Imagine, if you will, a science experiment in which you had before you an array of buttons to press, each of which activated a kind of magnet. The set of magnets linked to the buttons are suspended in a tank full of various metallic powders. Each magnet was attuned to attract a particular kind of metal, so that, by pressing a particular button, you could cause a whole set of sprinkled dust to move and be drawn towards its magnet.
Perhaps it’s a convoluted image, but what I’m trying to have you picture is the notion that you have at your fingertips a set of keys which can create a variety of intricate effects on certain kinds of bodies or substances.
It might be easier to imagine a set of piano keys, with each created sound attracting a particular listener, and combinations of sounds causing listeners to linger as music formed around them. Going further, you might want to imagine that you had a magic orchestra, the music of which could draw together an audience from all over the world.
My point is that this is what you are doing as a writer, with words. Words have a double power: they have sound, and they embody meaning. A third power is what they can do in combination with each other, causing themselves and those around them to reverberate and resonate with deeper or altering meaning as they are placed in careful association with each other. A novel is a complex symphony of sound and meaning, with words placed later in a manuscript possibly echoing back to those placed earlier, all the while having subtle shading effects on all the other meanings around them. A master author is aware of this, and makes the most of it, revising and revising until each word and meaning is placed with the exactitude of a musical symphony.
You could then take two basic approaches: you could blast this 'music' out from loudspeakers all over the planet, at tremendous cost and energy, until those attracted by it eventually gathered around it; or you could seek out more quietly those places where people were already listening to similar things, already showing signs of needing to hear more, and invite those people to your concert. The first approach is that taken by conventional ‘marketing’, and apart from being tremendously wasteful and unintelligent, it also risks alienating those who don’t care to have such things blasted at them, even when they have some affinity for it. The second approach, less simplistic, less brutal, but also requiring some intelligence and time, results in all round peace and prosperity.
Earlier, we looked at the power of intangibles. Music makes a good analogy - certain kinds of music affect our souls in apparently effortless ways, passing through any kind of shield of logic or reality until they reach an emotional core. Concentrating on the ‘music’ of our fiction - its themes, its tonal qualities, its co-relations within a work - we can grow in confidence that, when our work is read, it will have an impact upon readers.
Knowing that music, we can then also set about the slightly more difficult business of locating those who have an ear for it. We can search the byways of the world, but not blindly - if we know our own ‘sound’, we can look in those places where similar sounds can be heard. That there are other works similar to our own is probably undeniable. But we can neither successfully find listeners nor understand how best to attract them unless we first know what kind of music we play ourselves.
Getting published is a matter of listening: first, to our own work; then to those works similar to our own.
The rest is skilful placement and patience.