Before authors are agented they spend a lot of time learning and networking. Conferences are for fun, but they are primarily to attend workshops and pitch sessions to meet agents (and editors). One of the biggest mistakes an agented author makes is deciding that none of that is necessary now that you have an agent. That there’s no reason to learn or network because you now have an agent to do all of that for you. This sort of thinking can completely derail, or at the very least slow, a career.
Having an agent is not like hiring a cleaning crew, it does not mean you no longer have to do the cleaning, it only means you have a partner to clean with. You might not need to scrub the toilet any longer, but you still need to pick up the mess so the crew can get to the toilet. Okay, that was a horrible analogy. What I mean is that, an agent is your partner in building a publishing career and while she definitely has the contacts and the knowledge, a little bit extra from you can go a long way. After all, where do you think we learn some of what we know?
Having an agent who knows what editors want and which specific editors are best for your book is valuable, but having the opportunity to pitch yourself and network with editors directly, getting them to fall in love with you, is priceless. Trust me, if I have the opportunity to pitch to an editor who already likes you and wants to work with you, only because you are so charming, that goes a long way in how she feels about the book before I even send it. Does it mean a guaranteed sale? Of course not, you still need to write a great book, but, as I’ve said before, who you know can take you far in life.