I'm in the same boat as you! Writer's Guide to 2011 was suggested to me. It has over 200 publishers, agents etc.
Rebecca: (disclaimer: I'm a consultant in the self-pub field but am not posting to sell my services but rather give a few pieces of advice.) First, do you want to go through a traditional publisher? If so, then query (not quary) letters need to be sent. Include chapter one of your book along with the query. And I don't mean to pick on you but publishers will see typos like that and put your letter into the circular file. You should also have your manuscript completed and have had an editor take a first pass through it. There are freelance editors who advertise all over the net but beware, not all editors are created equal. I've seen some horrible editing jobs done by "professional" editors. Find several and then ask for a *free* sample edit. A good editor will give you a several page edit so you can compare editors. There may be several qualified editors vying for your job but you need to find one who suits you/your style.
An agent would be helpful if you can get one. You might also look into self-publishing. If done correctly, you can do quite well with self-publishing. I have friends who are with traditional publishers and sell more books than I do, but I make more $. I've been picked up by a national toy company and have sold over 50,000 copies (the average for a self-pub book is anywhere from 50 to 200). But you have to be cautious because there are a lot of scams on the net, waiting to take your money. Proceed with caution. Hope this gives you a start.
Thanks so much for you feedback. (I have to watch my typos.) Once my book is done I was thinking of looking into self publishing as well. There are so many scams out there, the process seems so daunting. It is going to be a long road I know. :)
I had a novel published last year in e-book format and it's coming out in paperback on February 1. My publisher is a small press which has a significant slice of the e-romance pie, but I'm also looking for an agent for my fantasy manuscripts (different publishers specialize in different genres).
I decided to go for commercial publication rather than self-publishing for several reasons - one being that my strength is writing, not selling. Most authors promote their books, but self-published authors also need to do the marketing which a publisher would normally handle. Another reason is that I didn't want to have to hire a qualified editor, a proofreader, a book designer, a cover artist and so on. I wanted someone else to pay for that. :) I also wanted a career as a writer, and that's a little more difficult when you're self-published. Ellen Feld is quite right about the average sales of a self-published book being between 50 and 200. Finally, I could always try commercial publication but, if that didn't work out, I could self-publish my book. It wouldn't work the other way around - agents and editors are generally not interested in books that have been previously self-published.
After my book was completed, I investigated publishers on the Absolute Write discussion board's Bewares and Background Check forum. You can do a search for publishers and agents here, and if you don't find the publisher/agent you're looking for, just start a new thread. You can also do a search of Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors to make sure that whoever you're querying is legitimate.
After I'd read up about a publisher I wanted to query, I looked through the publisher's website and ordered one of their books to make sure of the quality and speed of delivery. I also checked out a couple of websites which collected data on the average number of sales for this and other publishers, so I would have a good idea how much to expect in terms of royalties. Finally, I picked one editor in particular after reading an interview where she mentioned what she liked to see in manuscripts, and I sent her my novel. The research didn't take long, and it paid off when I got an acceptance a month later (and royalties in due time, of course).
If you're planning to look for an agent or commercial publisher, check their guidelines. Some want the first five pages included with a query, some want a synopsis as well, some don't. Polish your query letter as well - Query Shark is a blog which might help. And best of luck!
Begin with a critique partner. You can usually find one if you join a group here and ask people to read your work. Be patient with them, don't have them focus on grammar, just on the storyline. Revise accordingly.
Painfully write a query letter that is as bland and boring as bread and send it off to agents. Expect all of them to say no.
Try to submit to the big houses that accept unsolicited manuscripts, wait months and get no response.
Try to submit to smaller imprints of bigger houses that accept unsolicited manuscripts, wait months and get rejection letters.
Submit to every publishing house big or small that you can find. Attend a writer's conference, Revise your novel again.
Wait and wait and wait to be picked up, and when you don't get picked up, wait some more.
Continue writing new things. Query those things. Hope for the best.
If nobody wants to publish you, self publish, sell no books, but get your name out there. Do your own marketing, try to become viral. Hope someone sees you and pays attention to you.
Hope . . . hope because at the end of the day, getting published is like winning the lottery . . .
I have no illusions, I know it is a long shot, and there is a ton of awesome work and talented writers out there who never get picked up. If I have to self publish I will, just because I want someone besides me to read my work. Thanks for all the help and comments. That's why I joined this site, to get feedback and "hope"!