When you start the journey toward commercial publication, you discover the true meaning of glacial. That's the industry's chosen speed, unless you happen to submit the new "it" property at precisely the right time and things go into overdrive.
You wait weeks or months for a response from your queries. Then you wait weeks or months to get a response to whatever materials you send in after that first request. It's arduous and painful and makes you want to cut your hair short so it's not actually long enough to pull out. Then, assuming you actually get published, it's another stretch of YEARS before the book hits shelves.
Fanfic isn't like that at all. (Stick with me, the random topic shift will make sense in a minute, 'K?)
Whether you write for a small community of fans or dive into the turbulent waters of a mega-site where all fandoms are housed, the response time to a new piece of writing can be minutes.
I've mentioned before that my first "public" writing was fanfiction (TV show, no longer in production, stop giving me those dirty looks!) At the time, I was an exceptionally timid person when it came to sharing my writing, and so, it was with horribly fragile nerves that I decided to try this thing called "fanfic" a friend had told me about. To my absolute shock and elation, the readers liked it.
So I posted another.
I meant what I said about it being addictive. I could easily knock out 100-200K words of fanfic a month. No, that's not a typo, I said one-to-two hundred thousand words. I wrote over 1 million words the first year I waded into fandom waters.
From participating in writers' forums, I know that this is the same trap that snares many well intentioned writers who choose to forgo the necessary steps to get a book in shape and just vanity publish. Vanity pubs and POD presses pretending to be commercial publishers (there are legit POD presses out there; I have no issue with those) thrive on certain aspects of human nature, and one is the wish for instant gratification.
On paper, the idea that you can have a book -in hand - in less than 6 mo. sounds wonderful. It sounds like you've found a way around all those people who get into the crawl and look for an agent and all that stuff that detracts from the excitement of having something NOW. But, like with fanfic, it's empty more times than it's not.
The sad fact is, that instant rush comes with its own problems. Vanity presses of any kind, do no more for you than registering yourself at a fanfiction site. They don't edit. They don't get you in stores. They charge you for the work you do yourself. It's not real, anymore than the fanfiction "novels" I wrote could be published as is.
That's not the way it works. And no matter what you tell yourself or what your friends have to say about it, consumers know the difference. They know a product that's been properly handled and assembled, and they know one that hasn't.
Yes, it sucks that it takes so long. Yes, it sucks that you can't make your own rules and be famous tomorrow. Yes, it sucks that not everyone gets to play in the big leagues. But... the people who put in the effort and go through the steps and wait the time it takes to do it right are the ones that readers are going to hear about. They're the ones who get ads in the paper and they're the ones who get their books in stores.
Even e-stores feature certain books front and center on their main page, and those books aren't by authors who took the shortcut, shrugged their shoulders, and pretended that doing so put them on even ground with those who didn't.