There's more than one way to getting published. Agents are one avenue. But not the only avenue. With more and more smaller publishers getting bigger, and big publishers opening the doors to unagented submissions, or just plain self-publishing, it all just depends on what road you'd like to take. I just don't want writers to give up at that point after the agent search has ended. That's not the end of your book. And that shouldn't be the end of your dream either. There's more options out there. Doing as much research as possible for your book, is key.
UNLESS the agent is very reputable and has great contacts and is truly willing to help you get your book out there, I would suggest you tread carefully on who you sign with. You’re wasting your time if you go with a less-than-perfect agent. An agent that hasn’t gotten any solid sales from major publishers, or an agent that shops your book around to places you can submit to yourself? What’s the point?
There are many things an agent can help you with, such as editing, marketing, helping you get a better deal of course, but not all agents are created equal. It's best to do your research before you sign. And don't hesitate to ask questions too. You don't want a mediocre agent that only submits your book to a handful of places and then says to you, we’re going to scale down now and submit to smaller publishers. Why? When you know in your heart there’s several other places your agent can submit to? Clearly an agent like that doesn’t have enough contacts.
And for those authors that find themselves an offer from a publisher that think you need an agent for, not necessarily so on that either. You can just as easily have a literary lawyer look at it for a one time flat fee, rather than paying the agent 15% off the advance and 15% off of all your royalties on the book. If you do this the wrong way, you may get burned. Especially if your money streams out of the agency first. And to think when you got the deal in the first place? No, sorry. It just doesn’t make any sense.
Some authors are more successful self-publishing their books then the authors with agents AND publishers. Most of the time because the agent placed it with some small publisher. And believe me, there are agents out there that leech off authors like that. Continually placing their authors with these tiny publishers and never getting a better deal for them is darn right stealing from an author. If you want to get published the right way, you'll need to be aware of such things. The whole reason behind even getting an agent is so that agent can get you into places that you couldn’t normally get into yourself.
There’s good agents and there’s bad agents. Just as there’s good publishers and bad publishers. Could you see if you got a bad agent and a bad publisher? IF you’re not savvy enough to know what’s going on in the publishing industry, it could happen to you. The best thing to do for your book is research the shit out of who you are sending it to. With all those internet scammers out there, if you’re not fully aware of what’s going on, they could get to you. And believe me, having a bad agent is worse than not having an agent at all. And having a bad publisher is a complete disaster. Warning signs for that are things like poor communication, poor editing on other books of theirs. Not good with distribution. Poor marketing. I could go on and on.
I'm not suggesting all agents are bad, or all (not so well known) publishers are bad. I just want writers to know they have options. Actually quite a few. Even if you get rejected by what you think every agent and publisher out there, there's another around the corner. New publishers opening, old publishers expanding. Same goes for agents too. The Guide to Literary Agents is a good resource in finding new agents too.
Just know there are other options out there just waiting to be explored. Whatever you decide to do, rule number one: Never give up on your publishing dream. If you feel as though you need to trunk a novel, write a new one and begin the process again.
Unless you’re just writing for leisure purposes, don’t give up on your dream of getting published. Keep open to that possibility always and try to keep your submissions active for as long as possible. Keep at it. Just as a side note about vanity publishers, since I haven't covered them. Stay away. Any publisher asking or money from you is a crime. Don't equate it to self-publishing either. It's not the same thing, not in the least. With self-publishing, you have full control and places that give you much better royalty rates. Bottom line, keep options open. Do your homework and search, and research again. With determination and information, you can get there too!