My recent blog post about how to find out if your agent is an idiot (sadly, post #3 on that subject) produced quite a few comments that caught my interest.
Another point concerns who the agent sells to. If it is places an author can sell on his own, the agent is not as valuable as an agent who can get you into the large high paying publishers.
That's manifestly not true. Almost anyone can sell a good project to a publisher, large or small. Selling is the most visible, most talked about, part of an agent's job. To an author starting out, it seems like the most important. It's not.
Selling a project WELL no matter to which publisher is the art of the deal. And which publisher is less important (trust me on this) than which editor. And knowing how to negotiate your contract, and what is negotiable and what isn't--those are all the places where an agent who knows what she's doing earns her commission. Yes you can sell direct to a variety of publishers. Unless you've made a lot of other deals, I don't think you're going to do it anywhere near as well as a good agent.