||2. Find a publisher.
The publishing business is huge and complex. Most medium-sized publishing houses have a niche market that is profitable for them and several related markets that also add to their bottom line. They generally don't stray far from their specialized categories, so it is important to take that into consideration before submitting. Larger publishers have many more categories and a variety of readerships, but they are more difficult to get a publishing agreement out of.
There are also university press publishers affiliated with many of the large universities. They specialize in publishing for academia, and the criteria they apply to manuscripts is very different from the ones used by most commercial publishers. I won't discuss the university press publishers here, but there is a lot of information available online from most large university websites.
There are commercial publishers who specialize in scientific and technical subjects, historical and cultural subjects, childrens's literature, educational textbooks, and arts and crafts subjects. There are the publishers of paperbacks, mass-market hardcover books, magazines and multi-media. Publishing houses can vary in size from a two-person operation to a multi-national corporation. The publishing business is so daunting that it can take your breath away.
What's an author to do? If you have reviewed your manuscript and been brutally honest with yourself, part of your work is already done. While you are looking for an agent (assuming you want one) it is a good idea to submit your manuscript to a few prospective publishers. The objective, at this point, is to get your manuscript into the hands of a publisher who markets to the exact same market your story is geared towards. This requires a little research.
A trip to your local libraries reference section should lead you to several very helpful books. Ask for the current Writers Market, Publishers Directory and Childrens Literature Market. This may take some time, but it will be well worth it. Read each publisher listing. They will tell you what they are looking for as well as other important incidentals like whether or not they accept unsolicited manuscripts or not, length of manuscript, subject, appeal, etc. If you have any doubt whether or not they will accept a standard, double-spaced, properly identified manuscript with cover sheet and cover letter, then first request publishing guidelines and also enclose an SASE. Most publishers will provide the guidelines. Follow them exactly per each publishers requirements.
Mail your story to no more than three at a time and indicate on your cover letter that you are making multiple submissions (some publishers will request an exclusive submission, but they are few). Always include an SASE (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope) for their response (add additional postage on a large enough envelope if you want your manuscript returned).
Keep a log sheet listing the publisher, name of the manuscript, the date mailed, the date returned and the response. Don't send your manuscript to the same publisher a second time unless a rewrite is requested. Most rejection slips are generic. Occasionally you might get a letter offering a tip or a short critique. If that happens, consider it a good sign. It doesn't happen often. Hopefully this is a sign that the person reviewing your story found something worthwhile in your writing. It could be an indication that you're on the right track for this particular publisher. Send them another manuscript, if you have one ready to go. Just make sure it passes the muster of your response letters suggestions. In other words, don't make the same mistake twice. Persistence is needed here. Don't give up.
Your manuscript, if it is accepted and you are offered a publication agreement, will require a cover design and possibly some inside illustrations (if it is a book). Most publishers employ a staff of professional book designers and a few illustrators. There are times when the publisher asks the author to assist in producing book illustrations, but this is usually when the subject is highly technical and requires specific expertise. There are children's book authors who write and illustrate their own material (Shel Silverstein, Dr. Suess-just to name a few). It is rare to find a person who can do both. As a result, most publishers rely on writer's agents to supply them with manuscripts and artist's agents to supply them with potential book illustrators (a very special area of expertise).
There is no guarenteed strategy to get your manuscript published by an established publisher. There are vanity publishers who will publish and print your work...for a cost. Be cautious! You could very well end up with a garage full of boxes filled with expensive unmarketable books. Just remember, distribution and marketing are the engines that drive the publishing business. Most reputable publishers have distribution agreements with bookstore chains and have a staff of sales and marketing professionals. Unless a publisher is going to provide you with access to their marketing and distribution network, be very careful when signing anything legally binding.