If you're intent on getting your work into the hands of readers, a professional literary agent is likely to have the expertise and connections to make publishing your work a reality.
Narrow down your search for an agent by finding one or more who specializes in your subject matter. For lists of agents and their specialties, consult "Guide to Literary Agents, 2000," "Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents, 2000-2001" or the Association of Authors' Representatives Web site (aar-online.org).
Research any similar books that the agency has published.
Check out the number of clients the agent represents, the percentage of new writers represented, recent sales and how the agency deals with such critical issues as contracts, advances and marketing.
Write a one-page query letter to the agent including your publishing history, education and relevant biographical information. (For example, if your book is a medical thriller and you are a doctor, mention your expertise.) Also include information that may catch the agent's attention: how you got his or her name and any associates or friends in common.
Make sure your query is succinct, professional and error-free.
Include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE).
Wait six weeks to call and ask about the status of your query. An accomplished agent receives up to 1,000 queries each month, so be patient.
Be prepared to follow up with an outline and the first three chapters of your book if an agent is interested.
While a few publishers accept submissions directly from the author, most of the large publishers will only consider manuscripts from an agent. Even if you have dozens of book ideas, pitch just one at a time. It is not necessary to include any additional material or manuscripts. If an agent is interested, he or she will request sample chapters and an outline. Join a professional organization or association that focuses on your topic of choice. These groups often publish lists of the best agents who specialize in particular genres. Check the Acknowledgments pages of some books that are similar to yours to find out which agents represented them.
Some agents charge a "reading fee" simply for reading the manuscript or writing samples you submit. However, agents who charge reading fees are barred from membership in the Association of Authors' Representatives and are usually less reputable - and less effective - than those who do not. Avoid mass mailings to vast numbers of agents. It's unprofessional and a waste of time and money.