It depends on the writer and where they are in their writing life. Most major presses require an agent for submissions, lots of writers are not comfortable dealing with publishing contracts or negotiating, nor can they keep up with the daily changes in the publishing industry or keep on top of what houses are looking at what type projects. In short a writer works with an agent in areas where they could use support. If they don't need the help, they don't need an agent.
How can a writer, who is unpublished, best prepare themselves to be a published author?
In two primary ways, continuing to improve their writing skills and to start building name identification that they can use for marketing purposes once they have a product to sell. Waiting to start doing that until the product is available is way too late to get started. And as to the writing skills, agents and editors get hundreds of good projects submitted to them, far more than they can handle. That means a good project is not good enough, it takes exceptional, it takes standing out from all of the other good projects to make that editor or agent connect with it and want to handle it.
How important is it for writers to invest in conferences?
This is one of the primary avenues a writer uses to improve those skills I was just talking about. It is a jumping off point for the networking that can help build the name identification I said was necessary, and it is a great place to connect with other people who understand the curious world of a writer and know what we are up against.
What type of writers are you looking for at Write-to-Publish?
I'm looking for that exceptional story that stands out from all the other good projects. The genre is not as important as the writing and whether I connect with it. The things we DON'T handle are spelled out in our submission guidelines at www.hartlineliterary.com as are the things we like to see in a proposal and how we like to receive them. I have a solid client base, but there's always room there for that terrific project that I identify strongly with and want to help get it to market.