It is always advisable to begin by sending your book to literary agents. A reputable literary agent will never ask for a reading fee. Always make sure you find one that deals with your type of book. A list of literary agents can be found here.
If you have no success finding a literary agent then send your manuscript directly to publishers. A list can be found here.
Sadly, publishers often overlook good books because they do not quite fit their lists or are not considered to be commercially viable. Many people then go on to investigate self publishing.
There is now a movement towards using Print on Demand technology even with traditional publishing. See below for more details.
Independent Publishing and Self Publishing
Sometimes the terms independent publishing and self publishing are closely associated. However, there are quite a few independent publishers who publish in the traditional way. In these instances the only things in common with a self publisher is a small budget! There are a number of reputable and well-respected independent publishers. Both types of publishing require a lot of hard work to publicise books and create a well known and reliable source of good quality books.
To name a few independent press:
Tindal Street Press
Five Season Press
Nine Arches Press
In the last decade there has been a huge increase in self publishing, especially print on demand. Print on demand (POD) offers a low cost way to produce books without an initial large financial risk for the author. Some authors prefer this method to traditional publishers because they are fully in control of their entire book. It is important to note that just because a books has been printed using POD technology it does not automatically mean it is self published. There are a number of traditional publishers using this method as a way to reduce financial risk and to allow books to be available when ordinarily they would be out of print.
For companies who offer POD self publishing services:
There is extensive information on the self publishing magazine website. You do not have to subscribe in order to view some of their information.
Making a name for yourself
In publishing it is important to make a name for yourself and to develop a following. One way of accomplishing this is by sending you poetry and short stories to small literary magazines and competitions. There are a number of small press magazines and a free directory can be found here.