There is a lot of chat amongst my artist friends about whether or not to have an agent, so I thought I would add my two cents. I have always had an agent, and the busier I get, the more I am grateful for having one!
To start with, my theory was that as I have no head for business, it would be wise to have someone to represent me who understood contracts and financial dealings. I have sat in on meetings with my clients, and as soon as they start talking about production runs, mass market versus specialty, royalties, skus, oh, my head starts to spin!
Now that I have been in this business for a long time, I have started to see other benefits.
1. Agents generally know the track record of the companies they work with, so even if a client is new to me, my agent can tell me what to expect from working with them.
2. Agents get "calls for submissions" from the clients. Maybe if I was famous, the clients would contact me directly with what they need, but generally they have a pool of agents, and when they need something they send out an e-mail asking for it. This doesn't mean that I create something new on the off-chance that it will get picked. Once you've been in the biz for a while, you end up with a big stockpile of images. So if a clients asks for apples, for example, my agnet will send them five or six apple paintings from my portfolio.
3. Agents can tell you about general trends they are seeing from their clients, and that helps me decide what new work to create. I can keep track of things like color trends, but sometimes there is a certain subject matter that all of a sudden everybody seems to be looking for.
4. My agent also helps me keep track of what I need to do. My work is a balancing act of painting what I want to paint, and fulfilling requests from clients. My agent helps me prioritize, otherwise I would be in a complete tizzy. Right now I spend a lot of time just keeping up with the clients' needs, and sending files, and making tweaks to designs, and generally keeping my paperwork in order. I can't imagine how much more time I would spend on that if I had to represent myself as well. I would never have time to paint!
Of course, everyone needs to decide what is best for them. Some people are much better at the business side of things than me, so they would be reluctant to pay an agent to take care of that for them. Licensing agents generally take 50% of the income, so it is an important financial decision to make. I have been lucky to have worked with some really great women, who have made my career much more succesful than it would have been without them. So that's my two cents.