So this is the second post regarding Literary Agents, my first being why you need one and now this, how to get one.
Start off by getting yourself a copy of the Writers' & Artists' yearbook. Go through and highlight all the agencies who handle your genre. Do not approach an agency who don't touch your genre. It'll be a waste of time for everyone involved and three months longer you need to wait to get on the agency ladder.
Once you've drawn up a list of agencies, go through the list again and circle those who represent authors you adore and/or that you feel are representative of your style of writing.
Armed with this narrowed down list, check out their web sites and make sure that they are accepting submissions. If they are, make sure you understand their submission process. Some only accept by post, others might accept by email.
Make sure your typesetting is exactly as requested. Agents are busy people. They put in place rules specifically to make their hectic lives a little easier. If you break any of their submission rules, they will not bother with your submission or give it the time it deserves.
When it comes to your manuscript, yes get it as good as you can, but just polish the chapters they request in their submission rules. Don't bother polishing the entire thing because a) it might be a dead duck and you'll be wasting your time on something which never will quack and b) your manuscript will almost certainly change from the one you put under your agent's nose once they get involved with it. The agent wants to see from your manuscript if you can write, write with purpose, conviction and panache. And if your story idea contains something different.
Which leads me to the most controversial part of my advice.
Spend as long on your synopsis as you do your submitted manuscript. Your synopsis has to shimmer, startle, shine, surprise and excite. Agents get a lot of submissions every single day. They need to quickly see if your manuscript has got what it takes to lift above the masses and fly off the shelves. They'll do this by reading your synopsis first. If your synopsis is old hat, flat, or just plain boring, you've had it.
I'll let you into a secret. My agent rejected my submission on first approach but gave me a second crack of the nut because of the strength of my synopsis. What I'd failed to do was write what was documented in my synopsis (I know, go figure). His advice was to go away and rewrite what was in my synopsis and, when I had done that, go back to them. I did and the rest, as they say, is history. If my synopsis had been weak, I suspect I'd never have had a second chance.
So armed with your killer unique novel, perfectly encapsulated in a short startling synopsis and your opening three chapters, get sending.
I only ever sent to two agencies. The first rejected me because they didn't touch the genre of my work (I know, do as I say, not as I do) and the second accepted me second time around, so I never approached lots of agents simultaneously. This meant I never had to do the long dispiriting search for an agent. There's one camp who say send to all and sundry and go with the first, or the best, offer to come back to you. There's another who say out of courtesy approach one agency at a time, otherwise it'll cause conflicts and complications down the line when several sign you up at once.
I'll leave that one up to you to decide how you want to go about things.
Good luck and when you find your agent, I hope it's a match made in literary heaven. If it is, between you and your agent, nothing can get in your way.
For information, my agency is LAW in London. They are a very busy agency but they are accepting submissions. They are also fantastic.