To a degree, this belief is true. Not only is it your agent's job to understand the business side of the writing business -- not entirely So You Don't Have To, but partially, because there's a lot to understand -- getting good enough to get an agent is also a sign that you've reached a certain degree of skill. It's possible for really good writers to make it without an agent. It's actually harder for really bad writers to get an agent in the first place. (To all those agents I applied to when I was a teenager: I'm sorry you had to read that. Thank you for being so nice about it.)
Almost two years ago, a friend of mine sent me a letter introducing me to another friend of hers, one who happened to be a literary agent. The Agent and I started chatting via email, taking it slowly, navigating the wilds of acquaintance and understanding long before we reached the point where representation would become an option. It was a courtship, rather than a barroom hookup, and I am incredibly grateful for that, because anybody who's met me knows that my full attention can be an exhausting thing. She gets my full attention a lot.
A year ago today, we stopped courting.
The past year has been an amazing ride of wonderful, dizzying, confusing things, and The Agent has been there every step along the way to explain, encourage, and assist. I call her my personal superhero for a reason -- that's exactly what she is. Books on writing will tell you that the best thing a working writer can have is a good agent, and they're right, but what they won't tell you is that it's even better to have a good agent who understand you, understands the way you work, and is willing to see what you can do together.
So here's a happy, happy anniversary to my personal superhero, to the woman who helps me understand the business side of my chosen career, and to the only person ever to respond to my description of The Worst Book I've Ever Read by asking me to send it to them. Happy anniversary. Let's have ten more of these.