It's a jungle out there and, frankly, we don't like getting our hands dirty. Writers are shy, reclusive creatures, who would much rather sit at home, sipping Darjeeling in our pajamas, quietly composing the Great American Novel.
This is a pleasant fantasy, but it has nothing to do with publishing. Publishing rests on the concept that people other than yourself will read, and (hopefully) buy your book. Nobody will buy your book without these two essentials: marketing and promotion.
1) Marketing is what you do before you publish. It establishes the need for a product. If you have never published, a large part of that product is you.
2) Promotion is what happens after you publish. It satisfies the need for the product you promoted during your marketing campaign. The product is your book.
Whether you are an unpublished neophyte or an author who has hit the big league, establishing a need for something - marketing - is the name of the game. Without it, promotion is like swimming against the tide.
Like any game, marketing has rules.
Rule #1: When you market, you are not just selling a product – you are selling yourself.
Regardless of the concerted efforts of the publishing industry to turn books into products, they are not. Books are ideas. They represent what is in the author's mind – nothing more. Even if a book turns into a fad, which is what every publisher hopes, it is still an idea. In this case, it is Your Idea, which means that what you write is inextricably bound to who you are, or, better stated, who everyone else thinks you are. (This is why so many businesses like to put "trusted" in their blurbs.)
This is how you begin:
First: Define yourself. Who you are is not determined by who you actually are, but by what you write. For example, if you write children's books you are cheerful, accessible, and any mother would be happy to leave her precious only child with you for a week. Your photograph will show that person – a friendly smile (with teeth), wearing parental clothing, in pleasant colors. If you write horror-thrillers, nobody would leave their children with you for a minute, so you can go with a brooding photo, either in black and white or in very subdued hues, no smile – or if you must, a Mona Lisa impersonation. Avoid portrait studios. Your picture is worth a thousand careers, so make sure it doesn't look like the one in your high school yearbook.
Second: Project yourself. Your website should reflect your image. Of course, your writing will be showcased, but the site's mood will be determined by your writer persona. Your picture should appear on the first page of your website along with a brief above-the-fold bio. A different, smaller portrait of you must be at the top of every other page on your website. Anyone who views your website must feel as if she or he is getting to know you. Your blog should have a theme in keeping with what you write. (That means you cannot blog about your cat unless you write books about cats.) You can blog about writing, of course, but a lot of people do that, so unless you are famous, competition will be fierce. And remember: You are a writer - even when you are blogging. So give it your best.
Third: Establish yourself. After you have set up your website and blog (you don't need to publish anything first), join online groups appropriate to your writing themes, get on forums, and make comments on other blogs. Use the name you write with – for example, if your author name is your full first and last name, that will be your “handle.” Be proud! Let people see your name, and your face. Write guest posts and articles. And don't write anything that you would not want to be read, out loud, in court, by a judge.
Fourth: Share yourself. After you have spread your name around, it is time to spread your website and blog. Join Linkedin, and post your website and blog on the appropriate discussions. (Linkedin allows you to post a blog on their site.) Join every group you can think of, alumni associations, Writer's Digest, Librarything, Goodreads, Google+, and post a profile with as much detail as you can muster. Needless to say, Facebook, Twitter and any other form of social media that has been invented in the last five minutes are valuable tools for building a following.
Now you can go ahead and publish. (More on how to accomplish that task to come.)