i found this somewhat disheartening interview with robert elwood burns, a published author with a varied (and impressive) career involving the american peace corps, working as an economic consultant for the world bank, advising several developing nations on transportation strategy, and work as an insider in the publishing industry. here, he comments on the process of getting a fiction manuscript published:
"In 2004 it is estimated that 195,000 books were published. That is the good news. The bad news is that the vast bulk of these were non-fiction. Of the fiction that is published only a handful of best-sellers turn a profit and provide a living for the writer. The rest sell only a few thousand copies and lose money. This increasingly winner-take-all phenomenon is reflected in the evolution of the industry: In 1980 there were seventy-nine publishers in Manhattan. Twenty years later there were five, of which three were owned by giant media corporations. The survivors are bottom line operations that view the novel as a commodity – not a work of art. They have cut their costs by outsourcing editorial services to freelance editors here and in India, thereby avoiding the health care and pension costs of permanent staff. Limited marketing resources have been placed on a few likely winners. They have stopped reviewing unsolicited proposals and depend on freelance agents to screen them. Every aspiring author has to find an agent first. Agents, in turn, hire new graduates (or undergraduates) at minimum wages to screen proposals. Turnover is high, and overflowing in trays can be emptied by placing a preprinted rejection note in the self-addressed stamped envelope the writer has to provide -- not unlike the Chinese policy of charging the family of an executed enemy of the state for the bullet that ends his life."
if ever there was a need for creativity and innovation to break into a potential field of work, this is it... but heck, i'm creative and innovative, right?