Getting published is the same. It would be lovely to think of a world where one's own book was immediately identified as worthy of a place on a modest shelf somewhere. Sadly, it's pretty obvious that whilst writing a good book is usually necessary, it's often not sufficient. The quality of one's final draft is important, for sure. But not as important as what's really needed for advancement in today's world: Networking skills, brass neck, and persistence.
Of course, some people stumble across agents and publishers because of the circles they move in. I've lost count of the number of times I've read authors saying something like, “I was at a dinner party in Chiswick, hosted by my good friend, Penelope Cholmondely-Warner, when I mentioned I was having a stab at writing a novel and, as luck would have it, uber-agent Peter Straus was there and signed me on the spot.”
This makes the rest of us feel sorry for ourselves. As a collective noun, how about a maudlin of unpublished authors? We mooch around, getting chippy, crying into our half-empty glasses, darkly. It's pathetic and it needs to stop. We're letting the pushy, the connected and the thick-skinned fill the shelves where our own work should be. We need to toughen up. Research. Focus. Believe. Attack.