I know nothing about the agenting process since I got published quite by accident through a small, start-up press.
Agents scare me. It's the gatekeeper before an editor will even talk to you. Gatekeepers scare me-- they're meant to keep people away, not welcome them in. (Okay, a lot of stuff scares me, but that's another story.)
However, it is possible to get published without an agent. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Small, regional or niche presses will often accept nonagented submissions. I know, I researched enough of them. Course you have to do your homework. You've got to "meet their needs," "fit their niche," and all that. You have to be able to take rejection....argh!! But that goes without saying. If you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. (I'm glad blogging wasn't around when I was first trying to get published, or I would've just done this and forgotten about submitting, thus avoiding rejection.)
Remember Marty's dad in Back to the Future? He wrote sci fi stories and when Marty told him they were good enough to get published, he cringed and said, "I don't think I could take that kind of rejection." That's why I always avoided agents-- because I couldn't take that kind of rejection. I used to check publisher guidelines and only submit to those with "nonagented submissions okay." I didn't want to get turned down by an agent before I even made it to the editor-- way too much rejection for my fragile psyche!
Now that I'm older, and published, my skin is a bit tougher. I'm not afraid of publishers anymore, or editors, or bookstore owners. I got the best compliment last week from a bookseller, who said that reading Uncut Diamonds was like talking to someone over the back fence. I like that, because it's how I intended the novel to be, shows she gets it. I wanted it to be like someone dropping in on this family and being part of their lives for a time. ANYHOO, so I'm no longer afraid of any of them because I've gotten to know them and to understand they're just people doing a job. And yes, the compliments do help!
Except for agents. I'm still afraid of them. Who are you most afraid of in the publishing industry? Agents, editors, publishing CEOs, booksellers, readers, reviewers? Or is fear not even part of your vocabulary?
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown
"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it." ~Jesse Stuart
"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf