Disclaimer: I am not an agent, nor do I have an agent myself. These are simply insights I've gleaned as I've listened in on the writing world. If you've anything to add, please post!
Via conferences, the Internet, and conversations, I've heard friends, Romans, and countrymen discuss their various books and agent experiences. It occurs to me that there are not only some common themes, but also common misconceptions. This is Part I in a series of III that attempts clarification of the Agent World.
1. Agents are human, too. Although it may seem as if they're the gatekeepers, warding you off from the inner sanctum of the Published Ones, they're all very human. They have hopes, dreams, and desires, just like you. And, oddly enough, their world doesn't revolve around you. My point? Don't take their idiosyncrasies personally. You don't know if Agent X has just found out that her mother has cancer or if Agent Y has just broken up with his girlfriend of nine years. Cut them some slack, and they're more likely to cut you some.
2. Agents want your book to be "The One." In a sense, agents are the gatekeepers. It's their job to search out the next great American novel or the next epic fantasy, and they are Desperately Seeking Susan or David or Theo. If you've done your job and sculpted that literary "intersection between art & commerce" then you're on the right track. But, if you're mewling about an agent just not appreciating your artistic execution of Banana Drying In Lavender's Window, then take a few minutes (or days) to re-evaluate. Then look for a different agent or start a different project, but don't blame your lack on the agent.
3. Agents want to work with you. More important than getting an agent is finding one who complements the person you are. If you're willing to take suggestions and/or guidance, the relationship will be mutually beneficial. If you are so "principled" that you refuse to bend on anything, you've already limited your success. Your agent wants to be excited about your project, brokering the best possible outcome for you. If your personality prevents any of that, then you best look for a different agent or an altered attitude.