Congratulations on completing your story. There is great satisfaction in having an idea and getting it all down on paper—or more likely, in a digital file. Be proud that you have achieved something that most people only talk or dream about.
Now what? You'd like the rest of the world to read your story. How are you going to get your masterpiece to readers? You have many choices, some of them the same-old same-old, others brand new. Conventional publishing has its ways and means, some of which we know from books and movies, some of which we only learn from writers' publications or through word of mouth. Query letters, writing synopses, writing loglines, pitching your story idea to an editor or agent directly online during a Twitter pitch session, or face-to-face at a writers' conference, entering writing contests, joining writers' associations, and more. We now can research agents and publishers online and join information loops or visit information swap sites that will hone our approach to getting published.
The advent of the digital age has changed many things, but the basics remain true. Money flows from a publisher to the writer. Never the other way. If a publisher wants money from you to publish your story, run away. That's simple advice, but many people, depressed by continued form rejections—now served up digitally and sometimes almost instantly—look for shortcuts into the hallowed halls of traditional publishing. Vanity presses cater to that sort of desperation even today. If we submit our manuscripts to traditional publishers, whether behemoths or small presses, they pick and choose what to publish. This has not changed. Vanity presses will sometimes pretend they are selective, but they accept any manuscript an author will pay to publish. An author should research a publisher to find out if it's really a vanity press in disguise. It's easy to get suckered into spending thousands of dollars to have your story printed and/or placed on online sales venues such as Amazon and Nook Press, but paying big bucks does not assure you of a quality edit, a professionally designed cover, or a properly formatted and printed book. So, writer beware. There still are sharks in the sea.
There's also the brave new world of independent publishing, in which the author is not only the creative artist, but also the hard-headed editor, the design-savvy art director, the deadline-conscious production manager, and of course, the brilliant marketer and promoter. Do you think you're up to this challenge? Are your organizational skills good? Is your design eye decent? Do you have sufficient recommendations from other writers for freelance editors, cover artists, formatters, and others to hire? If you decide to be an indie, a self-publisher, you have to wear all the hats, be your own general contractor, and there is no one else to blame if there are problems. At the same time, it has become dead easy to find the professional grade help you need to produce a book whose quality rivals that of the best traditional publisher.
Some authors who self-publish spend a couple of years and start by hiring an experienced developmental editor to help them shape their manuscripts. Others publish a book a month and rely on a team that could include pro editors but also might be relatives or dedicated fans who check grammar and look for typos. These authors often design their own covers, do their own formatting, and more. In today's competitive publishing world, authors are expected to do their own marketing and promotion no matter how their books are published for sale.
But selling your story isn't the only choice. There's also a thriving internet world of sites where authors post their stories to be read free by anyone. That doesn't involve collecting form rejections or going to the effort of DIY publishing, and you'll pick up readers and fans who are eager for your next story, and your next.
You've written a story. Now what? You have many options. Have fun!