I chatted with a new friend, a businessman who is interested in writing, for a long time today. We discussed the traditional market and new/experimental markets for fiction.
Agents receive hundreds of queries per week, in which authors ask for representation for their novel. Those agents ask for more information from a handful--perhaps 3%. Then, of those few, they want to see a complete manuscript from a fraction. Then, of those few, they offer representation to a fraction. A fitting analogy for the new author is that masses of writers try to fling themselves over a high wall and few come close to the top.
In the new markets, with sales of e-books, sales of audio files, and self publishing, authors grope in the dark, calling out, "Is anybody there?" and mostly hear echoes. Yes, Eragon, by Christopher Paolini, was self-published and highly successful. This exception proves the rule.
My planned route is through short fiction. My guess is that out of the few hundred queries on an agent's desk, a handful are from authors that have made fiction sales.
At each step, the writer is in the dark. Agents do not have time to tell the writer why the novel does not sound promising. And most editors of magazines do not have time to give feedback to those who submit. One exception is Jim Baen's Universe. Another is Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by Scott H. Andrews. Mr. Andrews gives valuable feedback, for which any author should be grateful. I even agree with some of it!