I can't remember which DragonCon this was, but I remember a panel on promoting one's novel. Here's an idea that's stuck with me...
The idea was that if one couldn't get a book deal, take one's novel and put it in audio form. In the Olden Days, this was done via books on tape but now it's all digital--podcasts and the like. One of the people on the panel suggested the Savannah College of Art and Design (I assume the Atlanta branch) would be a good place to get this done for free--the students would want voice-over credits for their resumes.
One can then distribute the novel for free via iTunes and other digital services and build up readership that way. Having 100,000 readers of the audio version would strengthen one's hand in negotiating the print deals and it wouldn't forfeit any of the print rights.
The novel Blindsight was initially released for free online and then got a print deal, so putting something out there for free is not necessarily a kiss-of-death.
That being said, some publishers are simply concerned about it being published somewhere else, not just printed somewhere else. This might count as publication.
I have no completed novels (unless you count fan-fiction), so I'm not really in a position where I can experiment with this. However, some of you out there might find the idea interesting.
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