After much frustration and a lot of time wasted contacting agents and publishers, I decided to go the e-publishing route and put my books on Kindle. The experience so far has been somewhat rewarding, though not always well remunerated.
Unless your novel is the next The Help, keep your initial expectations low. Sales of my own books were disappointingly slow at first, but over time picked up, and in the first six weeks of this year alone I sold over 1500 books. (I have earned in royalties more in January and February than I earned all last year.) Encouraging, but hardly enough to retire on my own private island in the Mediterranean. With luck, those who like the book will tell their friends, who will in turn tell their friends, and . . . (You get the picture.)
In addition to having a good story, shameless self promotion is key to sales. This can be a full-time job and quite the distraction when you would much rather be moving on to the next novel. I blog here assiduously in order to gain new readers and promote my works. I actively seek interviews/reviews in magazines, newspapers, and blogs, too. This gets your name out there, has people talking about you, spreading the word. Don't expect, though, that just because your name is in the morning paper book sales will go through the roof that day. It takes time.
Once you have steady sales, your ranking in the bestselling lists will rise. Writing for a niche market (mine is Japan/Middle East) is important here as it will enable your work to rise much faster among bestsellers. One of my works usually bobs up and down between #5 and #20 in Kindle Books on Japan. As your work climbs higher among Kindle books it will also rise in the ranks of ordinary "book-books" as well, giving it even more exposure. For example, this morning No.6, the more popular of my two books on Kindle was at #1 in Kindle books on Lebanon, #10 in Kindle books on Japan, and #20-something in book-books.
What else? If you're like me and your ultimate goal is to be in print, to see your novel on the shelf of a bookstore and in the hands of strangers on trains, sunbathers at the beach, then I think e-publishing can be a means to that end. Sell well enough, create enough of a sensation, and those agents and publishers who ignored you may finally take notice.
(Knock on wood!)