Okay, writers, the writer in me is back. (Sorry the pregnant version of me was taking over for a while-- she was rather pushy.) And I have potentially useful information for you if you are interested in, say, publishing your novel and haven't a clue as to where to start.
I know there are many roads to success, but here is one possible way to proceed:
1. Write your novel. Once it's completed, put it aside for a while, then read it again. Get rid of anything you don't need. Tighten up your sentences. Add life where you can.
2. Have people you respect read it, tell them to be honest with you, and then either accept or reject their suggestions.
3. Read your novel again, and pretend you are your worst enemy. What would you ridicule? What could be stronger?
4. Give your novel some more space, and read it again-- this time, as your best friend. Find the parts of the story that compelled you to write it, fall in love with your characters all over again, revel in your revelatory ending. Pat yourself on the back that you actually completed a novel. Many people talk about writing one, but few actually do.
5. Check out Nathan Bransford's blog. For better or worse, I don't really read blogs. But his is no ordinary blog. This agent-turned-author has insightful (and entertaining) advice on everything from how to edit your novel and how to find an agent to writing a non-fiction proposal and how to format your completed manuscript. Interested in self-publishing? Or determined to go the old-fashioned traditional publishing route? He goes over the pros and cons of each. And so on.
6. Once you feel your work is as good as it's going to get (because you definitely don't want to be hacking away at one piece for the rest of your life), put it down and start your agent search. The easiest way is to visit agentquery.com. You can search for fiction agents that are interested in multi-cultural chick lit or offbeat middle grade sci fi mystery. Whatever you're working on, you can select the genres to see who would be a good fit for you. (Whether you need an agent is a long debate for another time, but I'd recommend it for many reasons.) Once you've narrowed down to the agents you like best and think would both understand your work and pitch it well, submit away! (Nathan Bransford's blog has tons of tips on how to submit, how to write a query letter, etc.)
7. Instead of just sitting around and twiddling your thumbs, praying an agent will request a partial or even a full (woo hoo!) copy of your manuscript, move on. This is what will keep you sane. Forget about your last project and launch yourself wholeheartedly into a new project. Then, start the whole process again. Hopefully, while in the depths of your new project, an agent will sign you, pitch your project to a great publisher who will jump at the chance to share your work with the world, and you'll get a huge advance and become a millionaire inspiring throngs of people with your work.
Good luck! :-)