So this week I decided to open up that section of the 2010 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market that lists agents. After spending long hours through December and January researching publishers (a lot more hours than I was able to spend writing, I might add) I felt compelled to find someone else to do this job so I could get back to writing. After researching agents in general, I've become convinced that the good ones are worth their salt, and I'll be very happy if I can find one who likes my manuscripts and is willing to assist by finding a home for them.
I think agents are important for the following reasons:
1. They know what to look for in contracts. (This is a big one. I do not like trying to understand legal documents, so I'd rather pay someone else to do it.)
2. They are able to submit to houses that only take manuscripts from agents. (No more closed doors.)
3. They have your best interests at heart, since what benefits you also benefits them in negotiations. Since they're used to the negotiation process, they can probably get a better deal than you can.
4. They're good at matchmaking when it comes to authors and publishers. With their fingers on the pulse of the market, they're more likely than you are to make good submission choices. (At least I hope so.)
5. It's a good thing for an author to have an accountability to another individual, because I think it raises the professional standard in an author's mind. Your writing doesn't just affect you anymore. It also affects the agent who represents you. Thus it is potential motivation for you to continue to perfect your craft for their well-being too.
I'm finding that, just as it's harder to find a publisher for a picture book than for other types of youth fiction, it is also harder to find an agent. As far as I can tell, more agents take other kinds of youth fiction than take picture books, so the search is on to find the right agent. But although the market is challenging for picture books, I remind myself to keep my chin up. At least there IS a market out there for picture books, and a little competition is a good thing.