John, allow me to politely disagree. I think there are hundreds of books which never see the light of day that are excellent. A combination of factors keeps it from being seen, true. One of them being that neither a publishing house nor an agent will take the chance on an unknown piece of fiction. To count the number of times an agent who originally liked my stuff yet turned around and told me they no longer worked the fiction market would be a surprisingly large number. Really, the saying that "a good book will eventually be published," is a myth.
Which is the reason I think the antiquated idea of a slush pile should come back. At least slush piles dedicated to nitch-genres.
I agree mostly, John. Of course the powers that be don't always know what's saleable even if they think they do. I read, for example, that all of NY publishing essentially turned down John Grisham's first two books, A Time to Kill and The Firm. The former was sold to a very small publisher in the end and the latter was only sold to a major house after Tom Cruise bought the film rights and the project got greenlit. Given Grisham's prose shortcomings, especially back then, I suspect it was the writing the publishers turned their noses up at initially. Writing does matter to them, I believe. To some extent I think editors publish novels for each other, wishing to be associated with the books their peers respect, even in the commercial fiction arena.
Any ideas, John, on what aspects of your work led to your publishing deals, what made them saleable?