A literary agent is a writing agent. They are professionals who specialize in marketing and promoting your book. Literary agents can also be a lifeline for a writer seeking to get published. The majority of publishers throw manuscripts directly into the slush pile if they are not represented by a reputable writing agent. Getting a literary agent takes more than just finding someone who does that sort of work and paying them to do it. Literary agents are choosy about the writers they will represent, and rightfully so. The more success they have in helping writers get published and sell more books, the more in demand they will be as a writing agent.
Write a quality manuscript and understand into what genre it falls. Literary agents will want to deal with professionals and most literary agents specialize in certain genres.
Have your manuscript professionally edited if it is your first manuscript. This will greatly improve your chances of a literary agent taking you seriously as a writer.
Research literary agents. Find out who specializes in your genre, how much experience they have, if they are willing to work with new writers and what they demand of writers who wish to work with them.
Work on your writer's resume. The more credits you can offer of your writing, the more tempted a literary agent will be to take you on. Submit articles to various magazines and trade publications, perhaps even respected websites. Any writing you have had published should be noted.
Write a synopsis of your book. A literary agent is not going to want to review the entire manuscript before they have decided that they are interested in working with you.
Study the art of writing a good query letter. Agents have been won and lost over the quality of a query letter. Do your homework on this one. Writer's Digest has many great books covering query letters.
Inform the various literary agents that you are submitting your proposal to other agents, if that is the case. It will likely take submitting to many literary agents before you find one, so submitting to many at once can be a time saver for you.
Be open minded to an agent's suggestions, but know when to stand firm as well.
Never hire a literary agent who charges you upfront fees to represent you. Literary agents are paid on a commission basis when they obtain royalty fees for your manuscript with a book publisher.