In college during the early 90's I was taking a creative writing class. I was doing well in it, but half-way through I unofficially dropped out to marry my husband, vowing to never return. Then I did return a few years ago (yeah, that's how you know you have undiagnosed ADHD). Happily, my ADHD was diagnosed and now I have two Bachelors degrees (another side effect of ADHD).
Around the time my second son was born, I did decide that I had enough writing under my belt to make a go at a writing career. I unwisely chose children's picture books to write. I also wrote some other things and collected a nice stack of rejection letters that is filling a 3-ring binder in my garage.
At first, I refused to give up, priding myself that I had been rejected by some of the same publishing companies/publications that James Whitcomb Riley had been rejected from. I mostly got "nice" rejection letters, so I was even encouraged. But for whatever reason, I could never break the code. I didn't know what was wrong with my books. Eventually, I gave up writing children's stories to help my husband write his epic. That became my focus and the children's stories just took up space on one of my floppies.
As my husband's book approached completion, I realized: (1) it was huge - we either needed an agent or to self publish and (2) my writing skills needed more refinement to market something like that. I went back to college and got said degrees, taking 3 more writing courses to round them out. Yeah, I could have applied for minors in both creative writing and history as well, but at that point I really was done with jumping through undergraduate hoops.
Thus armed, I bravely wrote my next two query letters. One for my husband's book (never heard back) and one for my children's book (yep, rejected, again). Then, I set out to self publish the children's book to prove it was worthy. If you have been following this blog, you should know I finally have it formatted for print (paperback) but now I need to format it for kindle - its close but just not there. I also want to translate it into a language or two and then begin marketing it. Without marketing, you are dead in the water if you plan to self-publish for money as opposed to vanity.
Marketing costs either time (which I don't have since I still need to earn money freelancing) or money (which I don't have or I wouldn't be freelancing as much as I do). So, I decided to cave in and try to sell a romance novel the traditional publication way. Unlike children's books, romance novels are one of the most marketable books to put out. If you want to break into publishing, Romance is the easiest way to do it - which doesn't mean its easy, just easier than trying to get an unillustrated children's book to sell. But, traditional publishing is a little different that self-publishing and a lot more like freelancing.
When you self-publish, you can write whatever you want, however you want, and you don't have to follow any rules. You just need to know how to format it for kindle/createspace or whatever your publishing platform. When you freelance, you have to follow all the rules of the person that hires you. Whether I am editing, writing, or doing other odd jobs, I have to remember how each employer likes their work done and do it. Unlike freelancing, a traditional publisher is only going to give you a minimal list of rules to follow (most related to formatting) but if you do not know the unspoken rules, your manuscript won't get accepted. To find out the unspoken rules, you have to read what that publisher is putting out.