For question #1, do I want an agent to represent me? I’m going to be fairly ignorant on this point, because I haven’t ever really entertained the idea.
There are pros to having an agent represent your book: 1) S/he has more inside contacts in the publishing world, likely because s/he came form the publishing world, and will be able to determine to which publishing companies to market your book; 2) S/he can work with you, like an editor, to get your book to the proper publishing standards, which I CAN say from personal experience in doing this alone, would be a HUGE advantage; 3) S/he will help you in the marketing of the book, at least, in the planning and initial execution stages. It’s in the agency’s best interest for your book to sell well.
There are also cons: 1) There is an additional layer of submissions to go through, because you have to research and submit your work to many agencies/agents, just as you would with a publishing house; 2) You are not the only client the agent has, so, their time will be spread amongst many; 3) You lose some of your already miniscule royalties to the agency AND the publisher.
So the next question (#3) is time expectations. In my case, there are times in the year that would be more advantageous to release the book (eg, Lunar New Year in late Jan/Feb., or Asian American Heritage month in May). Since diverse books featuring minority children are already NOT big sellers in the marketplace, timing a publication where general interest may be higher, or being taught in schools, for instance, becomes way more crucial to success. If you’ve got no place to be, if your book happens to be of a more marketable subject like anthropomorphized animals, take the time with your submissions and keep going. It’s almost like a game of chance, where you may hit the right editor at the right time. But you don’t have a chance of doing that unless you’re submitting!