He could self publish. But he's a newbie, and like all newbies, thinks traditional publishing is the real deal. He wants to be able to answer, when friends ask who his publisher is, with the name they'll have heard of, Penguin or Harper Collins. He has visions of his book stacked in the windows of book shops; a desk, a queue, a pile of books, a pen. He doesn't know his vision is twenty years out of date.
So he buys a copy of Writers' & Artists' Yearbook, and sends out his three chapters to agents. One of two things will happen:
- An agent will think she can sell his book to a publisher. She will sign him up, and maybe get him a publishing deal. Unless he is insanely lucky, the advance is likely to be modest, and his royalty will be around 8% for print, 25% for ebooks, paid twice a year, out of which he will pay his agent 15%. The ebook will be priced high, to protect print sales. The print version will have only a few months in bookshops to find its readers before being returned and pulped - but the publisher retains the rights for the length of the copyright, 70 years after the author dies. There won't be much in the way of marketing. If the book does not perform well the publisher will not want his next book, and he will have to change his name and start again.
- More likely though, he will not be able to find an agent to take him on. After a frustrating year or so, he'll look at other options.