The simple answer is: if you feel you have to keep your idea secret because you've never seen it done before it is more than probably worth a provisional patent which costs $110.
Once you've got a provisional you can do a more thorough search of the internet and the patent databases, but that takes time and I prefer to risk the $110 provisional filing fee than sit around trying to see if there is something out there already.
It is a bit of a problem asking other people if they think your idea is patentable because most of them are weighin the question against the 5-10k you need to spend to get your full patent application filed... but that is a long way off...
If you file your own provisional patent you have 12 months of protection to work out whether its worth proceeding with a full patent... so at about the 10 month mark is when you need to start putting big chunks of money together to get the patent attorney to file your formal applications depending on which countries you want to patent in... ie its about 5-10k for the US and about 5-7k for Australia.
Hope that begins to answer your question...
Now. How to patent?
I learnt how to patent things myself with this book... Patent pending in 24 hours.
Chose the download ebook format to get it immediately
I used this to understand the main parts of the patent and to come up with my own flavour of patent format... I also found the many examples of provisional patents really helpful in seeing how simple a provisional patent can be compared to the full application... This took the scariness out of doing a provisional for myself.
Here is an example of a patent I wrote myself to give you an idea of what a simplified provisional looks like:
This was an early patent of mine and still had some hiccups in it but it will give you a good idea...
When you have something you think looks like the patent you want to submit got to IPAustralia.gov.au to set up your account and file it... if you want to be careful just get a patent attorney to give you half an hour to tell you if there is anything deathly wrong with your patent.. should only cost about $200.. fix what you can and file... remember its their job to get you to pay 5k for something that you only want to spend a couple of hundred bucks on until you know the idea is strong so dont let them force you into something...
Go ahead have a go.