Getting published in these post-Amazon times has become increasingly difficult, especially for a new author. Publishers – and agents as well – are backing away from newbies in favour of supporting their existing stable of writers. Less risk that way. I was very fortunate that I had connections at Dundurn (Canada's largest independent publisher) that set me up to talk directly with the company's CEO and get a publishing deal as a result for my book "Shark Assault: An Amazing Story of Survival". Don't think I don't regularly acknowledge how luck paved the way! (Mind you, it took a year, and I do regret that the relationship between me and the publisher was not a good one so this potential multi-book deal stopped cold in it's tracks. Too bad for them!)
Your job is to catch the attention of the publisher. Actually, let me correct that: your job is to catch the eye of a good agent because most of the big publishers these days will only accept submissions from agents. (Why? Unfortunately, the less brilliant perspective authors among us began flooding publishers with silly proposals: I mean by silly, sending your young adult fiction manuscripts to a publishers who don't publish that kind of stuff, which 5 minutes of cursory research would have revealed.)
As a former marketing executive, I fall back on the USP: unique selling proposition. What about you or your book idea or your completed manuscript makes it stand out against myriad competitors? If you can figure that out, then find a way to communicate this in as few words as possible. And once you've completed your internet search of literary agents... and when you’ve read their very specific guidelines for submissions (generally beginning with a query letter), I suggest you select a few and start emailing or snail mailing, depending on their instructions, using your selling proposition as an opening gambit.
I’ve often compared this process to a job interview. You’re there to get hired. What will make you stand out against the other candidates they’re interviewing? If you can find a way to present you, your personality, your previous track record and what you bring to the table in an intriguing light, you stand a better chance than the next guy. Well, it’s the same with getting a publisher or agent to invest in you (and that’s what they’re doing, by the way, until you start selling books and making them money). Your job is to get them to think you are superior to the other candidates waiting in line to get a book deal.
At the end of the day, put yourself in their shoes. How can your book make their job easier? Isn’t that what we all seek: maximum gain from minimum pain?