In this day of instant communication, it seems strange that publishing is still such a slow, slow business. If you're looking for an agent, you send partials out and wait; if you're trying to sell a novel, you (or the agent you finally found) sent manuscripts out and wait; if you sell the novel--no, I mean, when you sell the novel--you wait for the contract; then you wait for the pub date. All this, for a writer like me, means from start to finish, a novel can easily take four years to see print.
There are ways around this, of course, but I don't find any of them satisfactory. There's vanity publishing, which I recommend against (see my earlier post about self-publishing here: http://redroom.com/blog/louise-marley/a-view-vanity-presses). There is now the possibility of publishing your own work on Amazon's Kindle, which might not be so bad if you're an established writer. You can try to sell portions of the novel as short stories, but you endanger your copyright in that case.
So, you wait. And wait. I've just signed, at last, a new contract. I started the book two and a half years ago. It only took six weeks to sell (thanks to my wonderful agent, and yes, finding him took some time also), but the contract took four months to negotiate. The publisher has set a publication date of July 2010. By that time we will be perilously close to four years from the novel's conception to its actual birth. Whew! Are we in the twenty-first century yet? It doesn't feel like it.