You need to catch the right publisher in the right frame of mind. Nobody likes everything equally. What captures the attention of one publisher won’t capture the attention of another; and what captures a publisher’s attention in one mood or moment won’t capture the same publisher’s attention in another. It’s all luck and timing.
Okay, your own research should steer you away from inappropriate publishing houses, and if you can track the tastes of individual publishers, all the better. But moods and moments are in the lap of the gods.
Another factor is the list, that is, the range of titles and authors currently contracted to a publishing house. A publisher may feel that the list is short on, say, female-oriented fantasy, so, whoee! there’s a big opportunity for MSS in that area. On the other hand, the list may be already bulging with, say, YA adventure stories for boys, so a new submission in that area won’t have much of a chance.
Ideally, every publisher is looking for quality, and nothing is ever absolutely ruled out. But when it’s so difficult to capture attention anyway, it makes all the difference if a publisher is in a more rather than less receptive frame of mind.
There’s a boom-and-bust tendency here, since many publishers will be looking to expand their lists in the same areas at the same time. It happens in Australia because our trends so often come to us from overseas. Everyone sees a big upsurge of, say, paranormal romance in the US, so everyone recognises a potential for similar sales in Australia.
I’ve already said my piece on authors trying chase trends and the fact that no one outside the publishing industry is likely to move fast enough (“Writing to a Recipe” in the Good Writing Habits section). I still think you should write the best novel that’s in you to write. But if what you’ve been writing happens to coincide with opening opportunities, then you’re in luck!
On the other hand, if many Australian publishers jump on the same bandwaggon at the same time, well, Australia is a smaller market than the US and nobody may be able to make a profit. Or even if many publishers do make a profit, yet there’ll come a time when their lists are chock-full of authors writing that particular kind of fiction. Then the door closes on new entrants—and it’ll be a while before it opens again.
Two genres where the door has closed in Australia are SF and horror. Publishers are picking up very little in either genre at the moment, certainly not hard SF or strong horror. Accepted publishers’ wisdom is that the potential Australian readership isn’t large enough to justify the risk.
Of course, accepted publishers’ wisdom may change … and when it changes, it’s liable to change suddenly. As for me, if I have SF or horror ideas, I’ll try to develop them in short stories rather than novels. Right now, there’s still a good magazine market for SF and horror short stories.