First things first when finding a reliable publisher. Find an agent and the agent will try to find a publisher.
So how do you get an agent? There is no secret trick. First, write the best book you can write, then compose the best query letter you can compose. Then, send out that letter and hope for the best.
So that's what you did, right? Actually, no.
The way I got my agent is that he read one of my short stories on the web, then contacted me to tell me how much he liked my story and to ask if I had representation. After Googling him and discovering that he was an actual, successful New York agent (and not a Nigerian prince looking for a bank account), I told him that I'd love to work with him.
I sent him some of the novels I'd previously written, and he liked some and didn't like others (one thing about my agent is that he will always tell me exactly what he thinks), but what he was really excited about was the possibility of turning the short story I'd written (The Girl With a Clock For a Heart) into a novel.
It took me about a year and a half to write the book, bouncing ideas back and forth with my agent, and it was hard-going. At one point, after delivering a full manuscript, he suggested I change from first person to third person, and restructure the time frame of the whole novel. It was this particular revision that was the hardest to do but the most productive. The novel began to work in a way it hadn't before.
That September, my wife and I went to Bermuda for a week. Just before leaving, my agent told me to check my email while I was there because he might have some news for me. I don't usually bring my laptop with me on vacations but I brought mine along. We had rented an apartment in St. Georges and the internet was spotty, but one afternoon I got an email asking me to call him right away.
When I called him, he told me that I had a two-book deal with William Morrow. It took me a while but finally I believed him. That night we celebrated (Dark 'n Stormy's were involved), and my wife and I felt like we had suddenly entered an alternate reality. We hadn't taken a trip in two years for financial reasons, and suddenly we were on this beautiful island, and celebrating a book deal. It didn't feel like our real lives.
So that was how I found a publisher. My agent was key, not just because of his connections, but because he helped me to write the best book I could write.
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