Agents seem to be hot topics right now: Alan Rinzler, a veteran editor, has just posted an interview with four agents on why they think agents still have a role to play. Apparently, the bottom line is that agents remain the gatekeepers for the Big 6 trade publishers, so without an agent you will be unable to break into that market.
The article was referenced by The Passive Voice, and commenter Camille LaGuire makes a telling point:
"Barbers don’t go around telling you how important they are to you. They don’t tell you that you need a haircut, they just tell you how good they are cutting hair. Because it’s assumed that you know if you need a haircut or not. As soon as someone starts explaining how much they are needed, that’s a sign the battle is lost. It’s the end game."
The Passive Voice blog also gives a current example of a published author whose new book has been contracted under a nom de plume, in my opinion, solely because of the relationship the agent has with the editor at Doubleday.
But I think agents are less relevant for those seeking publication outside the Big 6 (e.g. publishing through small presses or outside the US). And what does an agent offer a self-publishing author? Do you have an agent? What do you think?