Firstly, you should know Bill Fawcett – that seems to always help! 🙂
Seriously, though, the rules for getting published are:
1) Write it.
2) Finish it.
3) Edit it.
4) Send it out.
5) Repeat steps 1-4 until you get a check.
Remember that you’re competing for fewer than one thousand book spots a year amongs goodness knows how many hundreds of thousands or millions of books. Don’t expect your first book to sell (mine’s still sitting in a trunk somewhere, alongside the next three).
Read in the genre you want to write. And read outside the genre, as well. In fact, read, read, read. But you have to have a good idea of what’s been done already — no one really wants to read the ninth rip-off of “The Lord of the Rings.” Or Harry Potter.
Remember that if you want to be sell, your work has to be better than what’s out there already.
You have to put your heart and soul into what you’re writing. If you aren’t crying when you’re writing your saddest scene, your readers won’t be crying either — and that seen-everything editor won’t even twitch.
My mother said, “You’re a writer because you can’t not write.” If you’re writing for fame or fortune, you’ll be disappointed. There are many very talented writers out there who just weren’t lucky enough to have their books published at a time when the reading public was looking for that type of book.
Study the craft of writing. Know what’s good punctuation, definitely know what is manuscript format. Don’t bother putting pretty covers on things — the art department of the publishing house is responsible for the cover.
Be prepared for rejection. I have a friend who kept all his rejection letters in a book — the book was over an inch and a half thick before he got his first acceptance letter.
You might consider joining a writer’s group. If so, look for a group that has learned the art of constructive criticism — desctructive criticism or being “nice” will do nothing for you. You can even submit works on-line, check out critters.org. Or Clarion, Clarion West, or Odyssey which offer intensive multi-week writing workshops (boot camp, if you will).
Finally, don’t give up the day job until your writing income exceeds your day job income — and you’ve got contracts that’ll keep you fed for a number of years.