You have done your research and you know how to find the contact information for the potential agents. You have read Chuck Sambuchino's book on literary agents and all of his blog posts (and links). But the list is simply too large. Where on earth do you start with this process.
I do think that far too many writers rush this process. They are so eager to get that book out there and on the book shelves that they don't take the time necessary to find the right approach. In essence, they are getting ready to "throw" that book they have toiled over and worried over to "any old person who will take the story." Unfortunately, the odds are they will also receive far too many rejection letters to handle. Their believe in the publishing system will be gone and that time will be wasted.
I think it is worth remembering something I have said here on the blog before. Your story does not fit with every publisher and it certainly doesn't fit with every agent. There has to be a right fit for you to be successful with this book.
Starting like this author did, with finding lists of agents is obviously the right start. Take that list of agents and start narrowing it down Find the agents that A) are open to submissions at this point; and B) are actually people who represent your genre. You have to go beyond just reading this information from Chuck's book or on those massive lists compiled by websites such as Querytracker. This is a start, but things change, people leave and many of those sites don't give you all of the information you need.
I do have to say, I turn down so many people simply because they didn't do this step. They just found my email and sent me a project. Even more confusing, however, are the writers who email me from my website with projects that are simply not the things I acquire. Yes, I take romance and women's fiction, but there are certain "sub-genres" that I do not represent. That information is clearly posted on the website.
Once you have narrowed your list down to the people who represent your genre, it is time to start the real digging. What do you know about this person. Be careful just reading those random discussion boards. One thing I have found is that the sites are mostly filled with disgruntled writers who complain that they got a rejection letter. Sure, you can start there and see what you can find, but this is only the surface level. You better approach is going straight to the source.
Agents are out there all of the time on social media. Start following these people. See what they write about. Read their blogs and their articles. Watch for trends and patterns. This is also a time to read what they represent. Again, you are looking for patterns here. What you find will shock you!
As you read this material, you will find those little nuggets of information that might be the "make or break" point in your submission packet. For example, if you are sending me a story knowing the following little things I like and don't like might tell you I am either the right person or the wrong person for you:
- I reject stories where the protagonist cheats on the spouse.
- I reject stories that rely on over-the top baggage and drama to keep the story moving.
- I like inspirational stories that don't preach and don't obsess over Bible Quoting.
- I like women's fiction that makes me think (The first part of Eat Pray Love in Italy was awesome)
- If you writer historical, you have to compete against my established historical authors.
- I don't like authors who think their project doesn't have to follow the submission guidelines
But wait, there is more!
If you think you have an idea of who you want to represent you, then take the time to go to a conference where the person is speaking. Listen to the panel discussion. Meet with them during a Q and A session. This is crucial since that person might now not be the type of person you thought he or she was on paper.
In simple terms, this process takes time. It takes energy. And most of all, it takes some critical thinking skills. You don't just wake up one morning, say you are going to get married and grab the first person who is looking? You find the right person and guess what, their name is not simply on a list of "I am looking to get married today."