In 1846, Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell paid for publication of a collection of their poetry. It sold a handful of copies.
Your worth as a writer is not in the number of copies you sell ( if indeed you 'sell' any), it is in the quality of that work... and the most important thing any of us can do is to work hard to try always to improve the quality of that work. Obvious stuff, I know, but so easy to forget.
Going back to the sports analogy of the World Book Day post last week: work your way up. Even professional sports people have proudly collected medals on ribbons and cheap trophies from local events on their way up. Take every opportunity to practise, improve and learn about your craft. 'What goes around, comes around.' Do you go to readings, signings, literary events? Do you buy and support literary magazines. Do you read? Are you in a writers' group? Do you support friends and colleagues by sponsoring their hobbies, interests, passions? If not, you can't expect them to wax lyrical about your project. If you want to write, write. Write letters and articles on your chosen subject for local papers and magazines - don't be proud; be passionate.
Preparing your manuscript. Revise, edit, correct, modify, scrap, insert, double check; keep researching until the very last minute. Get an editor and listen to everything they suggest, though the final decision should always lie with you. Your book will never be the thing you envisaged but should always be the very best you can make it. There is no rush, unless a publisher's paid you a six figure sum, in which case... actually I haven't got a clue. Not a problem I've had!
When you think it's ready ( it will never feel completely ready - think your kid's first day at school), do your research. Much time, hope and money is wasted by us not doing our research properly. Find out which agents/ publishers/magazines actually do take unsolicited work in your genre. Many don't now. If so, enquire further via phone/ e mail. Look at their website etc. Send in your work TO THE EXACT SPECIFICATION they prescribe - every publisher seem to have a different house style. Ask how long it will take for a reply then follow up - but don't stalk them. In the mean time, don't put your life on hold and don't put your writing on hold either. have back up plans in place for WHEN they don't pick your work up. Keep improving your manuscript perhpas or begin on the next project - or just have a rest. Luck comes into everything of course for example my cousin drives my publisher's van!
An agent: I cannot advise on this as I haven't worked with one as a writer yet! Maybe one day...However, as I understand it, similar rules apply to agent and publisher pitches and interactions.
Publishing: The world doesn't owe you. It's your book - you'll have to persuade someone it's worth them investing in you, or you'll have to make that investment yourself. There is no shame in self-publishing. It's easier to do than ever before but you will have to pay yourself in terms of money and marketing. There is an obvious advantage in terms of getting a true publishing contract - the editing and marketing infrastructure; harnessing yourself to their reputation gives readers confidence in your book. Most of the prizes and awards out there only accept submissions from publishers. However, publishers may 'string you along', sitting on your book even for years and then changing their minds about publishing in the end. True self-publishing gives you, the little guy the power as well as the expense although I would strongly advise you invest in a professional editor and proof-reader to help you make the work as good as it can be. Be very clear whether you are self, vanity or 'publishing'. In the first two options you will be paying out your own money. If you are paying with your own money, your 'publisher' is a vanity publisher. I wouldn't say never work with one, but be aware exactly how their business model works and at least consider publishing yourself - you'll have more control of the process and it may well be cheaper. Learn to love the small print, as with any business transaction.
Marketing: Everywhere, everyone, everything. Even if you have a publisher rather than a self-published project, you will have to do a lot of work yourself. Initially, no opportunity is too small. I've done a reading for 9 people in a corrugated iron hut and been on stage at the Millenium Centre. Likewise, an audience is an audience - from a book group of 4 friends, to a tent in the Hay Festival, it's a privilege that someone wants to turn out for you. As always, prepare properly. Length is crucial. Always have a 'bolt on' section that you can leave out should you be running out of time. Always prepare for any/all tech to fail. Have a back up (tech) but also be prepared to provide some sort of 'acoustic' presentation if necessary. Think about the audience: is there a particular angle of your work that they might really enjoy/ you want to avoid?
Reviews: Some counsel not to read them, but I do not. Though it can be like looking at the dead lump of animal road kill or worrying a hole in your touth with your tongue when you have a bad one, there is USUALLY something to be learned somewhere! Once you've read it and extracted anything of worth, DO NOT GO THERE AGAIN. Don't do the tongue in the tooth hole thing. A bad review is a brutal and can be a destructive, thing. It can make you lose heart. Don't. It's your heart and you should chose when to wean it away from your writing project; don't let others do that for you.
A good review? Apart from to actual book sales, one of these lovelies can be even more dangerous. In fact success in general can cause writers' block big time. Is it just 'The Emperor's New Clothes'? Will someone turn around and burst this bubble, this 'love in' with the critics?
When you embark on your next project, you fear 'will I ever be able to do it again? What if the next one's no good?' Enjoy them for a moment. Learn from them, if possible but, just like the rotten apple reviews, they're only an opinion, opinions are subject to whim and fashion and are not what the work is about.
In 1846, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte paid for the publication of their poetry collection. It sold a handful of copies.