Once upon a time I struggled with the concept of "getting published." I went the recommended route, queried agents, and sent my manuscripts off to those who were interested. I soon learned there was a lot of luck and timing involved in going from manuscript to printed book.
The other day I looked back at the file for my first mystery novel written in the modern era (which means leaving out one I wrote while in college and another penned in the mid-sixties). I had a good agent and she got some nice rejection letters from several major houses. A Harper Collins editor said he couldn't get over the timeliness of the book (an end-of-the-Cold War story). He enjoyed it and found it "very much in the traditions of the thriller genre," but they were looking for books quite different from the genre as a whole.
Grove Weidenfeld found it "a competent and entertaining piece of work" but not the kind of novel they usually published. William Morrow said the "scenario was creepily plausible and nicely audacious," but they feared it might be out of date by the time it was printed. A Berkley Publishing Group editor thought it "a very well written thriller, but this genre is just too hard to sell in mass market at the moment. Maybe this would work well in hardcover."
The result was it didn't sell, the agent lost her fiction associate and decided to concentrate on non-fiction. After equally futile results with the next three manuscripts and the next three agents, I lowered my sights to the small press field. There I got a three-book contract for manuscripts number eight, nine and ten.
After problems in collecting royalties, I started the old agent search again with the next book. I found it more daunting now than back when I was peddling my earlier manuscripts. Being in my eighties, I decided I did not have the time or the patience to continue knocking my head on the brick walls that adorned the New York landscape.
So I lowered my sights another notch and went with a micro-press. I now have five books in print (actually, the first three are "out of print" but will be back in as soon as the current inventory is exhausted). With my bona fides firmly established, I know if I write a decent book it will be published.
Will it be on the New York Times (or anybody else's) bestseller list? Not unless Lady Luck does an about face and gets me a movie deal or some other highly unlikely miracle occurs. Am I worried about my "writing career?" Hardly. I've been a career writer since I got my first job as a newspaper reporter in the fall of 1947 (for the full story see Reflection on the Writing Life - My 60-year odyssey with the written word.
Do I recommend my path to publication for others? Were I forty years younger, I might keep plugging away at the seemingly impenetrable agent barrier for a little longer. But if you've experienced the same long-term frustration that I have, it just might be worth a try. I know all the cautions advanced by organizations like Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. I'm secretary of an MWA chapter and president of a SinC chapter.
The books get great reviews from all kinds of review sites. Some have won awards, though not the big ones that require a major publisher or extensive name recognition. But I'm viewed as a competent professional by my peers and a creator of exciting books by my readers. What more could I ask?