Doris Betts, who mentored me and many others should be remembered for her generosity in developing aspiring writers, but also for her talent as a writer.
Sadly, Doris never remotely gained the recognition she deserved and earned as a writer. That that was all right with her serves as the best testimony to her caliber as a human being.
I've recently had advice from an agent (who didn't sign me) concerning one of my novel manuscripts, and my pal Lyn is deep into negotiations with her agent over her novel's structure.
image via altongansky.typepad.com
What seems clear from both conversations is that agents are, for the most part good to excellent readers. However, most don't seem to know the subtleties of writing as well as any writer who can put a serious manuscript before them – they can either tell you they like what they see (read: it will sell ) or not. They may be able to isolate something about your story that will render it unsaleable, but they can't necessarily tell you how to change it.
This is where the relationship has to be simpatico: you have to be able to keep from compromising your story and style of writing in order to sell, and the agent has to be able to understand what you're doing and be capable of selling it.
My writing pal and great teacher and blogger, Lyn Hawks, has just been reassured that she's a top notch writer. Congrats, Lyn!