When to get an agent
Question: I thought that you got an agent and then they helped you get a publisher but someone told me you usually get a publisher and then after you get your first book published you get an agent. Which one is right or are they both right and it just depends on you? Also when you're ready for an agent how do you find one? Do you just google agents for books? I did that once and one of the websites took me to a lot of agents and the genre they represent but I wasn't sure how real that was. Is there a website or something you go to that has a list of agents to choose from?
I suspect what your friend meant was that it is easier to get an agent if you have already had one book published and it sold well. That is true. However, it is certainly possible to get an agent for your first book, especially if it has commercial potential or you have a platform. The odds of finding an agent quickly are seldom in anyone's favour (unless you are already famous for something), but it also helps if...
1) You have a great book.
2) You have a great book in a niche that publishers are currently looking for.
3) You target agents who are interested in your genre.
4) You are persistent and just accept that you will probably hear "no" many times before you hear "yes."
5) You follow each agent's submission guidelines.
6) You write a great query letter.
7) You go to conferences where you have the chance to pitch to agents in person.
8) Luck is on your side.
Some sites that list agents, their interests, and their submission guidelines are AgentQuery, Publisher's Market, and Preditors & Editors. Google them.
The last is particularly useful because it tells you which agents are less reputable, so you can steer clear of them.
You can also approach publishers directly. Again, follow each publisher's submission guidelines and target those who publish your genre. However, publishers can take many months to read a submission from an unagented, unpublished writer. Also, some of the big ones won't look at unsolicited manuscripts at all. Smaller publishers may be more open.
Either way, before you start querying agents or publishers, make sure your novel is finished and as good as you can make it.