I appreciate the title is cliched and used often to its detriment, but it was the title that first came to mind and another cliche, albeit correct, is to proceed with your first instinct. There really is no more volleyed question in the author community than whether to have an agent represent your work or venture out on your own. Given the feedback I received on my post about the writing industry I thought I would elaborate a little more on this topic. I am not an expert in this field, only offering my own experience which will differ vastly from several others, but hopefully some help may be garnered.
Agents are there to help shop and represent your work to potential publishers. They have the knowledge and, more importantly, connections that you do not. However, just as there are good writers and bad writers, there are good agents and bad agents, the latter in the business for the nefarious purpose of exploitation and profit. I highly recommend that, before querying an agent, you check out this site, Preditors and Editors http://pred-ed.com/. They have feedback on most agents, reputable and otherwise, and can help you make the best decision when pursuing an agent. The one caveat to note about any agent is if they ask for an upfront fee or investment, run until you can run no further. Any agent worth their proverbial salt takes their percentage from the sale of a manuscript not from an upfront fee.
That being said, agents, regardless how good they are, still have their own proclivities and may very well turn their back on your work regardless how good it is. J.K. Rowling was turned down over 20-times before she found an agent willing to invest in her work. Do you think those agents would appreciate a “do-over”? To their defense, agents are not trying to be caustic. They just happen to reside in an industry where too many bad investments have forced publishers to rely on established authors and celebrities. The chances of a new writer being picked up is very slim; not lottery-winning slim, but slim none the less. That is why several reputable agents have advised that aspiring writers should pursue the route of self-publication with the design that they will get notice by an agent or publishing house. That is what happened to me.
My work was shopped by an agent to no avail. Finally, taking the aforementioned cue, I self-published. Within a few months a smaller publishing house expressed interest in my book, eventually taking over the publishing and distributing of it. I wish that I could say that from there everything proceeded swimmingly, but that is not the case. The publishing house folded and I was left again without a publisher.
I again began the laborious and monotonous process of searching for another agent. This time, however, I had several positive reviews, including an overall five-star rating on Amazon.Com and an overall four plus-star rating at Barnes and Noble no less, with which to propagate my work. Despite these accolades and proof sources that my work sells, I still could not find an agent. I, thereby, took the resolute (and potentially arrogant) stance that it was “their loss” and again published my series on my own.
I tell you this not to dissuade, but to persuade. I fully believe that the independent authors out there today are better than almost anything in the mainstream publishing world. If agents and publishers want to miss out on the future then they may keep their same myopic vision that has lead to the publishing industry being in its current situation. Independent authors will move forward and succeed.
All you new writers out there continue to write. Look for an agent if you feel you want to adopt the more traditional route. Understand, though, that there are other avenues available to share your voice. That is your decision and there is now wrong decision except, of course, not writing. God Bless You All.