Time was, in kid-lit, when the answer was that you may want an agent to provide the editorial support, submitting work, negotiating contracts, and general hand-holding, but you didn’t need one.
Do you need an agent nowadays?
Today you can self-publish and even launch a small press at a fraction of the cost of what it would have been in “olden days,” only a generation back. E-books and online book retailers have made marketing a possibility. The stigma of self-publishing is also receding some, and many traditionally published authors have done well moving that-a-way. You don’t need or want an agent to self-publish.
Do you need an agent if you want to be published by a publishing house that pays you?
You don’t need an agent for many of the smaller and self-started publishers who still accept unsolicited submissions directly from writers. Medium and larger houses may still accept submissions intermittently, or through personal contact with an editor after attending a seminar or conference with them. You need a great story and persistence, and an agent would be helpful. But you don’t absolutely need one.
But do you need an agent to get a traditional contract with any imprint of a large and established publisher if you have no contacts or the budget for conferences?
Yup. You pretty much do. You need an agent to even have a smidgen of a shot at that.
Grateful for my agent. She’s the definition of persistence.