Literary Agents & Traditional Publishing
The first option is to submit to literary agents. The good thing about having an agent is that they have all the contacts at the publishing houses, know how to negotiate publishing contracts and are your work’s champion!
Obviously they will take a cut of what you earn, but then they can usually get you a bigger deal than you can get yourself anyway (kinda like accountants who save you more tax then the wages you pay them). And to go with them means a bigger publishing house usually, such as Harper Collins, and that means bigger marketing, bigger sales, and reaching more people.
Generally, traditional publishing will get you an advance (a sum of money based on how much the publishing house thinks they will make from your sales), and then once you’ve sold through that (i.e. sold enough books to cover the advance), you start taking home royalties.
These days, with Indie Houses becoming far more established as they are managing to be flexible and meet the demands of the market with more ease than the big publishers, Literary Agents do sell to Indie Houses too. Salt Publishing is a big UK Indie House although they do still accept unsolicited (and un-agented) manuscripts.
Publishing contracts work that they get the rights to publish your book, give you an advance which is a lump sum of money according to how many books they expect you to sell, and once you have sold through your advance, basically sold enough books to cover it, you start making royalties).
Independent Publishing Houses
The second option is to go for what is known as an ‘indie-house’ which means an independent publisher, this is basically a publisher that isn’t one of the ‘big 5’ like Penguin Random House or Harper Collins.
The benefit of an Indie House is that they are usually more open to new writers (but landing a contract with one is still no mean feat, Salt Publishing only bring out 12 new books a year). They tend to offer larger royalty percentages, they are more flexible about editing and cover design, and it’s a much more intimate relationship between you and the publisher.
The drawbacks can be a lack of publicity and finance to go into the marketing side of things. However, they do tend to be better online than traditional publishers and a lot of marketing happens online now anyway.
Thirdly, self-publishing. This form of publishing is more popular now than ever. Some authors go straight for self-publishing, especially if they have novels that are cross-genre or only appeal to small audiences i.e. a family memoir. However, this is not always the case, some authors go straight for this and have subsequently won awards and become NY Times bestsellers. Other authors have become what is known as ‘hybrid’ which means they may have started traditionally publishing, built a brand, and then gone on to self-publishing for more creative freedom.
You can use Amazon to create Kindle copies of your book and their Createspace platform for hard copies. There is also Ingram Spark and other similar platforms if you want to hit other online outlets as well as high street sellers.
The benefit of this is that you have total control over your book and you make all the money. An obvious negative is that you have to do all the editing, design and marketing yourself. Authors who do this well are those with the finances to hire editors, cover designers and interior designers to make sure their books are on a level to compete with traditionally published works not just in content but in aesthetics and marketing too. Time is also a big factor here.
This is a brief run-down and of course there are other ways to get published. For me, this was just a helpful way of compartmentalising the publishing world into something more comprehensible. Also, please be aware that the publishing world is changing more rapidly than ever with the online world, so this page may already be out of date. I guess this is the time for you to get on Google and fact-check…