After all, writers don't hang out with us, chat with us over the coffee machines and while watching the electric teapot. They don't (usually) hear about our lives, pets, husbands, boyfriends, weekend reads, hobbies. Is a writer likely to know that I'm (as I was a few weeks ago) so sick of shoe-glorifying women's fiction that I'd rather see a manuscript about a woman who kills people with stilettos? I should hope not.
I'm over it, by the way. Just this week I passed a piece of excellent women's fiction within the agency, and that writer is getting an offer today.
But, now that I think about it, the story does have a death indirectly related to shoes. Hmm...
Is it great if you know, and address your queries accordingly? Totally. I'll admit to giving preference to those who have sought me out personally.
But if you're not sure--especially if you address the query to the president of the company--it's likely your work will end up in a sort of "to be sorted" pile. Is this slush? Technically. Is it read and passed on to the right person? Why, yes--it is. We're able to put our preferences aside and recognize quality--especially if we think, "Hey, _______ would love this!"
Basically, if we like your work, we like you and want you to do well--even if it's not with us. We like our colleagues and want them to find work they love. So, it works out for everyone.
As far as passing manuscripts to our agent friends--those outside our companies--this does happen occasionally. If something really does have merit but just isn't right for anyone in-house, yes, we'll refer. But this gets thornier--we don't want to look foolish, to writer and other agent alike, if the agent recipient is like, "What?! She uses a stiletto as a weapon?! That's ridiculous!"
So, in those cases, we are a bit more careful.