What about self-publishing?
If you have written something and you don't want a mainstream, commercial publisher to publish it, you can self-publish - and you have a lot of options.
First of all, be aware that there is a difference between vanity press, which is any organisation that charges you a fee (usually quite large) to publish your book, and an online print-on-demand self-publishing service like www.blurb.com or www.lulu.com.
Real publishers do not charge the author anything to publish their book. They make a decision to publish based on an assessment that they can sell enough copies of your book to make their money back, and make a profit. A vanity press usually offers to market and edit your book, but this will not be to a comparable level as a commercial publisher, and arguably you might do a better job of it yourself for free.
There are a couple of options open to you if you want to self-publish.
Print on demand
Print on demand means that you create your own book by uploading whatever files you have completed - Word documents for text, and also visuals like photos or illustrations - to a print-on-demand website. You use one of a number of set templates on the website and design your cover, choose the text type, paper, binding and so on, and when you're happy, save it on the website. It will then be available for people to buy either online or in print.
Unlike a vanity press where you have to order a certain number of your books, usually quite expensively, print-on-demand means that if you only want one copy, that's all you need to have. Depending on the format of your book the cost will vary, but it's perfectly possible to produce a paperback novel for under £10 and a hardback picture book for around £20. Because you make the book online, there is no requirement to purchase a minimum number of copies.
You can also create your book online as an ebook and sell it on an online marketplace like Amazon Kindle or Smashwords. Again, when you're happy that your book is finished, you upload it and make it into an ebook with your own cover. With Kindle, you choose the price your book will be sold at, and you pay a small percentage to Amazon for every copy you sell.
Although it can be hard to sell your work online because of the sheer amount of ebooks on a site like Amazon, there are things you can do to get readers to notice your book.
How to get noticed
So if you want your writing to stand out in a crowded marketplace, what can you do? Here are some ideas that could help:
Get some help
Your ebook needs to appeal to readers and represent what your book is about as clearly and attractively as possible. Titles are incredibly important and publishers spend ages getting them right, to appeal to the right age groups and demographic of reader.
Research other books in your genre that are aimed at the same age group or readership. What are they called? What feel do they have? What will make a reader choose your book? Ideally, titles are short and have impact.
You might also want to hire a graphic designer (or a friend) to create a memorable, well-designed cover - or make one yourself if you're skilled in that area. Again, a good cover will make a big difference in getting people to notice your book. Have a look at what's out there and which kind of design and look goes with which kind of book.
Additionally, think about hiring an editor to polish your content, proofread it and make it sound professional. You may think that your text is completely finished, but you'll be amazed at what a professional editor can pick up - or even just a friend looking it over with a fresh pair of eyes.
Get it out there
When you have your ebook ready and published online, you need to promote it.
First, write a press release. This should include a summary of the book, some information about you, your contact information and links to your social media accounts and a blog or website, if you have one. If you don't have one, consider creating a blog at the very least - you can try www.blogger.com or www.wordpress.com, or you can create a free website on www.wix.com.
Send your press release to magazines and websites that might review your book, local newspapers that might be interested in reviewing it (or even interviewing you about it) and any other organization it might be of interest to.
Find book bloggers or websites to review your book; see if you can guest blog on someone else's site and promote it there.
Feature a picture of your ebook at the top of your website, for maximum exposure. The picture should link to a sales page, which features the information in your press release and a 'buy now' button. You can include excerpts from reviews here too.
Social networking is a key part of developing a customer base and encouraging sales, especially when you are doing everything on your own and don't have a publisher promoting the sales of your book.
Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr are the main networks to look at, as well as Pinterest, which is an online scrapbook-type community where you create interest boards around certain topics and share them with others. It's particularly good for any kind of image-rich project like an illustrated or picture book, but it can also be used very effectively as a kind of 'mood board' showing ideas and influences for your novel, short stories, poems and so on.
When using social media to promote your book, the key thing to remember is to have clear links on your profile to your book, but not to spam others with a barrage of messages about it. You're there to make friends and talk about bookish things first and self-promote second. This is not to say that you can't mention your book; of course, you can and you should - it's a great achievement and very exciting! But by developing a network of contacts in a friendly way, over time you increase awareness and a number of useful friends without looking pushy.
Especially on Twitter, the more you can do to promote others' books and news, the more likely it is that other writers, publicists and bloggers will interact with you and talk about your book. Follow as many relevant people as you can, both within and outside the book world. Retweet and comment on what they say. Chat. Take part in competitions, votes, conversations and hashtag events.
You can also share content you have created - additional, relevant stuff from your blog, like articles around the subject matter of your book, photos, images, and even film you might create. Good, original content is great for sharing online.
Lastly, get out there in the real world too and take part in events, both as an audience member and, hopefully, as a featured writer. These can be literary festivals, bookshop events, writing groups, or events for writers run by writer development agencies or publishers. Get on as many mailing lists as you can with arts organisations promoting writing and writers, and go to their seminars and conferences.
Take the opportunity to talk to publishers, agents, other writers and publicists at these events. Make networks, tell them about your book (make business cards with your book cover on one side and your contact details on the other and give them out) and ask about their work. Learn as much as you can from the people you meet.