IF an author wants a major publisher, as Jody talks about here, then the writer needs an agent.
Read her post to understand the differences between the major publishing houses, small presses, and self-publishing.
Many houses do not accept unagented material, and you want to have a chance with a company like Simon & Schuster.
The way I understand it is, the big houses slush piles became humongous and that meant they had to pay money to have people read the manuscripts, most of which weren't very good. That's when they decided to only accept agented material.
Now if you decide to go the small press route you may not need an agent. But I believe they work with writers they already know or have already published. And I wonder about support after the book comes out.
I am posting about these things because I am preparing to query. I have given a lot of thought to the process, read articles from other writers, checked blogs of agents and I have come to the conclusion that for me anyway, an agent is definitely in my NEAR future.
My search for an agent has been made easy thanks to QueryTracker. I always check the websites of the prospective agents, and I rely on Preditors and Editors too.
And always remember to be professional.
No blubbering after an agent as she/he goes into the restroom. (I don't think they like that.) No desperate phone calls after you have sent your query, and never forget what your mama taught you. If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all. Any thoughts on major houses versus small presses? Let's hear them. =)