Okay, you've started to think of yourself as a writer. You've begun setting writing goals--and more importantly, keeping them. You aren't as terrified of the blank page or blinking cursor as you once were. You actually look forward to sitting down in front of your computer or with a pen and yellow writing pad.
You're a writer.
Looking ahead to when you finish your manuscript, do you have a plan? Do you know where you want to be in five years? In five months?
Almost exactly two years ago, I decided to get serious about having a career as a writer. To that end, I joined Sisters in Crime and a local critique group. About six months later, I decided to invest in joining Romance Writers of America (and it is an investment; $100 the first year plus $25 dues for my local chapter). I started talking to other writers, both published and unpublished.
The thing that struck me was how haphazardly most writers approached their chosen profession. Many spend more time selecting a health club than they do in deciding who and where to submit their manuscripts. I've met or talked on-line to dozens of writers who've taken a shotgun approach to finding an agent or a publisher. They blithely describe a mass mailing of twenty or forty or sixty query letters to agents. More than one writer has gone astray, being lured by a return letter inviting "shared risk" or "additional editing" into sending a check to an agent or publisher. Not a good move. No reputable agent or publisher will ask you for money.
If you haven't already, buy a package of one hundred ruled index cards on which you can make notes regarding publishers, editors and agents. Start paying attention. Subscribe to the free Publishers Lunch which will send you lists of recent deals. When you read about an agent or editor or publisher who is interested in manuscripts like yours, write it down.
When you're ready to start submitting, pick your top two or three agents or alternatively your top publisher. Then investigate them. Check "editors and preditors" to see if they are recommended or not recommended. Google them. Ask other writers about them on the loops to which you belong or at the meetings that you attend.
When you go hunting, you don't walk into a field and blindly shoot a gun off in all directions, hoping to hit something. You don't aim at a raccoon when you're looking to bring home venison. A good hunter carefully selects a target, aims and only shoots at what he wants to hit. Be a careful hunter. Pay attention.