Alright, so I'm a published romance author (as I'm sure I've mentioned a few, *cough* 1000 times). That's all I've wanted to and tried to be, so I know my instructions may not apply to all genres or types of writing. Still, what I hope is that you all will see how I went about getting published, and then apply/modify it to what you'd need. So I hope this list helps!
1. Be Proud of Your Work
This goes without saying, but attempt to publish something you're actually proud of. I've been posting free stories online since before I went through puberty, and have finished about 5-6 "books". Did I attempt to send any of those to publishers, though? No. I knew they were good, but I also knew they weren't "someone investing their money in me" good. And, you know, it'll be a lot easier to sell your product to possible publishers if it's something you're proud of.
2. Edit Your Freaking Heart Out
As I mentioned before, I'd been posting online for a while (post on that here). I'd gotten comfortable with the Wattpad/Booksie world. But I also knew that the publishing world was far different. So I researched "romance book publishing" and a million other different variations of the same thing. I found the normal word count, formatting conditions, all that stuff. Things that I could apply to my work to make it as sellable as possible. Editing it myself, "Back to You" went from around 130k words to 110k words, which was still pushing it for a standalone romance book. By the time it went through actual editors, it was down to around 102k, I think.
3. Research Until Your Fingers Bleed
Maybe not that dramatic, but still. Research, okay? As confident in yourself as you may be (which you should be!), you still don't know everything that needs to be known about being published. Hell, I've been under contract with my publisher since October '16, and I'm still clueless about some things.
So, research. Google publishers in your genre, research the types of summaries and blurbs that have the best outcomes. Learn what the hell a blurb actually is. Learn how to sell your soul. Most writers are about as introverted as they come, but this is where you have to break out of your shell. If this is your dream like it was mine, nothing should keep you back. The more knowledgeable you are, the better.
4. Make a List
After you've researched publishers of your genre, write them down. Write and bookmark the sites for at least ten of them. You can have some big names in there, but if you've researched enough, you should also have quite a few "indie" publishers as options. These will be your best bet. As I'm sure you've heard before, J.K. Rowling got rejected by numerous big name publishers. It only takes one novel for a publisher to make it big.
Why can't it be yours?
5. More Research
Every publisher has different submission guidelines. Look them up on their website, they'll be there. Usually, all of them need a blurb, a summary, and an author bio. Some even require the full manuscript.
What I did (since I'm a huge notebook hoarder), was make a complete separate notebook just for submission requirements. I wrote each publisher down on a page and listed all of their requirements. After that, I made separate folders on my computer for each of them and got to work.
6. Get to Work
As horrible as writing summaries and blurbs is, you have to do it. So just do it. Most publishers require the same type of summary/blurb, so you can reuse and recycle. Some don't, though. Some require a longer summary but no blurb. Others require neither, but then expect an email that completely sells them on the book. So copy/paste sentences and paragraphs, those that you're most proud of. And use them as often as you can.
You can't slack off for just one publisher, either. Each submission needs to be gold. The acceptance rate is dismal, so you have to stand out. Commit to their standards, yes, but make sure you exceed that.
Press that send button, honey. It's absolutely terrifying, but also thrilling. You've worked your ass off to get here, I know you have, so at least feel proud of yourself for getting this far. If you can write a book, you can get published. If I could, anyone could. Trust me.
As you could expect, this is the worst part. Waiting for your dream to come true sucks.
But even though it sucks, it's also best to keep track of the suck-age. That sounds wrong. Sorry. But still. Make a chart (I made one in Excel) with a list of all the publishers you submitted to. Put down their "get back time", which is usually a couple of months, and write when you sent them your submission. This will give you a nice timeline/tracker of everything you sent out. And if you don't hear back from them in that time frame, then chances are you didn't make the cut. Even if they say they'll get back to you, they may not. But as brutal as that sounds, it's also kind of reassuring. Okay, yeah, you didn't fit their needs. BUT NEITHER DID HARRY POTTER, okay?
So just mark them off the chart, and replace their row or column with someone new. It's a game of chance and it sucks, but, in my opinion, just getting to the point to try and publish is novel-worthy itself. You accomplished something great. Be proud of that.
AND. If you're like how I was a year ago and looking to publish a romance book, check out Hot Tree Publishing. They have both self-publishing and traditional routes and, even though I'm incredibly biased, they're awesome!