Today Grumpy Old Bookman has an interesting post on the publishing difficulties faced by new writers nowadays. There has been some dispute on the web about whether good new writers do indeed face particular difficulties, but GOB makes a convincing case. He is referring to genre writers, and in particular thriller writers, but it seems to me that his points could be made across the board.
GOB points out that Jack Higgins had written several competent but unsensational books before he made it with The Eagle Has Landed - similarly with Ken Follett. Present-day publishers, he says, are no longer prepared to allow writers to grow in this way, but seek an instant hit from the off. Nowadays any new writer whose first book does not promise to be an instant hit will be unlikely to get a foot in publishing. The comments are interesting, too: there's an instance of a previously published SF writer who can't get back on the ladder because, as GOB says, publishers want younger writers who will 'look really cool on Richard and Judy's sofa'.
GOB applauds the use of Lulu.com as a way around this problem (he reviews Ron Morgans' thriller Kill Chase which has been published this way). And it is of course this ethos which several new independents have been launched to counter. Then there's Macmillan New Writing, established specifically to allow new writers to develop without the pressure of earning back an advance. If the one example of MNW which I've read is anything to go by, Roger Morris's Taking Comfort (reviewed here), it's not just competent practice pieces that are being picked up this way, but literary gems.