This can be tricky. This showing your work, getting your work out, publishing your work, getting your work collected. If you don't have experience in this it can be daunting and to be honest, it is never easy. As you probably know, I am known locally but not nationally or internationally much. So I am on the same boat you are, perhaps older, maybe more experienced but believe me I haven't solved all the problems yet and assume I never will.
Let's go through a hypothetical situation. I will keep this a little vague so as to protect the innocent. You're a photographer. You make a cold call to a gallery, they agree to meet with you, you show your hot new work and some of your tried and true portfolio of your best work and there is a strong positive response from the gallery. After subsequent conversations the gallery agrees to show your work in a two person show next fall for a three week time period. As things progress a little the gallery owner says that she prefers the older black and white work you made many years ago and wants to show that. Okay. This means no one will even know about the incredible new work you feel is far better. She then tells you what size she wants them printed, how many there will be in the show and how they need to be framed. She also suggests that you print them a "little more open". When you ask who will pay for the framing you are told you will. They also lay a $350 "publicity and opening reception" charge on you and tell you they need the work one month before it is to hang and that is three states away. They assume you will come for the reception but are not willing to put you up anywhere and you know no one in the area.
You get how this is going?
You suck it up because it is your art after all and is what you've wanted for so long. You are very excited to be in a two person show at Gallery blahblahblah where they showed Mitzi Zorblatt last year, your all time favorite and a goddess in the photo world. As the black and white prints you are showing need to be reprinted and since you now work digitally, you rent space in a community darkroom to make the prints and it takes you 6 weeks of hard work to get them right. Some of the negatives were scratched and were a nightmare to print. You take over the front room of your apartment for the trimming, matting and framing and spend another month and huge amounts of money you don't have to frame them. Finally they are done and look magnificent. You take time off from work and schlepp them the day's drive to the gallery and drop them off, driving back that night to avoid the motel cost. They've shown you where your work will be hung in the back room of the gallery. You understand as the artist whose work they will put in the front room is locally known and sort of famous. Your room seems too small to hold all the work you've brought. A month later you are back, dressed nicely, not knowing a soul except you've met a few of the gallery staff. During the opening you stand in the back room where your work is so as to answer any questions people might have. They don't have any. Most have come for the front room artist and they all seem to be friends. Very few even bother to come in to your room to look at the work. The gallery didn't have room to show all the work you've brought even though the owner told you how many to bring and has stored the extra prints in a dirty closet with a vacuum cleaner and some cleaning supplies. The frames are scratched. You leave the opening early and go back to your motel alone. You heard some of the staff talking about dinner after the opening but you were not invited.
Driving home the next morning you do some thinking and serious soul searching about whether this is all worth it or not. You haven't sold any of your work.
And so it goes. You continue to get chipped away, eroded, the system conspires to make you a cynic when it is not in your nature. You suck it up because you believe in the work and this is so much what you want, this getting the work seen that you tell yourself this level of abuse is perhaps necessary and that those on the top had to start somewhere and they probably got dumped on too just like you.
Don't sell yourself short, though. Hopefully you are motivated by making the work and the rest will either come or not, happen or not. Making the work to get it shown or sold isn't where I am. I have known people like that and watched some achieve great success, whatever that means. But making the pictures works for me. I hope it works for you too as it might help to think of what happens after you make the work as a kind of bonus, especially if it is good work.
Don't sell yourself short. Don't take too much abuse. And don't allow your work to be prostituted or you either. Know what you will and won't take, and don't be afraid to stick up for your rights in this process as there are some real shits out there.
Another hypothetical, a shorter one. Same as before, you show your work, the gallery decides they want to handle it, they explain "representation" and tell you they don't want to take another person on unless they can represent them well and with integrity. They treat you with respect and care and never try to stick it to you or lay some hidden costs on you. They tell you how they will show you and work hard on your behalf to get people to the opening, introducing you to people that it is important for you to meet and to know. Your work looks wonderful and is very well lit. You like everyone and they seem to like you. And they "love" your work. You have a great time and sell a couple of pieces.
My kind of place. This can happen to you. Much of success is yes the quality of the work but also the attrition of others that couldn't stay in there long enough and dropped out.
Develop a thick skin and don't sell yourself short.