I'm very happy with what I do, but it isn't for everyone. I self-publish. The good of it is very good and the bad of it is very bad, there seems to be little middle ground - and it is different for everyone. But it is the right choice for me.
There is so much to learn that I won't go into detail here. There are books, websites, and blogs on the subject. It helps to have a firm understanding of the publishing industry, from first draft of an ms to agents to editors to marketing, including remainders and pulped books.
Yes, that's right, perfectly good books are returned from retailers and pulped. This usually occurs with the larger publishers - at least they're recycled. So the next time you lend a book or buy one for a nickel at a boot sale, rather than support the industry with a real purchase, feel guilty - my soapbox because the writer doesn't get a royalty when books aren't sold new.
Anyway... I start writing my ms with my software set to book format. There is no need for me to write in ms format then convert it. There are standards to the format. I've already mentioned that the copyright page is on the left side and I use Tahoma (a non-serf font). The margins are specific because the pages alternate to add for gluing the spine - I think I add 0.025 inch to my interior margin. I call that the ditch or gutter - look up the terminology
I go through and do the rewrites and self-edits. I have a list of words I notoriously overuse and clean up that mess. Some of my beta readers act like content editors. I don't think they even realize it. I read it aloud and fix those problems. After that, hire a proof reader.
I have software to design my cover and a list of names of cover artists to tap for those planned projects that the art is beyond my skill level. There are things to know like bleed and how to calculate the spine width. The ISBN is purchased from Bowker in the US. Lots to learn about them, including the country code for pricing and the scan bar particulars including where to place it on the cover.
Somewhere along the line there is research into printers. I use one here in Phoenix. I'm sure he has rolled his eyes a time or two because of me. This is a real print shop, big presses that do different jobs from business cards to church bulletins. I dream of having their fancy stationary one day, though I really don't need it.
A whole blog could be dedicated to paper. There is the weight and color, and the shiny coating on the cover stock. I use white paper, people notice and people mention it to me all the time. The fact is, it is easier for me to read on white paper with black ink. Most use cream colored paper and dark gray ink. I can read it, but it is work and I tire sooner.
There is the print run to calculate. There is a print shop in San Diego that a friend likes because they will do relatively short print runs - I think he said, 500 books at a time with the off-set press. My printer has installed a new digital press, which I like. It allows me to run small print runs to meet my demand economically and without hundreds of boxes of books in my garage.
Then there is distribution, use LSI or not, Baker and Taylor or not? Amazon or not? Sell on my own website or not? Set up a shopping cart - paypal or not?
Every decision falls to me. Just like I hire a real proof reader (certified), I hire a real web designer. My first one was an awful company to work with, and costly. For the last five years I've worked with Joyce at DesignByJoyce.com. Bottom line, she cannot retire before I do.
There are all kinds of marketing decisions. This is my least favorite part of this whole process. There are companies who sell marketing and PR services. The good ones work really well for non-fiction books. Fiction is a hard sell, ask anyone. Then the decisions on whether or not to write a blog, do media releases, go to book fairs, get book reviews, worry about SEO (which I don't worry about with Joyce), speaking engagements, niche markets, mailings... and none of it works 100% of the time.
I have a friend in marketing who helps because I could never afford her company. I have a friend in book marketing who is more pushy than I like sometimes. There is the social media question, which to use, how much time to devote to it, and the back alley whispering that most of it doesn't really sell fiction. Think about it, has reading First Draft made you buy my books?
I even put the first chapter of the next book in the back of the previous book. There are tons of strategies because readers can't be grouped by any common factor besides liking to read, so they are hard to target for fiction, unless by genre.
The copyright needs to get registered. I've dropped the Library of Congress stuff even though it is free because it isn't likely that my books will be in Libraries. One staff at the Glendale Library said at a seminar, if they get the book donated, they give it to the friends of the library to sell, so they can buy real books.
Businesses need to be set up or at least discussed with the tax guy, retail licenses paid for, sales tax to be filed (and paid)...
There is more to the process that this. The whole process would be mind boggling without my friend Joy Collins across town. We meet for lunch and email like crazy on nearly anything to do with publishing. We even do a few joint projects together, though on some issues, like paper color, we do different things.
For me, marketing is the part I absolutely hate. Creating the book the way I want it done is the good part.
Google printing terminology, here's one list. http://www.printusa.com/glos.htm
If you want an agent, following agent blogs is a wise idea. Here is one to get you started: http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/
Joy Collins is at http://www.joycollins.com/
A reminder, Sunday is the last day to enter the short story contest.