It's like American Idol, without the riches.
But what a lot of folks don't realize is--just like commercially publishes authors--there are some hacks who don't belong there and some unrecognized folks who will never get a break [read: break in]. Guy's like John Mayer, for example, would never make it through American Idol (especially without his guitar)--or more on spot, singers like Madonna--with how picky the panel is. But we all know John Mayer and Madonna. Just like we know John Grisham.
The whole industry (publishing, sure--but really I mean the entire entertainment industry) is unfair. Even this blog is unfair. If I passed on your book for a review, don't take it personally. (Unless it really sucked. Then, well . . . .) I'm no different than an agent or an editor or your everyday reader (which is, essentially, all I am anyway) who takes a look and it either grabs or it doesn't. Entertainment is subjective, weird, fickle, and--to the dismay of every movie studio, publishing house, and record company--completely unpredictable.
So if you are a talented writer (you know who you are . . . and aren't) keep writing, keep plugging, keep making it better.
And pray for serendipity.