Finding the right literary agent can make all the difference in your publishing process. It is important to spend time preparing before entering into a business relationship with an agent. Luckily, the internet provides easy access to information about most agents and can simplify your search and evaluation process.
Take your time to research potential agents before sending your query letter. There are many resources available to help you find the best match. Look for agents who not only claim to represent your genre, but who have actually made sales to quality publishing houses. The most important asset an agent has is contacts with editors. If they have successful sales to the top publishing houses in the past, it is more likely that those editors will take time to look at your book.
Avoid agents that charge reading or critique fees. Many of these people are not legitimate agents. When in doubt, try Googling the name of the agent with the word "scam" and see if anything comes up. It can be easy to spot a fake agent from the results of this search!
There are a large number of websites that can help you do your research. A few of my favorites are:
The Absolute Write forums have a section called "Bewares and Background Check" where you can read about people's experiences with agents and publishers. This is a good place to start protecting yourself from scam agents.
Agent Query is one of the most thorough search engines and information centers for agents. You can search by genre to find a list of agents that represent similar books. Their writers section also has a large amount of information about how to write query letters and submit to agents.
Publishers Marketplace is the only paid service I would recommend to writers besides the Writers' Market Website. It is the best place to keep up to date on industry news and current sales.
Many authors have information for writers on their website, from personal experiences to tips. One of my favorites is the Writer's Corner at Nicholas Sparks' website. He has a large amount of information, including sample query letters.
If you receive an offer of representation, make sure to ask any questions you have. One of the major stumbling blocks many authors have is communication. Some agents rarely update their clients about the status of their book unless there is an offer or requested revisions. Feel free to ask questions about how often the agent updates their clients. Make a list of any concerns you have and don't be shy to ask. A quick Google search can help you find additional questions if you have trouble thinking of any.
Make sure to take your time with any contract that an agent sends you. It is important that the contract has a clause to terminate the relationship if it is not working for you or your agent. Most agents will negotiate their standard agreement if there are small points that you would like changed.
Remember that the professional relationship you have with your agent can make or break your book. Take the time to do your homework, and you will have much better odds of success!