Some people think the road to publication is a straight line. I tend to think of it more as the path Christopher Columbus took to reach India, or the path Billy follows in your typical Family Circus Cartoon. Whatever route you take, you’re making the journey, and here’s a list of sites/people who can help.
SCBWI: Join. They have lots of advice, information about the market, information about different publishing houses, etc. Plus, SCBWI will help you find a critique group in your area. I can’t emphasize the importance of a good critique group enough. Plus, if you go to meetings, you just might meet another like-minded soul (or two! or three) who will become your BFF. The message boards are also extremely helpful.
Harold Underdown’s guide to publishing: Harold is legendary.
Agentquery: A searchable database that helps you find out about agents, according to what they represent. Then you can double check them on Verla’s message board to see what others are saying about them, or google them and find interviews with them. It’s all about doing your homework.
411Kidlit is an extremely helpful website, and answers questions you didn’t know to ask.
Editorial Anymous: If you have a question, EA has probably already answered it. Rookie mistakes averted here!
Writer’s Center: Bethesda’s Writer’s Center has some awesome classes, and I’m sure you can find some good classes near you, too, if you’re not living in the DC area. A class is another place to meet like-minded souls. Then you can form a critique group once your class is over, and keep going.
Paid critiques: There are lots of writers, editors and former editors, such as Tamson Weston, who do thorough, honest critiques of your work for a fee. You can also get short critiques at most SCBWI conferences.
Poets and Writers Magazine: A great publication, with a classifieds section that can give you ideas of where to submit. (Grownup stuff more than kid stuff, mostly.)
Your local library: Spend some time browsing through the stacks so you can really know what’s out there and where you fit in before you submit.
Your local bookstore: Ditto.
The blogosphere: Kidlit bloggers are out there in force and they’re a great portal into super-smart discussions about trends, issues, what’s good and what’s bad. Visit the kidlitosphere for an introduction.
The first step toward publishing is writing, but writing is only part of it. You have to research editors, markets and agents. You have to do your homework. Nobody else is going to do it for you. Believe me, I much prefer the writing part, but that other part? It’s important, too.