- get up-to-date information on what the they're looking for
- find out about interviews they've recently done
- what conferences they're going to be at
- query likes and dislikes
- new clients they've taken on
- what kind of food they like--seriously, if you follow agents, you know they tweet about food. A lot.
Months ago, I started following a certain agent (whose name will remain guarded, because duh, I'm not that dumb). At first, I liked his tweets. They were a nice mix of funny RT's and industry news. Then one day, I did a double take. His tweet included the "P" word (no, not "panty"), and he wasn't talking about his cat; he was referring to someone getting some *bleep*. Um, yeah. Seriously. I was absolutely shocked. I'm not a prude by any means, but I do expect agents to uphold to a certain level of professionalism. The bad news--this guy had my full. The good news--I never heard back from him (surprise, surprise).
Another incident involved an agent I was considering querying my current project to (when the time comes). Well, that was until she made a negative comment about a very well-known, best-selling, Detroit writer; whom I happen to love. It wasn't that she didn't like him that bothered me, but that she would make a comment about him in a public forum. This writer is a local hero to Detroiters and has done A LOT of good for the city and surrounding areas. Again, I expect professionalism from an agent. I would never go on Twitter and bash agents or fellow writers, and I expect the same from a potential agent.
My experiences should be a reminder that not all agents were created equally. I think we sometimes like to lump them all together--especially when we're 50+ agents into the query process. By that time, we're just trying to find a warm body with a website and email address. Who cares about personality? However, it's important to keep in mind that the agents you query are people you are possibly going to be working with, potentially for a long time.
Take the time to get to know agents before you query them. Before you even start the query process, go through and find out if they have a Twitter account. If they do, follow them. I think people tend to be more impulsive when it comes to tweeting, as opposed to when they're typing out answers for a blog interview or something like that. Tweets are more candid and less thought out. I'm not saying you can learn everything about an agent based on the occasional 140 characters, but I think they can at least give you an idea who they are, and that's better than not knowing anything about them. Think about it. Do you really want to risk being represented by a chauvinistic a**hole?