Dear Miss Snark,
You recently wrote "The other agent was an idiot (which I could have told him)..."
It seems to me the idiot quotient in most careers is fairly high (thirty-five percent feels about right), and I wouldn't expect literary agents as a profession to deviate dramatically from the norm.
But how the hell are first-time writers supposed to know who qualifies?
I know enough to check for prior sales, but I'm sure idiot agents make deals from time to time. You know, for less than they might have otherwise gotten, or maybe after wasting a lot of time due to poor organizational skills. But again, we wouldn't know that. All we see are the sales that further legitimize the idiots.
So here's an idea: Hows about you post (right next to the Writers Beware Ten Worst Agents list) your nominees for the Ten Biggest Idiots? Disgruntled and former clients can weigh in with their idiot-agent horror stories.
I'm sure somewhere among your two million or so hits there's a lawyer who's trying to become Grisham who would be happy to defend you once the lawsuits fly.
Or (I'm trying to be reasonable here), hows about you just email me with your list and I'll keep the whole thing quiet?
In this case, the idiocy was pretty much a matter of public record. A search of P&E would have turned up a big red flag of warning.
As to the greater question let's be clear: all of us are idiots at one time or another. There are days I'm sure I'd lead your list. Hopefully not many, hopefully fewer than most, but trust me, we'd all be on the list at one time or another.
That's why you talk to clients of an agent who's made you an offer and you don't sign with someone just cause they did offer.
A nitwit list isn't going to save you. You've got to be your own Encyclopedia Brown.