I’m often asked by other writers–how do you get an agent? And the first question to ask is–do you need an agent? While I think it’s easier to have an agent in children’s publishing, it still isn’t absolutely necessary. For example, if you go to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conferences, all of the editors that you meet there will usually allow you to submit to them (within a timeline of approximately two months). Also, regional publishers are usually open and, if you receive the SCBWI bulletin, there are always editors who are moving to a new house asking for new submissions. Also, you can always query editors with a pitch letter, even if you can’t submit. And if you have credentials (like a recent MFA grad of a school like Hollins, Vermont College or Hamline) then, usually, they will be receptive to seeing queries.
So having an agent means less work in the submission process, but I still think it’s possible to publish without one. It just means that you absolutely need to join SCBWI and attend conferences each year in order to give yourself opportunity. There are literally dozens and dozens of conferences in every region of the country every year, so if you’re willing to go to a couple of each year, you will always have editors that you can submit to.
What will a (strong) agent do? They will be your business partner and offer career building advice, they will send your manuscript to editors with whom they have established relationships. They will be your advocate and champion. They will believe in you. They will read your manuscript and give you feedback that will strengthen your writing. Usually it’s global feedback not line edits, but it depends on the agent and their background.
What an agent can’t do. They won’t make your bed or make your meals or laundry or make you write every day or make you take your career seriously. Only you can do that. They can’t guarantee that you will be published but they can give you a very fair shot.
I got my first agent by attending the SCBWI conference in NY and asking an author that I admired who her agent was. She told me. I sent the agent my manuscript. Got rejected. Then sent another manuscript, got rejected and then sent another (yes, I’m persistent), and got an offer of representation! So don’t be shy about re-submitting a different manuscript to the same agent who rejected you. Also, most agents have assistants and their assistants usually only last a year so, even if one assistant doesn’t pass it on, the next one might. Two of my former agent’s assistants are now big time agents themselves and another is a very well known author, so be nice to assistants–you’ll never know who they will become!
After over a decade with the first agency that I signed with, I decided to go with a smaller more boutique agency, and that came through a recommendation by a fellow author. So don’t be shy about asking a buddy who they are represented by. Of course, it’s no guarantee that you will snag that agent but…who knows…
Good luck with your querying process.