I do not, presently, have an agent.
My first four novels are LDS Fiction, published through Covenant Communications, an independent niche market publisher based in Utah. They publish LDS Fiction, I write LDS Fiction, and they accept direct queries/submissions from authors. For me, it wasn’t necessary to get an agent in order to send them my work.
I am, however, working on a Young Adult novel that isn’t LDS specific, and will be better suited (I hope!) for a more general audience. When it’s finished, I’ll start looking for an agent that will represent me in the national market.
Do you need an agent? If you want to take a book to the national market and find a traditional publisher (which means you don’t want to self-publish) then YES, you need to find an agent.
A good literary agent can be your very best friend when navigating the waters of publishing. They understand contracts and know how to look out for your best interests. They understand the industry, they understand good writing. You need one.
Okay, not really the end because clearly, I’ve already published four books without an agent. But the LDS Fiction market is very different than mainstream publishing. And in many ways, that’s a wonderful thing. Even if I manage to snag an agent and get this third book into the national market, I still want to write LDS Fiction. I love working with the lovely people at Covenant, and I like writing books that are clean and good and true. It makes me happy, and there’s a good market for it.
But I will say this. If you decide to publish without an agent, whether within the LDS Publishing market, or without, be smart. Don’t be guilty of “I’m going to be published” euphoria and sign any contract that’s placed in front of you. Ask the right questions. Have an attorney that understands intellectual property law read over your contract and explain to you what you’re signing. Be honest (but realistic) about what your expectations are. Be kind, but forthright. If you don’t have an agent to ask about terms and negotiate deals that are mutually beneficial to you and your publisher, you have to be tough and do those things for yourself. It’s absolutely possible. Just be smart, ask the right questions, and arm yourself with knowledge.
Now really, The end.