I've been hitting the agent's blogs a lot lately trying to figure out what makes them tick. Most of the blogging agents are personable sorts obviously trying to help writers along the path to publication.
On the other hand, I'm struck by a certain condescension. Writers who don't have agents must learn lots of cute tricks equivalent to sitting up, rolling over, and begging. Your query letter must be perfect, your hook must be a firestarter, your first paragraph had better grab them by the throat. If you can accomplish all those tricks as a writer, then you might get representation IF your whole book appears to be a candidate for the NY Times Best Seller List.
Obviously, there are not enough slots for published books for every writer, so if you're a good utility writer, then you might as well head directly to the small presses and hope for the best. You have the same hoops to jump, but you're at least one step closer to the people who actually publish the books.
What do I mean by "utility writer?"
Someone who can actually write grammatically correct prose. This means that an editor will have far less work to do. However, if you're avant garde and terribly daring, you can misspell anything you want and call it technique.
Someone who has a moderately new twist on an old story. Apparently, fantasy doesn't require much here. Just make the elves short and the dwarves tall and you've got your twist built in. Don't forget to give them unpronounceable names! Chick Lit? Oh puhleeze. There hasn't been a new plot there since the 19th Century. Just more sex. Erotica? Be sure you have a sexy vampire then set the story in Anarctica for your twist. Heat up the old igloo (you see, it doesn't matter that igloos are in the northern regions when writing this type of fiction).
Someone who can write multiple books in a short period. Look at Piers Anthony. I think he writes a book every week or two. Some of his books aren't topnotch, but he's a great utility writer.
So, Utility Writers Unite! We have nothing to lose but the potential agents who are looking for Dan Brown or whoever else is the author du jour. The agents sure as hell aren't looking for you.