From a message I sent on myspace:
Sorry to take so long to get back to you.
Where self-publishing is concerned, I am primarily published online. I have not published any books. I happen to know that there are a couple resources (lulu.com, iuniverse.com, xlibris.com<--lulu being the best because it's entirely free, but will require a high level of attention to detail on your part where layout and editing is concerned), but I have not pursued any of these avenues, yet.
I am trying to get into a Master’s program for Creative Writing, and the Master’s thesis for such programs tends to be a book of short stories or a novel. Part of earning the Master’s, as I understand it, is learning how the publication process works and getting to know people who have been through it. Being involved in that sort of thing would really help a person to make the right connections to “break into the business,” as you put it.
Otherwise, a person could search online for agencies who represent authors and work on submitting manuscripts to those agencies. It’s important to note that you don’t ever want to deal with an agency who requires money upfront. Anyone who says that they’ll read your whole manuscript for a fee will probably not do much good for you. Chances are good that if they are for real, they’ll read a few pages for no charge, and if you hook ’em, then they’ll ask to see more. If they like what they see, they might take you on and start pushing your stuff on publishing houses.
And, as I said before, there are the avenues for free self-publishing (lulu.com), but this will require a level of confidence in your own copyediting skills. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have all of your smartest (and most well-read) friends look at your manuscript before submitting it to something like that, because you’re much more likely to be taken seriously if your work is free from troublesome or annoying errors. I’ve heard that some books sell well enough on Lulu to be picked up by publishing houses, which would be the primary goal. One can probably add a nice little supplement to one’s income by selling stuff on lulu, but I doubt that it would constitute a primary income.
I publish my stuff on my website because it’s easy and I do it myself. if I wasn’t so busy with school, I would probably go through on a more regular basis and edit stuff, add more material, and even compile some of the different work into collections that could be publishable as books. Alas, while working on an education, that’s not entirely possible. I will, however, try to do what I can in coming months (especially if I don’t get in to the Master’s program that I’m waitlisted for).
Best of luck to you with your stuff! Hopefully my comments helped some!