Stephanie Osborn - Things They Don’t Tell You In Author’s School, Installment #4:
Getting your foot in the door can end up with a smashed foot.
Thing Four: The old adage, "You can’t get published without an agent, and you can’t get an agent without being published," isn’t true – but it isn’t far from it. Many of the big publishers won’t even look at anything that isn’t handed to them by an agent. With some of them, it’s impossible for the budding author to even find contact information.
Contrariwise, most agents won’t look at anyone who isn’t published. (There are a few. But your story had better be good, and polished to the nth degree.) But there are some good publishing houses out there that DO accept unagented submissions. The trick to these is that, unless you know somebody, your submission goes into a "slush pile" and will remain there for some time. Slush pile submissions are read in the order received, so your baby will be there for however long it takes for the company’s readers to dig down to it. So be prepared to be patient.
Dixon’s comment: Consider getting your first publication credit from a small, regional press. Also, many authors e-publish and hope that sales on Amazon and other sites may entice a major publisher to pick up their book.