Michelle, my very close friend of many years, writes literary fiction (novels, specifically) and tells me about how hard it is to publish a novel in Canada -- or, for that matter, to attract the attention of American publishers and agents. That woman can write circles around me and has never yet been able to get a publisher even to look at her novel manuscript.
My own experience is in the world of erotica, which, though frustrating at times, is very different from Michelle's. The long and the short of it is, even though I have encountered publishers ranging from the highly professional to the hopelessly incompetent, I find there are only two requirements to getting one's erotic stories pubished:
1) Write good stuff
2) Send it to the right publisher
In short, the erotica publishing industry is more or less democratic, as far as I have been able to determine. Right now, for example, if you go to a well stocked bookstore with a good erotica or gay and lesbian section, you can find two major anthologies with a total of three of my stories in them. I have been able to succeed without being much of a networker.
The literary fiction presses, on the other hand, seem to have mysterious requirements one can only guess at, unspoken byzantine laws about networking and about who (figuratively speaking) must suck who's dick and how. In short, the literary presses are a Bloomsburian clique. Just to get a fucking agent one needs to get a fucking agent, and to get the first fucking agent one must have influential friends. Yes, even with small, supposedly left wing presses this is the case.
I remember submitting a short essay to a site called rabble.ca. Okay, with a name like that you'd figure they'd publish anybody, as long as the work was good. I did not get an answer at all, never mind a rejection.
My message to writers? For all that I have said, if you are good, don't give up. There is always hope. I know Michelle and I know she will never give up. But I have seen the repeated failures of the publishing world make her mean. As the poet Blake said (roughly quoted) "the world shall have my poems whether it like them or no."
As for all the mediocrities whose query packages clutter the desks of publishers, taking up valuable time that might be used examining genuine talent, just fuck off and find out what it is you are really supposed to do so others can have a chance to make their own contribution. Writing is one of the few professions where the mediocrities actually crowd out their superiors, and publishers let it happen.