Something janni said got me thinking, which is why I started this. And, as it's long, it's multi-part, which will, I'm certain, surprise no one <wry g>.
I've worked in bookstores since I was sixteen years old. Part time, and in a chain, to start, and part-time and in an independent, which evolved to full-time, and then to managing and buying, and then, in the end, to part-time again after the children. It's not just the bookstore experience that informed my view of the publishing world. I count as equally important meeting the various different industry people who passed through the store: The sales reps, the publicity people, and the occasional VP of one of the Canadian distributors. They'd all seen a lot, and because I really wanted to eventually work in the industry, I wanted to know how it all worked.
So I asked a lot of questions. Got a lot of funny stories. Watched mergers happen, watched sales reps disappear. Watched book prices break the 3.00 mark, and then, horror of horrors, the 4.00 mark (the first book to break that mark in our chain was Ingrid Bergman's biography at 4.25. I digress. I do that a lot).
I'd seen a bunch of things before I sat down to write my First Novel. Which, of course, is only my first novel if you don't count the one I wrote when I was 13 years old and didn't know about the existence of fan fic (and no, don't even go there <g>). Actually, to be truthful, my first novel was actually my third attempt at a publication level short story (the first two, having been rejected once each, were sitting someplace out of sight while I worked, and yes, I know I should have sent them out again). Anyway, instead of short story, it was 4 novels. So… I had a finished novel.
I'd paid as much attention as I could to which publisher was doing well with the type of fantasy I -thought- I was writing. I sent away for submission guidelines to a couple of those publishers, with a SASE, and once I received them, I formatted my manuscript accordingly. And I submitted.
Now, at the time, there were more distinct publishing entities. Ace and Berkley were still distinct, and while Ace was solely SF, Berkeley published SF as well. This would be separate from Signet/NAL, which was replaced by Roc, and DAW …
It occurs to me that I should state clearly that -everything- I'm saying is based on genre SF/F publishing, and at that, at novel length.
But even in the olden days of the late '80s, which is when I first submitted a novel, I submitted to Del Rey, the SF arm of Ballantine books. I didn't submit to a small press first because it honestly didn't occur to me to do so. I had spent many years working in bookstores, and handling books, and my research was the books themselves. I wouldn't have considered submitting to a press I'd never seen, never bought, or never read.
This isn't meant to be elitist. Or, it occurs to me, its opposite. I couldn't think of a better way to do research than to go to a bookstore and look at what was on the shelves. To read a scattering of those books, or better, to look at my own overly crowded shelves and see whose logo stood out among the keepers.
People who have novels in hand that they've not yet submitted or figured out where to submit: Do this same thing. No, seriously.
[funny story: One very annoyed man tried to talk me into publishing his book. As I was working in a bookstore, I regretfully informed him that I was a -sales clerk- and not a -publisher-. He flung his arm about the store in very poor humour and said, "Oh? And where did all these books COME FROM then???" But louder.]