This is a do as I say, not as I do primer for fiction writers. I'm still looking hard for an agent to represent my mystery.
Method one: Have someone refer you to an agent.
This is the most effective way to find an agent. You're coming to them recommended by someone in the business that they trust. Most agents will give your work a hard and fair look.
Method two: Attend a conference.
Many writers' conferences give attendees an opportunity to meet agents face-to-face and pitch their work. If the agent is interested, they will often request a 'partial' (two or three chapters and a synopsis). If they're really interested, they might request to see the entire manuscript. If so, you've done a great job of selling yourself and your novel.
I've attended the Willamette Writer's Conference in Portland and ended up with three requests for partials. The Maui Writer's Conference is perhaps the best known of these events and if you make a sale, you get to deduct your travel expenses on your income tax. Other West Coast conferences that have agent conferences are:
Surrey International Writer's Conference in British Columbia,
The Southern California Writer's Confernce which holds conferences in LA, San Diego and Palm Springs.
The San Diego State University Writer's Conference
Method three: Query an agent
This is the least effective, but often necessary method of hunting for an agent. I started by establishing a list of 50 agents to query using a variety of sources.
Books: 2005 Guide to Literary Agents published by Wrtier's Market.
Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents 2005; Herman is an agent and this book is standard reference for most. The problem as with most print book is that the material will be out of date as soon at the book hits the shelves, but still it's well worth looking at.
Websites: Publisher's Marketplace - Great for searching for agents by genre.
Guide to Literary Agents - Lists agents hunting for clients, but has not been updated in several months.
Agent Query - Another great resource for searching for agents.
Association of Author Representatives - Search by keyword for an agent that has agreed to the AAR Canon of Ethics
Individual agency websites: Use a web search engine; i.e., Google or Yahoo to find the web addresses for literary agencies.
Newsletters: Publisher's Marketplace issues a weekly free e-mail newsletter that lists a few of the publishing deals consumated within the last week. Though the newsletter is free, the information is limited. You can subscribe for full access to their publishing deal database for $20 a month. It all depends how desperate you are.
Your local library: Your local library is a source of free information about literary agents. Look at books similar to yours. Often, the author will thank their agent in the acknowledgement or dedication.
Next time, I'll talk about how to sort through your list to determine which agents you want to query first.