ooh I 'd love to be going but I'm in Aus LOL...bugger! So glad you are here to answer questions. I'm sure I can get a few asked and maybe point a few others here as well.
I guess one of the main questions buring on every writer's lips is. to agent or not to agent? I definitely will when i can sang a good one.
How long did it take you to get an agent? Are you still with the same one you started with, Did you get one pre or post publication...there see...now I'm asking multiples.
Bummer you won't be at RWA! But yes, we can do a virtual RWA instead :-).
I have sold books with and without an agent and definitely think it was easier and more beneficial to me (the deal, I mean) when I had an agent. It took me a LONG time to sell and get an agent in fiction because, well, it took me a long time to learn how to write good fiction, LOL. I started out in non-fiction, writing articles, and the transition to fiction was not easy for me. I had had great success on the articles side but going from writing from my head to writing from my gut was a big change. I wrote 10 books in 8 years before finally selling. I got my first agent around book 8.
The entire long story to publication (including when I quit writing and fired my first agent) is on my website here.
I recently parted company with my second agent, only because I felt we were moving in two different directions and I wanted someone that had the same vision for my career. I liked my second agent very much. I just wanted someone who saw my work the same as I did. Sometimes someone new has a fresh approach to your work, and that's what I was looking for.
With my agent, I have ALWAYS gotten more money in my advances than I could have gotten on my own, and always gotten better terms. It's been easier to deal with awful editors (and you always get at least one at some point) because you can use the agent as a go-between. There is someone there looking out for bad clauses. When you write for two houses, as I do, the agent keeps your schedule and your career on track. And an agent is a great cheerleader and advocate for your career.
IF you have the right agent. A bad agent is worse than no agent at all. So it's really important that you find an agent who works for and with you and really GETS you. I have talked to many agents who wanted to represent me but didn't GET me. Didn't get my work, didn't quite understand where I was going. I had to gel with them and they with me, and if that wasn't happening, neither of us would be happy. It's kind of like a marriage.
And above all, remember that they work for you. That's hard to do, because writers are always so amazed that an agent wants them. But truly, without you, the agent wouldn't make any $$ off the sale. So you have to keep the working relationship in mind and not be afraid to speak up, and to keep the reins in the career.
I have an article on Agents on my website, too, and it has a few more dos and don'ts.
HTH. Do you have more questions? I'm more than happy to answer anything!