Not all writers wants to go the indie route, which is understandable. Publishers have teams to help with editing, publicity and marketing, and distribution. And it’s cool to be able to say, “XYZ published me.”
It’s a tough route to go though. I have a few friends who have written manuscripts and are currently sending them out to agents. But it often takes months for agents to get back to them, and when they do, they’re sometimes vague about what they’re looking for. You definitely have to have thick skin, and be patient.
According to Huffington Post, you should limit your query letters to 20 at a time and follow up after 2 months:
If they don’t get back to you, they don’t want to represent your project. Move on. Remember that agents only get paid when they sell your book. They have a trained eye toward what publishing houses want, and they represent projects that they think they can sell for significant money. Consider that a $5,000 advance garners an agent a measly $750 (15% commission). No matter how much they might love your book, they’re financially motivated and they sell books for a living.
You could also try to directly sell your book to publishers, though this works best for niche books and if you submit to small- and medium-sized publishers.
Forbes has a list of tips for how to get a book deal. Most of the advice is geared toward non-fiction writers, but a lot of it could apply to fiction writers as well. They include the usual, be persistent, be active on social media, and write a lot tips. But they also encourage writers to book speaking gigs and become experts on their topics, as well as contributing to other books and attending conferences and other events where you can meet people who could potentially publish your book.
As a writer though, the best thing you can do for yourself is to write. John Scalzi, author of Agent to the Stars, wrote about the 10-year anniversary for the print version of his book, which started off as started off as a practice novel he wrote back in 1997 and then posted to his website in 1999. Scalzi then posted his second novel on his site, which Tor picked up (though they didn’t pick up Agent, because they didn’t think it was marketable at the time.)
Another publisher, Subterranean Press, ended up buying the rights to a limited hardcover release of Agent, which eventually allowed him to sell it to foreign markets and to Tor for paperback and audio.
John Scalzi then sums up his experience:
Occasionally at signings, people will come up with a copy of Agent and confide that it’s their favorite novel of mine, as if that’s something weird, because OMW or Redshirts are the usual suspects for that title. But I like it when they tell me they like Agent. It’s my firstborn (if second-published), and it was written not because I wanted to sell, but because I wanted to learn. Writing it was a joy, if for no other reason than the dawning awareness I had writing it that, yes, in fact, I could do this thing, and I liked doing it, and that I wanted to do more of it if I could. That’s what Agent gave me that no other novel could, or will. It’s special to me. I’m glad when it’s special for other people too.
So, no matter which route you decide to go, just remember that the important thing is that you write.