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Why do I want an agent?
Literary agents are essentially somewhere between the guardian angels and the mercenaries of the publishing world. They guide you through your career, bring your work directly to the people who matter, fight the contractual battles so you can spend more time on writing and promotion, and make sure you end up with the best possible deals.
The biggest benefit to having an agent is that they can get your manuscript out of the slush pile. An experienced agent has contacts in the publishing industry, and knows who publishes what, and what they're interested in. While to us mere mortals, the publishing industry behind a wall, an agent knows that Paul from Penguin Random House loves literary writing with a distinct voice, and that Bob from Pan Macmillan is a sucker for manuscripts set in the 1920s with snarky male characters.
Many writers have no connection to the industry. Often, they feel unsure of how to break in to the community or get their work noticed. But there are many organisations that support writers and their work, and provide professional development, alternate publishing pathways, connection to the community and advocacy. These organisations can truly help you get to the next level in your career.
Even if it seems as though these organisations have a different target market to what you're doing, it is worth sending them an enquiry. Often arts organisations will be able to mould their services around what you need, or provide you with advice on where to find the help you're after.