It will be a while yet before I start querying agents with Shining Path - first I want to see what the test readers think and do some editing accordingly - but in the interests of being ready when I am ready, I got a copy of the Jeff Herman 2010 guide and went through the entire list of agents (a few hundred of them) making a short-list of ones to consider querying. That was 20 agents. Examination of their Web sites (which I haven't finished doing yet) has allowed me to cut three or four, as well as give me some idea of my order of preference among those remaining.
It's interesting that very many agents specifically say they don't do science fiction. That's to be expected - SF is a specialized field, the connections you need to sell it are different from the ones you need to sell other things, and everyone's better served by that stuff going through agents who specialize in it. The justification for all "genre fiction" (which includes SF) being rejected is less strong, but that's a common syndrome too. I think it comes down to simple snobbery; but okay, whatever, at least it helps me narrow my list.
Pity the poor fool who wrote a "memoir of addiction recovery." You'd be amazed how many agents very specifically mention that they don't represent those. Gee, I wonder why.
What did surprise me, though, was that many agents say they don't do fiction at all - and even the ones who do represent fiction, often treat it as a sideline with non-fiction being their main business. There's a question in the survey for what percentages of different categories make up the agent's business (one amusingly misinterpreted that as "what percentage commission do you charge?") and it was rare for that question to be answered with fiction as the majority. Is that really how the market works? At the very least it supports the conventional wisdom I've heard, that if you want to actually earn a living wage writing books, you ought to be writing non-fiction books.
What is up with agents whose names are spelled differently in the book and on their own Web sites? Did they submit incorrect information to Mr. Herman and his staff? Or did the publishers of the guide screw up?
One agency I won't name: on their Web site, the list of staff is about eight people; all of them are female with the possible exception of the dog; and that's not at all unusual in this business... but of their list of authors (which is more than 50 people), a large majority have feminine names, a few indeterminate, exactly one clearly masculine... nowhere on the Web site does it actually say "Don't query us if you are male," but it gives me an odd vibe, to say the least.