Literary agents are seen by many new writers as steely, easily-offended beings who operate to a complex secret code which writers have to break before they’re allowed representation. It’s said that they have the power to make or break literary reputations and careers; that they will blacklist writers for the smallest transgression (Courier font, anyone?); and that they are temperamental, grudging gatekeepers who prevent good writers from getting published while attracting huge advances for populist schlock.
Most of this is true—of some of the less professional agents. But none of it is commonplace. Most of the agents I’ve encountered over the years have been charming, professional and genuinely excited by the writers and writing that they represent, and have added real value to those writers’ careers.