Literary agents are absolutely required if you expect to sell fiction to one of the big New York publishing houses. These publishers won’t even open unsolicited or unagented submissions.
Smaller and regional presses will vary in their acceptance of agented vs. unagented work. Some only accept manuscripts from agents, while others perfer to work with authors directly. Non-fiction authors usually find a warmer welcome, sans agent, especially if they are a recognized expert in their field. Again, the bigger the house, the more critical the agent’s role.
Las Vegas attorney and author Tami Cowden recently addressed the Las Vegas Writers Group on the subject of agents and how to acquire representation. LVWG “scribe” Megan Edwards provides a useful summary. The LVWG is a warm and welcoming organization to authors in all stages of their writing careers, from unpublished beginners to multi-book veterans.
The summary can be downloaded here.