I published my 1stBook through an AuthorHouse that was self-published :grin Well, back at that time I didn't think that I had the time, the patience, the knowledge and the fortitude to seek out a traditional publisher or agent. Over the past year I have done much research and feel that I can give some good advice.
1.) Purchase a copy of the 2004 Writer's Market (or if you are reading this months from now - hold out for the 2005 edition). If you can't find the publisher or agent that you are concerned about - then don't go through them. The Writer's Market has an excellent website that the subscription is worth its weight in gold. This site gives you daily updates and gives you the cutting edge to find out who is really looking for what you have written. To send queries and proposals to someone who isn't even interested in your genre is a waste of your time and postage.
2.) Seek out an agent that is a member of the AAR. This narrows the playing field a bit - but it is well worth it. After all, you don't want to be another unsuccessful, disgruntled author like some of us, do you?
3.) Build up a small library of books for yourself. I recommend Writer's Digest Book Club - or going to Borders to purchase some of these books.
-There are some great 'Complete Idiot's Guide's' out there depending on what you want to get published.
-Get a book on formatting your manuscript
-Get a book on how to create queries and book proposals
-The 'Everything Get Published' book is a good buy as well
If you are looking for advice from someone who has learned the hard way...feel free to email me at ZoeJesnik@neo.rr.com
You can also view my website at www.geocities.com/zoejesnik
Good Luck and Be Smart :clap