I heard once 99% of all authors will never be published. It was quite a let down, I must admit, but that was several years ago, before the world wide web became a major player in the literature arena. In today's day and age, an aspiring author can post their work online on sites such as smashwords.com, getfreeebooks.com, obooko.com, free-online-novels.com, giving avid readers more to choose from, and quite often a free read.
I would hazard to guess most readers don't understand the process of becoming a published author. In a nut shell, authors submit query letters to agents describing their work. If an agent is interested, they request more material, if at that point they are still interested, they may request the entire manuscript, if they are impressed and feel they can successfully represent the author's works they take the author on as a client. The agent then proceeds to present the work to publishers in the hopes of landing a deal.
Let's jump back to the query letter stage. Most authors never get past this hurdle, and rejection letter after rejection letter discourages some to the point of quitting. The determined author takes rejection in stride and continues to persevere. Often, family and friends are supportive, absolutely sure the book will be a best seller someday. Yet, until the work is read by unbiased third parties and well received, the author truly doesn't know how their work stacks up.
Here's where YOU come in, yes YOU. When you read a novel online from one of the many outlets for unpublished authors, leave a review, an honest review. This helps in more ways than just one. It will help the author improve their work, correct errors, and gain an overall idea of how the real market views their book. An honest review gives other readers a better idea of what to expect, and if websites have a 'highest rated' category, you could help boost an author to a level where a large following could develop and they just might be recognized by an agent or publisher.
I believe the world of publishing is evolving. Hardcopy books will never go out of style, but electronic books will become more and more popular. Reader's online reviews and inclusions on social networking sites could very well transform the industry even further.