The second answer that often surprises people who are just beginning to look for agents is the answer to the question, “Do I need an agent to get published?” Nope, you don’t. More writers have gotten published before they got an agent than got an agent before they were published. I always encourage people to query both editors and agents and to go where the Lord seems to be leading them. When I suggest that, however, I also suggest leaving the major houses alone. I recommend querying the smaller houses that do work directly with authors. Those who say agent only, or only if you meet them at a conference, or something like that are a long shot going after them directly. Anything is possible, but the most likely outcome is that the author would simply be burning a bridge that later an agent could use to get them published Most of the time you don’t get ‘do-overs’ at a house just because somebody else is making the pitch.
And there are times when you don’t need an agent at all. One of the most common examples is someone with a very strong speaking ministry. The main thing they need a book for is to sell at these events when they are speaking. They realize there would probably be a very small percentage of sales that might fall outside of those speaking venues and maybe the website that supports that speaking venue. If this is the case, why give an agent 15% of the deal. For that matter, why hook up with a publisher that will make the lion’s share of the book sales revenue. I suggest they self-publish and keep both streams of revenue to themselves.
The point is, getting and working with an agent is a business decision and should be made based on what you need rather than on what people say should be done. Books are not sold to publishing houses, they are sold to editors. Do you know those editors? Do you keep up with who is moving and what people are buying? Do you have the expertise to negotiate a contract? Do you need professional advise on revising and making the product more saleable, on preparing a killer proposal, on who is the right editor or house for you? Do you need a go-between to help you deal with the publisher ? If you can do all of these things except maybe negotiate the contract for instance, you can pay to have a contract looked over.
I had an author call me and say “I have a contract offer in hand, would you take me on?” I asked if she was asking me to negotiate the contract for her and she said no. She said she knew having a contract in hand was one of the best times to get picked up by an agent. She said she had looked at who my clients were, who I had been selling to, the things that seemed to interest me and she thought we were a good match. Now there’s a lady who knows how, why and when to get the right agent for her. It’s a business decision.