Being a writer can be isolating, since the bulk of writing is a solo effort. At least, it is for me - from research to the final draft - I spend hour upon hour locked away in my office, or in the library, or bookstore (a lot of time, if I find a book I need at B&N, I'll end up buying it - just in case.)
And for those who are just starting out, the road to publication isn't exactly the clearest. Oh sure, most know the basics - write book, publish book. But there are a lot of beginner writers out there who don't know what comes between writing said book, and having said book published and that's where the trouble lies.
When I first started out, the internet existed (at least I think it did), but wasn't as prevalent as it is now. For me, there were two starting points. Writer's Digest magazine, and the Writer's Market, which is comes out once a year and lists publishers of every stripe from greeting cards to university presses. I didn't know about RWA or NJRW, and if Writer Beware, Preditors & Editors, and Absolute Write existed, I certainly didn't know about them.
I was fortunate, though, because it never occurred to me that I'd have to pay to publish a manuscript. That meant I was safe from vanity presses, simply because, again, I didn't know they existed. Whenever someone said, "You know, it costs a lot to have a book published." I had no idea what the heck they were talking about. Pay someone to publish my manuscript? Surely you jest.
But I was lucky, I guess. Since those days (the early 90s, if you must know), an entire new group of resources sprang up for writers just starting out. At least, for those writers who do their research and don't just Google publishers (guess who comes up first in Google searches?)
Writer Beware, Preditors & Editors, and Absolute Write Water Cooler (click on forums to find the Water Cooler) are some of the newbie writer's best friends. They are watchdog groups, very knowledgeable, and the top places for feedback concerning both publishers and agents. These sites should be bookmarked on every writer's computer. I've been a member of the Water Cooler for a year and a half, and let me tell you - the amount of stuff I've learned over there is incredible - I wish I'd found them a few years earlier. Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors list publishers and editors (amongst other things) and offers up pros and cons associated with each. Writer Beware also has thumbs down list for publishers and a thumbs down list for agents as well (and both P&E and Writer Beware are Public Enemy number one for vanity presses like PublishAmerica, go figure.)
The Water Cooler is a forum of writers at every level and stage - from the greenest newbie to the most seasoned multi-published authors. There is information on every facet of publishing, and a lot of other forums that have little do with publishing, but are a great place to hang out and discuss politics, talk about television shows and movies, or just kick back and relax with other writers. Invaluable for both the information offered and the friendships I've made there.
So, if anyone's seriously pursuing publication, these are the first three places you should check out - the wealth of information there is beyond what you'll find anywhere else. Writer Beware and P&E will tell you who to watch out for and why, as well as which publishers/agents are highly recommended. They will tell you what vanities to watch out for (PublishAmerica, for one,) and why. And if you've fallen into one of the sinkholes, they have advice for getting back out as well.
As for the Water Cooler, as I said, the friends you'll make are invaluable. These are other writers, who understand the ups and downs and stupid insecurities that plague most of us - they understand the obsession of checking your email 25 times an hour on a project you submitted 15 minutes ago - stuff like that. And there's no question too stupid to ask and you WILL get a reply. There's a critique forum so you can find out what works and what doesn't work in a manuscript or query. And when it's all said and done, you can kick back and relax in the Office Party. And if you need to know if a certain agent is legit or one to avoid, there's a forum for that as well.
Writing is isolating enough - but when you know you've got resources to make it a little less lonely, it's not so bad. So, go check them out. Now. Go. Scoot. Trust me, you won't be sorry. =)