I mainly write romance, which I realize isn't in your wheelhouse, but I have no doubt that you'll be able to offer some insight. I am about to leap into the query trenches, and hoping that my perfect-for-me agent and I will find each other and begin our wonderful working relationship soon. So, here's my question (and yes, I know I'm putting the cart before the horse here, but it's been on my mind):
The romance market is unlike any other genre out there, in that there are a number of imprints, attached to large publishing houses, that accept unsolicited submissions. These imprints also, for the most part, only publish ebooks (at least as a first step). This is not what I want. I feel like submitting to these imprints is something that I could do on my own, and while having an agent in my corner when it comes to the contract is a huge deal, I'm not sure I see that benefit as the same sort of asset as an agent's editorial contacts and relationships at places that don't take material from un-agented authors. I mean, wouldn't these sort of contracts be boilerplate? I can't imagine that there would be a whole lot that an agent could negotiate, although it is very possible that I could be wrong about that. It has happened many times before. :)
Is it wrong to say to a potential agent that I don't want to submit to these particular imprints? And now that I've written this down, I feel like I'm sort of being an ass-hat. I mean, I don't want to seem ungrateful, especially if I'm lucky enough to get to a point where this becomes an issue. Finding an editor that wants to publish my work is the ultimate dream, so am I being foolish by being so picky?
The question isn't if you should mention this, but when.
Do it in the query letter and it's an instant pass.
Nothing is more offputting than a writer telling me what they will and will not let me do before I've even read their work. It's the signal the query writer is someone who doesn't know what they don't know.
If/when an agent is interested in your work, you can certainly mention this. I have this conversation with all my prospective clients. It generally starts with a discussion about their career plans and expectations. Choosing not to submit to an e-book only press is certainly valid, but you want to make that choice AFTER you discuss this with your agent so it's part of a strategy not just a statement.
You're entirely wrong that a good agent won't be of value for a small press, or ebook press deal.