Anyone who is published already will sooner or later be asked by someone else, "How can I get published too?" Sometimes it's a subtle hint (e.g. "I'm a writer of blank genre, as yet unpublished..."). Sometimes it's a blatant ("Hi [fill-in-famous-name], can I send you my unpublished novel so that you can help find a publisher?"). While the request is polite and seems reasonable since the sender is doing their best to allow said famous person to easily decline, yet it is an obligation put on that person just by asking. It becomes something that they have to deal with either through significant personal effort most, or by trying to let the requestor down gently in that they really can't do what is being asked of them. The good news is that – with a little flexibility – getting published is easier now than ever before. That little flexibility that I'm speaking of is in how you decide that you must be viewed as an author.
We tend to have different goals in how we'd like to be seen as a writer. Selena Kitt, for example, of eXcessica Publishing which has published a number of my titles wanted to get her work for sale on Fictionwise (the largest eBook retailer of that time) without having to deal with publishers who didn't see a sufficient market for it to offer to publish it themselves. She believed in the value of her own writing, found out from FW what their requirements were to be able to distribute on their site (a minimum of 25 available titles from at least 5 published authors to start with) and started soliciting friends and contacts to put together the necessary package. She succeeded well and eXcessica Publishing currently has over 100 contributing authors with over 400 titles in print at this time. They release 4 new titles every week and are booked out a year in advance.
My initial goal was to see my work distributed on Amazon.com, The World's Biggest Bookstore. I felt if I had my titles for sale there then I had "made it" by my definition. And this is where you have to decide what your expectations for your writing really are.
Some writers feel that they can't accept anything less than a high-powered agent, a fat advance, and hard cover publication by one of the Big Six publishing houses (Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Group, Random House, and Simon & Schuster). If that is your dream I won't tell you not to go for it because people do succeed at doing exactly this – but success is likely a long and difficult patch to achieve, even for those already with such publishing credentials. To take this route, finish your novel, including rewrites, and get it into acceptable standard manuscript form. Some very good tips on doing this can be found without needing to be a member at the SWFA (Science Fiction Writers of America) website. Start with the information on this page: http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/information-center/ and continue on with their warnings and further information here: http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/. Once you have that, start soliciting agents. I'd say start at the top and work your way down because why would you ever want to start at the bottom and possibly be accepted by the first person you send it to?
Then there are writer's groups. Yes some groups that you may wish to join are rather high and mighty about what they feel qualifies as "publication", SFWA among them as evidenced here: http://www.sfwa.org/join-us/sfwa-membership-requirements/#qualify . If you want to be part of that circle you'll need to play by their rules.
Or you can decide that you write to please yourself rather than some elitists (defined as anyone who doesn't think that you’re a real writer yet) and never worry about what "qualifies" you to be a writer in someone else's view. That is a decision each individual person needs to make for themselves.
Your next option for publication is a whole raft of smaller publishing houses with a track record that can be viewed before you try submitting to them. The smaller houses – independent publishers if you prefer – may specialize a single, or a small number of, genres that are overlooked by the Big 6 as not worthy of consideration. If you write in their particular genre that can be a good choice to try. There are all kinds of things that people like to read from high-brow literary through smut and all of it sells when well written. In fact, about the only genre that doesn't sell are badly written books full of grammatical errors that have no discernable plot, or titles that try to rip-off someone else's copyrighted creations. Don't waste your efforts there. An excellent resource of small publishers, including which ones to avoid as outright dishonest, is maintained by author Piers Anthony here: http://www.hipiers.com/publishing.html .
The third way to getting published, if you want to have your books actually distributed from anywhere other than your own personal website and get paid for them, is to go the Self-publishing route. (A fourth way is to set up your own publishing company, however that is a large amount of work for the average person with a steep learning curve. It can be done, however, you may have little writing time leftover afterwards.)
Now Self-publishing is not to be confused with the rightfully reviled Vanity Press of years past. Today advances in technology and imagination will let you publish any book on your own with very little upfront commitment in terms of money – call that risk – on your part, and actually have it out there for sale afterwards.
Now before you jump at this chance with that novel that has been burning to get off of your hard drive be aware that when you take this route you become responsible for every aspect of your manuscript from the quality of your narrative to the cleanness and correctness of your manuscript. If you aren't an English Major graduate you will likely need some help in ensuring that your compelling story and perfect manuscript is really almost as good as you think it is. Just because you didn't see any errors in the last read-through doesn't mean that they aren't lurking there in bunches. We are often our own worst proofreaders. While the many methods of improving your writing to a standard that you shouldn't be ashamed to show the world overall go beyond what I can cover in this particular essay, the value of finding and participating in local writing groups (start your own if you can't find any in your area) and inexpensive junior college writing classes to perfect your craft cannot be overemphasized. The large publishing houses employ professional editors to fix issues in their submissions before publication because the house's reputation is on the line. Without that safety net for self-publishing, you'll need to be beyond scrupulous about this yourself. Remember that each title you make available for sale promotes all of your other titles. A single bad book can keep readers from ever considering buying anything else from you again.
Once you've handled the technical part of writing a proper story, as opposed to just a series of scenes, in correct manuscript form then there are just 2 more steps to know:
1: Publish in eBook form. Let me repeat this: Always publish in eBook form! Electronic books are the future and the cost of publication is virtually nothing since it’s all just bits and bytes in the computer memory. To ignore this market is to cut yourself out of a place that will probably generate the bulk of your initial sales. Price it as you wish (you'll get a percentage of the total sale price) and be aware that many people these days feel that $2.99 is the magic impulse buy price for eBooks in the same way that 99 cents is the magic price for music tracks. And the way you will publish it is through SmashWords (www.smashwords.com). They are the true innovator in this area of opening electronic publishing to the masses. In return for their cut they will get your book out nationally.
2: If you just have to have your book in print as well, check out the POD (Print on Demand) publishers who literally print individual books as they are sold. As a result you don't spend a whole lot of money upfront for a print run and then pray that the books get sold. You only pay for what you sell. Several firms offer this service, but I suggest looking into CreateSpace (www.createspace.com). The reason for this is that CS is tied in with Amazon.com and will not only that get you placement for sale from both the CreateSpace and Amazon sites, but they handle the finicky publishing details such as not requiring you to buy an ISBN number. You may not be able to sell your print books everywhere without that magic (and expensive in small quantities) ISBN number, but if you're on CS and AMAZ and linking from everywhere else to those 2 sites, you'll be able to sell print books to pretty much everyone who really wants a copy.
Publicity after publication is up to your own efforts. Start with social networking sites like this one and look for other opportunities. You do need to know that you will be competing with others to accomplish your sales. Amazon currently lists 725,000 Kindle titles and that's a pretty big pile to throw yours onto as well. Yet you will be published and available for sale far faster than pretty much any other method, after which it's up to you to promote the heck out of your title in-between writing your next one.
In the future now, anyone who asks me this about how can they get published too they will be referred to this boilerplate reply.