On the Sunday Times and the Middleton/Naipaul experiment, Miss Snark says:
…to assume that this proves agents don't recognize quality is bunk. If anything it proves exactly what I've been saying: agents are interested in what SELLS. Now, I don't have sales figures for these books….given they were published 35 years ago it would be very difficult to get them. But I'll tell you this: pick a literary novel, any literary novel even from a Nobel Prize winner, and “respectable sales” over the course of YEARS is the height of achievement. Most of them sink like rocks. Rocks similar to the ones in the heads of the Sunday Times editor who let this article run.
Having read Naipaul, I can certainly see why a busy agent/editor would send it back. His writing takes a while to unfold, as do many literary works. Still, it's sad to think what we may be missing out on because the industry is so focused on the next big commercial success. I doubt it's thousands of good novels, but I'll bet it's more than we think. On the other hand, I really do believe that cream eventually rises to the top (unless you're Dan Brown).
But, finding that cream–holy moly! Reading Miss Snark's Crapometer synopsis experiment made me want to imbibe massive quantities of alcohol and huddle in bed for a week. If I had to read those things all day in search of a good book, I'd go nuts. (And I say this fully aware that my own synopsis skills aren't any better.)