Right now we are waiting for responses from six agents reviewing our work. One for screenplays, the other five for partials or full manuscripts of my books. I wrote the first installment in a historical mystery series and a young adult historical novel a while ago and decided recently to re-enter the "getting published" marathon.
Not too long ago, you could directly approach most publishers. But now, many require an agent as a pre-screening mechanism. Agents are firmly in the power seat as gatekeepers.
Fortunately many allow email queries and many have been surprisingly prompt about replying, either with a no or a request for more. Right now, about half are responding positively to the mystery series. The YA is a bit of a harder sell, as it is very different from what is out there.
Finding the right agent can seem like a quest for the Holy Grail. First, they have to be open to new clients. Then they have to "love" your work and "be enthusiastic" about it. Some have websites so intimidating with their talk of representing "only the best" writers that you want to fold the cover of your laptop and slink away. Others--like the ones I hope to work with--seem genuinely nice, approachable and helpful to writers.
It takes weeks to get a decision. And that waiting time is fraught with the usual pitfalls of self-doubt, impatience and perhaps, most dangerously, a tendency to put your writing on hold. Probably because getting an agent seems like the next logical, necessary step. Why should I work on book two of my series if it ain't going to fly? I'm at the point in my writing career where I have many many ideas. I don't want to slave for years anymore on spec. And yet, I know that unless I heed the stories and characters that live in my head, demanding to be released, writing will be no more than just another job. And, with due respect to industry professionals, it isn't wise to assign them too much power over what I write, or how, or to put myself on hold for their decisions.