I got lucky with my first book. The publisher approached me and asked me to take on the project and I accepted. It doesn't get much easier than that. It wasn't my own idea, but it was one I enjoyed doing and it got my foot in the door.
But then I wanted to do my own book project and I had a decision to make - do I hire a literary agent to represent me or try to go it alone?
I aready had a proposal "ready to go" and was going to start approaching publishers when I was contacted by an agent who was interested in having me take on a project idea she had. Her timing was impeccable, I told her, because I also had this proposal of my own. After talking with her and thinking about it long and hard, I decided it was in my best interest to hire her and let her do the leg work.
Turns out my "ready to go" proposal wasn't ready to go at all! It needed a lot of work and my agent walked me through it step by step. We revised and revised until it was perfect. I was so sure my book was a hot commodity, I knew she'd have it sold and I'd be writing my little heart out in no time. That was last November. Now it's almost June and we're barely in the beginning stages of negotiation with one publisher after having been turned down by many. My agent has worked tirelessly, sending out feelers and copies of my proposal which have landed in the trash bin of most editors.
Though I personally may have gotten discouraged and given up long ago, my agent continued to push. Her personal relationships with many of these editors gives her a leg up that I never would have had when it comes to essentially cold-calling a sale. She knows how to communicate with them - what to say and what not to say. She is my Moses - the mediator between the Gods of publishing and lowly me.
My editor and I both have a lot of faith in this book and believe in it 100%, but it's humbling when the editors don't feel the same way. I am hopeful that I will finally have a contract in hand soon, and it is all thanks to the efforts of my agent. It would have been incredibly stupid of me to have attempted this alone. I know some people do it and they manage, but it really isn't advisable. I'm sure a lot of people give up on proposals that may have been accepted if they had hired an agent.
As far as money goes - yes, you have to share part of that if you hire an agent. But the advantage there is that an agent can also negotiate for more money in the first place. It all evens out.
I highly recommend finding a literary agent if you are new to the world of publishing and really want a fair chance at being heard by the editors.