I am currently waiting to hear from an agent on my novel. It's worth noting why agents are important, if only to keep myself motivated!
I should note that I've have terrible luck with agents, but I still think they are well worth the 15% commission, not to mention the work to get them. This is despite the fact that I sold Motivate Your Writing! without one.
When my wife Toni started trying to sell her first novel, Down Home Murder (not what it was called then; the publisher changed it from Long-Tailed Cat), she sent both to agents and to publishers, not knowing any better. She kept asking people how to get an agent, and most would say "well, there are books listing them." When she cleverly asked how they got their agent, they would typically answer "Oh, I knew someone." Hm. Helpful advice, yes?
Of course, one of the most annoying questions authors get asked is "who's your agent?" because it is often immediately followed by "what's their address?" Sorry, folks, no writer is going to give up their agent's address to a stranger -- and for good reason -- unless the agent is explicitly looking for new folks. Toni was tactful enough not to ask if they didn't volunteer. Ultimately, she got one out of the book. So it is possible, so there!
Now, Toni had been looking for a solid year. Maybe more. She has an inch-thick stack of rejection letters to prove it. Toni's agent said "I'll submit to six. If I can't do it in six, I'll return your book." Six! And as it happens, she sold it to the third or fourth, and it was to a publisher that Toni had approached twice.
How? Because she knew that this publisher had a new line, and a new editor that Toni had not approached, and this editor was looking for regional amateur mysteries with female leads. Bingo! It is easy to forget that being an agent is as much a profession as writer or editor -- their job is to know the field, and know how to approach it.
The relationship is not unlike that you might have with a therapist or coach -- the chemistry is key. An agent has to believe in you and your work wholeheartedly.
I've had a couple of near-misses. For example, I had one agent interested in MYW! years before I got it published. He saw me present at the Southern Mystery Gathering, and this convinced him to read the manuscript. He apparently fought his own agency for a solid month, because the others weren't convinced there was enough of an audience, and they needed a unanimous decision. Sigh.
I have a new agent, who was interested based on my now-published book, and I have been discussing the new book with her off and on over the past year or so (okay, I've been busy!), but she declined my novel. I'm not surprised -- it's not her thing. If you write over a wide range, you may need more than one. So I'm approaching an agent who is the very successful agent for a friend of ours, who recently appeared on the NYT bestseller list with a book of similar theme. Our friend read it and was willing to pass on her positive judgment to her agent. This is gold, folks, but I'm not foolish enough to think it's a done deal. So I'm plugging along on book two (over 20,000 words now, and growing). The worst that happens is I hunt down some more agents. Knowing what I do now, with a full manuscript in hand with positive statement from a known author, if I can't sell this, I'll be able to rewrite it and sell it, or, at worst, sell another one. It's just a matter of time.
Good thing I've been busy this week so I don't think about it, though...