This post is in response to a discussion chez Ksenia Anske regarding whether literary agents should (or do) expect authors to be active on Twitter.
For a debut author (more often than not, an unpublished writer) hoping to garner an agent's attention, it's only reasonable to expect one's online presence to be filtered and evaluated, somewhere between the query letter and the form rejection.
# of Twitter followers, books reviewed on Goodreads, Facebook page, whatever. They matter. That's not to say you need to cover all the bases as completely as Ksenia (read her background: she had most of us lapped--twice--out of the starting gate).
Still, it's 2012 going on '13. People are reading books on their telephones and tweeting from bed. All of this makes it easier to find/reach/touch readers than ever before. At the same time, agents are getting crushed between the Big 6 5 4 going mainstream with self-publishing and Amazon creating crowd-source sensations.
Any agent who did not consider a writer's online platform wouldn't be a very useful agent at all. Their job is to sell. Not just sell your wonderful book baby to a publisher, but sell you to the world.
Authors, as a rule, have never been overly fond of the sales process. Hardly surprising. Most salespeople are outgoing, gregarious hunters. They thrive on networking, hand shaking, making friends in airports, and speed-dialing. They size people up quickly, assess opportunities instinctually, and move on. The only natural habitat salespeople share with authors is a good bar at the end of the day, when it's half empty and quiet.
There's another kind of salesperson, though. It's the farmer. The relationship builder. The person who consistently communicates a value proposition of interest to his or her audience. Who lets them know about their latest release, or maybe something someone else wrote that may be of interest.
In an online world, where impressions are made quickly and attention spans insanely short, authors today have a unique opportunity. We can form real connections with readers, communicate beyond our words on a frozen page, and feel feedback like never before. The quid pro quo is we have to do more than write, and write well. We have to engage.
For my money, I'd rather an agent who understands all that.