I've been plugging away at the writing thing for twenty years, so I've picked up industry info as I went. Now I take it for granted that everyone knows all about this business. It isn't until a new writer asks a question that this is highlighted. I am in no way claiming to know a heaping load, but I do know one or two things. And I'm happy to share.
Therefore, I've decided to blog my answer because I believe it will help other new writers. And despite what those in the know may think, it's not because I'm lazy...I mean frightfully busy, and can't come up with anything to blog. I promise you, it's because I want to help the new writers out there.
Let's take a walk to my office...
The reason authors prefer to be represented by agents is because agents can get authors better deals. They can get your book in front of editors who wouldn't look at a slush pile. There are a lot of publishers these days who will only look at work sent in by an agent.
Agents get us better deals. Sometimes if more than two houses are interested in your book, they can start a bidding war and you can end up with a major book contract--major contracts are anything over 500,000 £/$.
Having an agent frees the author to concentrate on writing while she has someone to deal with the selling. Agents know the market and can give great guidance as well as advice on editing/polishing.
Plus, when you have an agent you can sell to several different publishing houses--not the same book! Your other work. Although, books are often resold/reprinted by other publishers once the rights revert back to the author. All they do is change the title and note it on the cover. ie first published under the title bla-bla-bla.
You don't have to worry about fitting your book into a market, the agent takes on this headache. They also deal with foreign rights and translation rights and... oh please, Heavenly Father... film rights! So, all in all, an agent is a most desirable thing to have if you want to hit the potential big times.
Now, Avon is an imprint of Harper Collins, which is owned by News Corporation--a combination of the British publishers William Collins, Sons and Co Ltd, and the American company Harper & Row. They publish primarily romance novels. They are big and one of the very few publishers still accepting unsolicited manuscripts/queries.
Hope that gives you a quick rundown of a tiny part of this wonderful industry we're in and the advantages of having an agent.
Can I offer you a hot drink? Tea? Coffee? Herbal? "James!" That's my assistant