Finding a Literary Agent is Difficult but not impossible
Finding a literary agent is rarely easy. Publishing agents are selective. They accept only a few clients a year, and only those they believe they can successfully market. It's important to approach them with the same professionalism you would approach a prospective employer. Your writing and your demeanor must give an agent confidence.
You will have the least amount of trouble finding a literary agent when you have something to offer—you have just won a prize or have been offered a book deal, so enter contests regularly.
I'm not certain my literary agent would have returned my call if I had not just been shortlisted for a major prize when I contacted her. However, I lucked out, and finding a literary agent was not difficult for me. I had already done my research, and I approached the agent I believed to be the best and most powerful in the country. She asked to see my manuscript and subsequently offered to represent me.
When you already have an offer on the table, an agent will be much more likely to see you as an opportunity in the making. You're also more likely to be of interest if you have published a significant number of short stories or have published a successful book with a small press.
Steps to Finding a Literary Agent
Most importantly, be certain your manuscript is ready for publication—seek a professional opinion on this!
Be sure your synopsis is strong—again, seek professional help.
Do your research:
-- Ask other authors which agent they prefer and why -- Research these agents on the Internet and in publishing magazines to see which names come up most often, what they've sold recently, and what others say about them -- Make a shortlist of your "top" agents -- View their web sites to see who they publish and if they are accepting new clients -- Be sure they publish the sort of writing you do--literary, genre, etc. -- Read their submission requirements
Attend writing conferences where agents on your shortlist will be present
Talk to the agents and listen to what they tell you
Ask for permission to send your manuscript to each one after you have implemented their advice
When your ms. is ready, follow the agency's submission guidelines exactly
Wait until you hear from the agent—if you hear nothing for thirty days, call the office assistant and ask about your ms.
If the agent tells you that he or she cannot represent you, do NOT call or email to ask why—you will be remembered as someone to avoid
If you receive numerous rejections, reconsider the quality of your manuscript and seek help from a different professional or writing conference