I can only go by my personal experience, but I have been very happy with my small press publications. No, I didn’t make a fortune on them (yet), but I learned a lot about publishing through them. And they are very caring and personal and do help with marketing more than I expected.
The fact that I had published with a small press (self-publishing isn’t as helpful as you don’t go through the acceptance process), that I had requests from several editors and other agents, and had established a good social media presence got me my agent. I pitched to her directly when she came to give a talk at my local RWA chapter, and we hit it off. I love her. She just moved up to a bigger agency and asked me to come with her so that is exciting.
If you do want to pitch to agents and editors, here are two things I found worked. One is to participate in twitter pitchfests – I got 2 requests that way. Then I go to the New Jersey Romance Writers Conference yearly even though its a bit of a haul to get there. It’s close to NY city so they get all the major publishers and agents, but unlike RWA national, it is calm and orderly and there are sufficient spots for formal pitching for everyone.
Whatever you decide, be sure to write up your summary and query letter and submit them here for critique.