I'm a Melbourne writer. I'm lucky enough to have a literary agent, and I have two completed mss to sell. My agent has been submitting them and both of us are learning just how tight the fiction market is at the moment. Where the first one almost got across the line with a couple of the conventional large publishers, the second one (which she thought would be a dead cert) also is struggling. My agent says my work is of a very high standard, she is an experienced reader and editor, and is selling her other clients' work, so I'm wondering if something else might be sabotaging the submissions.1. My age? (I'm over 45 and it's a first novel situation. I've been published in lit journals etc but no book-length works published and no high profile/celebrity/'amazing personal story' for PR).
I've asked my agent and she said she doesn't believe either of these things are relevant, that it would all be about the work in the view of publishers, that's all they look for. But really, can that be true? Don't publishers want as many positives as possible to try to sell more books, market etc.
I'll forgive you for being from Melbourne. Now let's move on ...
1. Your age is irrelevant. There appears to be a belief held amongst some unpublished writers that publishers (and agents) are madly judging all writers based on their age, but they're not. And if they were, that would be silly because most readers - especially those who actually buy books - are not twenty-five, ifyouknowwhatImean. There is no 'right age' to start out and if younger novelists were preferred, why do we need a whole literary award dedicated to them (the Vogel's)?
2. If there is a blacklist, let me know where it is. Because I'm probably on it and so is everyone else in the industry - we all have books we don't like and most of us aren't shy about our opinions. If everyone only liked the same few books, we wouldn't have so many books published each year.
You haven't said what type of fiction you write - and that detail is important. Chick lit is, apparently, 'dead' - that is the term one publisher used when speaking to me recently. So times are tough for chick lit writers. Crime fiction is always hard, mainly because publishers believe it is - but that's a much bigger topic ... And 'literary fiction' (definition still elusive) is always hard.
In general, though, sometimes you just don't find the right publisher at the time when your novel is being submitted. Timing is so important: the right publisher needs to be in the right publishing house at the right time with the right sales and marketing support. And, yes, it really all does come down to the work. The bells and whistles are great but they're no substitute for the work. Bells and whistles we can help with; the wriiting, we can't.
So your time may not be now; it may be next year or it may be several years off yet. If your work is good (and your agent thinks it is, so that's a clue), have faith in yourself - and, most importantly, keep writing, because maybe it's your next manuscript that will break through. Then you'll have the current manuscript available just in case the publisher wants another one ...