Question of the day: when I pitch a query to a magazine, is it helpful to have my agent do it for me? I.e., is it more likely to get accepted if it comes from her?
My immediate gut answer to this is a resounding "no." I've written probably somewhere in the hundreds of articles and never once has my agent pitched one for me. The reasons for this are several: 1) most magazine articles pay, at most, several thousand dollars (the bigger magazines usually pay about $2 a word, and few places assign more than 2000 words these days, and rarely do you even get 2000 words), so really, it's not worth your agent's time to nab a couple hundred dollars from these pieces. 2) There is absolutely no reason for your agent to be your go-between. Editors aren't interested in dealing with a middleman: they want to deal directly with a polished, professional, fun, breezy writer - adding your agent into the mix just complicates things. 3) As I alluded to in #2, agents are unnecessary in this process: what lands you an assignment is coming up with a unique, kick-ass idea, crafting that into a wonderful query, then emailing it to the appropriate editor. An agent can't help you do any of the above better than you can on your own.
That said, I *do* think an agent (and/or your publicist) can help open doors when it comes to the biggies: The New Yorker, The Atlantic, even something like Modern Love in the NY Times (though I know people who have been published in that column by simply emailing in their essay, and I also know others who succeeded with the help of their publicist). Unlike the service magazines like SELF or GLAMOUR or whatnot, these magazines are harder to break into than the toughest NYC private school (which these days, can be harder to get into than Harvard...seriously), and having an agent demonstrates (fairly or not) that you're already a cut above some other writers. (And I don't mean to imply that service magazines aren't hard to break into. They are. I tried for years to crack GLAMOUR and did a joy dance when I finally did. I only mean that there's a leap, in terms of exclusivity, from these huge national magazines to the even more upper-tier, more literary mags.)
So, for the most part, my long answer to your short question is that no, you don't need your agent to land you a gig. Save that 15% for a celebratory gift when your query gets accepted.
What say you, readers? Ever used an agent to land you an article?