OK, I've looked at Writer's Market and AAS, and narrowed my list down to... 132 possible agents. How do I pick who to send to first? Does it matter? If you have an agent, how did you find him or her? Regrets? Advice?
You've got your list. Just start sending the queries. There isn't a real strategy. You'll get a feel for what works and doesn't.
The farthest I got with an agent was a request for full. The agent had nice things to say, but turned me down. In the end, I went with a small publisher, then another small publisher, then the self-pub route.
Best to you!
I would eliminate any agents who have no interest in your sub-genre. Some who like a cozy won't have any interest in hardboiled & vice versa, etc. Go first with the agents who represent your type of novel. Also you can't spend enough time on the query--do it right even if it takes a little extra time. Make sure you're opening & first chapter are the best you can possibly do, even if it takes a lot of extra time, in case you get a bite. Also, if you don't get lucky with a large or small publisher that is willing to do something for you don't forget the Indie route. I'm involved in it myself now.
Jed is right about making sure the agent represents your genre and your particular approach. Furthermore, make sure that he/she actually has a good number of clients in that genre. The agent should have a web site that features the clients.
What I've done, and it's secured representation for me many times by now, is target the dream agents first, the ones who rep big best sellers in my genre, then work my way down.
If you start at the top of the food chain then you've got nothing to lose and it gives you a chance to hone the query letter when you have the least to lose, the least likelihood of succeeding. (There's nothing quite like ten straight rejections to see your query letter with new eyes!)
If you don't know who the big agent names are in your field you can ask here, of course, but you can also read up on your favorite authors, see the front of their books. Often the agents will be mentioned on the acknowledgements page of a novel. Or simply Google for a bit...
I'd recommend Eric's strategy with a slight twist, and that's to start querying from the top down, but NOT before you're sure your query is working.
You don't want to "practice" or "try out" your query on agents. There are other, less drastic ways to find out if it's working. At the risk of sounding self-serving, you can join a writers community like the one I run, Backspace, where the discussion forums are private (iow non-Googleable, so there's no risk of a prospective agent seeing your early query attempts) and where a fair number of the people who will offer suggestions on your query are agented and/or published.
Or you can buttonhole a few agented/published authors you happen to know and ask them to take a look.
Or you can read and read and read some more on how to craft a great query (I LOVE Marcus Sakey's advice here: http://www.murderati.com/blog/2012/1/23/marcus-sakey-on-successful-...)
Writing a query isn't rocket science, but your query really should be absolutely stellar from the start - you don't want to waste a single agent possibility by querying them with a letter that doesn't do your project justice.
I would go with one or more of Karen's recommendations. The goal should indeed be to get requests for the ms from the outset.
Nonetheless, I've seen people workshop their queries to death and yet still whiff on the ms requests. Partly this happens when presented with conflicting advice, partly because people don't always listen to advice (until they've struck out enough times).
Hey you guys,
ALL of this helped, so thanks! I found this great website, querytracker.net, that has good basic info about agents and publishers more or less at one's fingertips, and a place to keep a list of agents / publishers queried. Naturally, there's a paywall for the higher-level bells and whistles, but the free membership is working well for my research at this point.
I also sent my query letter to query shark -- if she decides to post it, I think I would ask her to take it down after I've gotten the feedback, so it's not there for agents to see later. Hopefully it's good enough not to make it to her wall, though :)
If any of y'all would like to take a look, I have the pitch posted here.The book also has its own Facebook page with the pitch included (even though I think Facebook is Evil). My query letter is that pitch with a concluding line giving the word count and "thanks for your consideration."
The list is winnowing down. I've got first-level and second-level picks that will probably be less than 30 each, so that's some postage/time saved.
I didn't see a query letter, just a blurb. Query letters should be short, covering the book in 2 or 3 sentences, your credentials ditto, and then a closing statement. If they want a synopsis, you need to follow their specifics for it.
The best query site on the 'net: http://queryshark.blogspot.com
Check Writer Beware - http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/
Check the AW water cooler - http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/
Agent Query is also good - http://www.agentquery.com/
You can narrow down the list by checking the agent's websites to determine what sorts of books they're looking for. I assume you already know to stay away from anyone who charges a reading fee.
Another option is Writers' Conferences. I know few authors that got published with the query letter approach, though I hear success stories all the time. But it's always a friend of a friend of a friend. I have several friends that obtained agents at conferences. It's more expensive and time consuming, but seems to be a better approach for some.
Sounds like a great story, Minerva! You'll want to cut your book description by about half for your query letter, and leave out all the extraneous names. I see you don't want your query hanging "out there," so I'll send you my suggestions privately here.