The world of publishing is very much like playing craps in Vegas. No matter how hard a writer evaluates a publishing house or tries to predict its future success before signing on the dotted line, the industry itself is as consistent as a roll of the dice.
There are calculations you can make based on factors such as the length of time the house has been in business, the size of its stable of authors, the number of titles and presence on the Internet. But, getting information on sales stats or evaluating their marketing is near impossible. You simply aren't privy to what is going on behind the scene.
I know a friend whose publisher closed shop and burned all the book stock. Another has had two publishers die on her. Sometimes a publisher goes in a new direction—say, deciding to switch from Christian publishing to erotica. Heaven forbid!
As the saying goes, nothing is guaranteed in life except death and taxes. While it's understandable that an author wants to hold on tight to their life's work until the “sure thing” comes along, the results is never getting a book out on the marketplace. Publishing houses have their ups and downs, their quirks and foibles. Remember, there are real people behind each house and they gotta be a little crazy to want to deal with the egos and eccentricities of writers.
How exactly do you pick a publishing house to get your novel out there? I could give you a generic answer, like find a good fit. But, if you haven't published, what is a “good fit?” This isn't a pair of shoes you're trying on.
One of the things you can do is contact the authors and ask “How is your experience with your publishing house?” Authors are usually very honest with their peers. But, don't stop at the first bad review because that could be a single experience or an author who is never satisfied. When you encounter people at conferences, ask how they feel about the house they're publishing with.
Many people rely on online sites like Predators and Editors or Absolute Write. The problem with these sites is that once a publisher or agent is blacklisted, they offer no recourse for getting off their hit list. Nobody is watching the watchers.
So, what is the savvy author to do? You're not going to like my advice, but here it is: jump in with both feet and hope for the best. Take a chance and get a book out to the marketplace. The only reason to hold on to your treasured words is if this is the only book you will ever publish. If that's the case, you don't have much of a career ahead of you or a publishing house willing to put money behind a one-trick pony.
Like I said at the start, it's always going to be a crapshoot.