The question was honest and it was simple: “Having followed your interest and willingness to help new authors, what would be your advice as far as a "first" step in publishing?”
How do I give an honest answer that would probably entail a dozen different writing courses in one email? I came up with the following:
I see how you to have a message or a story to tell but of course what I don't see here is how you have prepared yourself to tell it. Starting to write without the preparation is like opening a restaurant because you cook a great hamburger on the grill. You may have done so, and it is just not mentioned here.
When I started writing I took college courses, online courses, Writer's Digest courses, got into online writing groups and a local writing group and critique group. I started learning my craft, and I got rejected . . . a lot . . . which was also part of my learning experience. I published a lot of small stuff, but it took me six years of hard work after I started trying to get it published to get my first book length work in print. Having a story to tell or a message to present and knowing how to write it in a manner that it will be published are totally different things.
I get several hundred submissions a month and other agents and editors get at least that many, a lot of them many more than that. None of us can handle or publish that number of course. That means having a good book is not good enough. It has to be an exceptional book that stands out from the crowd. It has to be a unique subject written in a unique voice aimed at a market that the person it is being submitted can see and feels they have the right contacts to sell the book into that market. That is the hurdle the author is trying to clear.
As to what the odds are, a book has to be presented to the right person at the right place at exactly the right time and has to be on the subject that person is looking to handle. That means even with a great project that all of those pieces being in place right at any point in time is slim. There may only be one place in the entire industry where a project fits right at any given moment which means a lot of doors will be knocked on where one or more of the pieces are not in place. Patience and persistence may be as important to getting significantly published as talent.
I also encourage new authors to pitch to both agents and editors. A lot of authors publish before they manage to make a connection with an agent. However those publishing submissions need to be to small houses that will work directly with an author. The larger houses require an agent so if an author manages to get rejected at one of those and later gets an agent they will find those bridges have already been burned.
None of us really want to do the business part of this, we want to write, but to get our writing out we have to do the business. We have to be constantly working to improve our craft, and have to be learning how to do a professional job of pitching our work and have a good professional looking proposal to pitch it with.
I hope this helps.