If you think the odds of getting published are astronomical wait until you try to rope a literary agent.
The query letter is what it says it is, you query an agent with a short description of your novel and they are so aghast with your talent that they sign you up for a mere ten percent commission in the states and fifteen percent overseas. The best query letters are three paragraphs long. The first paragraph is meant to hook the agent into reading the last two and in turn convincing them to ask you to send them your entire manuscript, toot suite.
Don't start the letter by saying you have written the greatest book ever and don't say it will make a zillion dollars and especially don't threaten the agent. They'll be plenty of time for that later once they've signed you.
Write that first paragraph to hook them. Here is one I wrote recently: After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States government insisted all eligible young men enlist immediately to fight against the enemies overseas. All eligible young men except Japanese-Americans.
There. I did not address the agent but I told her about the book in a way she wasn't expecting for a historical fiction novel. There are hundreds of examples of query letters on the Internet so copy some of the successful ones.
The other method of obtaining an agent is the five to ten minute pitch at writer's conferences. You shell out forty bucks to sit with an agent who really doesn't want to be there and definitely doesn't want to hear about your vampire character experiencing a coming of age or whatever. So, is it worth the money? Probably not but it is the only way the agent will ask for three chapters of your manuscript so what the hell, go for it. In all likelihood, when the manuscript arrives at the literary agent's office it will be perused by a third year MFA student working as an intern for the summer. So forget about it.
Back to the conference pitch. When sitting across from the agent, point at them and say, "You need my book!" Then hand them your entire manuscript printed on an eight-year-old HP ink-jet printer that you typed in a 10 point Old English Font. Yes again, I am trying to reduce the competition. Seriously, just tell them the gist of your book in a few words then tell them how long it is and what genre. After that, the agent will usually ask you questions to kill the uncomfortable silence.
Ah, just forget about it and give up. In the meantime, read my short story on Helium about a way for an attractive girl to get a literary agent.
Question of the day: If you work for Waste Management is all your e-mail considered junk mail?
Deep thought of the day: George Sand was a woman and Joyce Kilmer was a man.