I recently started the query process for my first novel. All agents have rejected so far. You were one of them, but that's fine as it makes this question easier as I'm not expecting anything now except advice.
I decided to send the query directly to a publisher, got an immediate request for the full MS, followed shortly by a very promising followup they like it very much, would I consider...).
My question: Do I still need an agent and should I keep querying agents? Obviously this is far from a done deal and even if it were, there a many details that are new to me and I don't know if it would be the right fit, even though I'm thrilled.
By the way, I also submitted this MS to the Minotaur contest in December. After reading your blog, I realized that I needed to tell the interested publisher that I had done this, and since there was a 1-in-a-million (or thousands) chance that I might actually win, we agreed to wait to see if lightning strikes or not. They say they are still interested.
The question isn't whether you need an agent. Of course you do. Everyone does. (Hey, what do you expect from me, I'm an agent, of course I think you need one!)
The question is what to do if you can't get one. And a publication offer from a small press may not be the enticement to an offer of representation that you wish it was (not enough money is why.)
Keep querying obviously, but plan for what happens if you don't get one. Get the books on publication contracts. Do some research. Find the names of publishing lawyers and join one of the many author organizations that have resources for you to use.
There are a zillion reasons to have an agent but it won't kill you not to.
Good luck in the contest.