I'm sorry for the delay - I've been away. There are many writers who believe that in the present publishing climate, self-publishing is the way to go. You must research the companies you work with. Be sure to find a reputable one who provides Library of Congress numbers. Without them, books will not eb placed in libraries or offered for sale on sites such as Amazon. With self-publishing, self-promotion is extremely important. The writer has to be willing to do book talks, visit libraries and bookstores, write a blog, etc. to promote the book.
As far as reaching top people, there is no amount of money that will do that for you. The writer needs an agent, unless she is a celebrity or already has connections in the publishing industry. If she did, you probably wouldn't be asking here. There are no shortcuts. I wish I could tell you there are, but that would be a lie.
It seems to me that the key person might be the professor who believes the book could be a bestseller. If he/she truly believes that, the professor should be willing to recommend this new writer to editors and agents she/he knows. The professor should also offer tips and help in promoting since he/she has experience in that area. If this person is not willing to offer real help to the author, then I would be hesitant to believe the things she/he says. I recommend that your author friend (or you as her representative) pursue this possibility first.
If the professor isn't willing to help, then self-publishing and promotion may be the best choice. A first-time author with no writing credits isn't likely to gain attention from top people, regardless of the quality of the writing. Here are two reputable self-publishing companies. the first one is a division of Writer's Digest.Abbot publishinghttp://dogearpublishing.net/resources_writers_digest_dog_ear.aspx
The other alternative is to get busy sending out proposals to agents. I believe I gave you links to sites that explain book proposals the last time I worked on a question for you. The author should research agents to find those who handle work similar to hers, and then send a well-thought-out proposal to them. She may ahve to send out dozens of them before an agent agrees to look at her work. That's just the way it is.
If you have more questions, or need the information on book proposals again, just let me know by clicking on REPLY. I wish your author friend much success.