Okay. Deep breath.
I know my original notion, which is that you shouldn't waste space on the page with non-credential credentials, or that some of them may actually harm you, is against industry wisdom. The normal advice is "list any credentials you may have." However, people have a tendency to take things to extremes, and this results in people listing every paper they ever wrote for school. I think the advice should be coupled with the more reassuring, "It's okay if you don't have any credentials."
Most novel writers don't. Most people in fiction sat down to write a novel, wrote it, and are now submitting it. They don't have "past experience." But they get nervous when they see the "writing credits" option and know they can't do it.
The general rule is that if you're not sure it's a credential or not, include it. It won't hurt you. DON'T scrape the bottom of your autobiographical barrel for something to mention. If you have something that comes to mind, great. If you don't, don't sweat it.
I'm planning on quoting the technology column (which has nothing to do with my novel) with a colleague in my query letters, because we got paid and it's a legitimate newspaper, albeit not one you'll have read if you don't live in New England. I'm *not* planning on quoting the small community newspaper for which I wrote for free for years. The key idea is that agents WILL Google on your writing creds. An agent will pull up my community newspaper columns whether she wants to or not. She will also discover I wasn't lying about the paid technology gig.
Actually, for the most part, we will not use google to search for you or your writing creds unless they're mysterious in some fashion and it's bugging us and it's a slow afternoon. Every once in a while, a guy with a terrible query writes that he wrote for a television series, but doesn't name the series. I'm confused, so I go hit up IMDB and find out he was on the writing staff of some failed cartoon show. You know, the ones that air on Sunday mornings at like 7 am on a station you've never heard of. I'm not going to hold that against him (it's a writing job), but it's still a terrible query. Reject.
I'd really like Rejecter to comment sometime on how her boss deals with PUBLISHERS' standards when it comes to author credentials. My agent and I are striking out on selling my books (fiction and nonfiction) based solely on the fact I don't have an existing "media platform." Apparently, writing well and regularly getting published in major newspapers and magazines does little for your book-deal potential these days when you don't already have your own reality show or brand of perfume, or haven't committed the crime of the century---the kind of creds that most of the big publishers seem to want from any new author they acquire (or else they won't acquire your book).
So I keep hearing this term "media platform" thrown around and I have to say I'm stumped about what it is. I think Miss Snark used to use it, but I've never heard it used by anybody else. All right, I've only worked for a few agents and only worked in an office with half a dozen more, and attended one BEA, and only read so many agent blogs, so I don't know everything. That said, it's very hard for me to give you advice on a concept that may have a different meaning than what I'll guess it means. The terms "media platform" and "platform" don't even appear in my Publication Services Glossary of Publishing Terms.
In answer to your original question, agents pitch books to editors they think will like the material. If the author has been previously published, they'll mention it initially, and where (The editor will want to know what company). There are some genres were the editor will ask about background, like non-fiction that requires heavy research or political commentary that requires some kind of media standing (because the book will sell if the person is a celebrity in that area of commentary). Otherwise, I don't think it comes up, especially not in fiction.
As for why you keep striking out, it could be because your agent is relatively new in the field (2004) with no previous experience in this country. He's gotten to a respectable start in selling commercial non-fiction titles, but it will take him time to build up his contact list with editors.
wanted to clarify the contest thing - i feel like most contests i've seen have some sort of entry fee, even from journals like the georgetown review etc. are those considered scam contests too? i always thought entry fees were just standard, but maybe i just haven't been paying attention.
also, on that subject, aside from the HUGE journals (new yorker, paris review, etc), what are some publications that are more mid-tier but would still be worth mentioning?
I'm gonna say I can't make individual rulings on the contests, so you should probably mention them unless you are SURE you got scammed. I honesty don't know every contest.
Anything mid-tier is worth mentioning, yes.