It’s a combination. The reality is that you do need to know people. That’s why it takes ten to twenty years to build a successful writing career. Accept it and get busy on the marketing of your work so you can be seen. Writing is a business. If you fail to treat it as such, you’ll wind up pissed off with nobody reading you. Your talent is only one of four elements you have to focus on:
1. Development: all things related to your writing ability (classes, exercises, writing gigs, your novel, conferences, writing magazines, reading competitive work).
2. Marketing: This is how you communicate with your potential audience. Who would benefit from reading your books? You have to find them, reach out to them and convince them to spend their time and money reading your work. You can do this through a website, through getting short stories published, or through a blog you write.
3. Networking: everyone you meet falls into one of two categories: 1) they can buy your work; 2) they can commission you to write something for them. It is imperative that you collect contact info from everyone you meet for step 4.
4. Publicity: whenever you have a writing victory (getting published, receiving an award, getting reviewed, etc), you have to have a mechanism for reaching out and telling people. If you don’t shout it form the rooftops people will assume you’re doing nothing and that does not benefit you. People love watching artists become successful – it makes them feel they are a piece of the dream. Publicize your successes.
Focus on each of these 4 areas equally and you’ll build a legit career.