There was a time when the average length of a novel was 60,000 wrods; when most publishers accepted unsolicited full-length submissions; and when final unalterable text was typed out on equioment known as a typewriter. I wonder how much padding agents and publishers see in their dubmissions now. A writer's mental energy has to produce 90-100,000 words for a first novel; few publishers accept direct submissions yet it is virtually impossible to land an agent; and the word processor is indispensable.
All right - that last change is a priceless improvement. Once, the finality of text gave rise to much dismay and frustration if an alteration were needed; what's more, you could only ever achieve an estimated word count. You did this by counting every word on, say, five pages, dividing by five, then multiplying by the total number of pages.
True, there are more facilities for the modern writer - creative writing courses, for instance - but aren't those about teaching people to write to a formula? As for "how to" books, these can help when it comes to advice on submissions but, as far as actually writing the novel is concerned - that's formulation again. Did Jane Austen or Charles Dickens have to be taught about ingredients and when to introduce them? Did they think about what would appeal to publishers? I can't presume to read their minds but I doubt it: they used their commonsense and thought about readers, as well as what they were trying to do with the book. You've either got it or you haven't.
Despite the problems, we continue to submit. My recent experience of this is that, if you capture an agent's or publisher's attention, they will let you have a decision quite quickly. In fact, if you've heard nothing in three weeks, it's pretty safe to assume that you'll receive a rejection. Just carry on submitting.
Don't assume, if you're new to submitting work, that a long wait means that your work is being given serious consideration. Some agents "sit" on work to make it look as if they're doing more. This has been made obvious to me more than once.
More and more writers are resorting to e-publishing and the newly-respectable self-publishing, so there will come a time when submissions to the traditional targets dwindle. How, then, will agents and those few publishers find the new writers they need to keep going? By commissioning more celebrity novelists? Perhaps not. Perhaps they'll pick writers up from e-readers and self-piublishing. The novelist's work will take off like a rocket and the writer will be courted for representaion by the very agents who rejected it. In fact, I believe this already happens.
At the moment, I'm waiting for an answer to a submission - a final fling becuase I wanted to try a fresh approach and a different agent. It's been three weeks. Ah, well, there's always those new resources next year.