Several hundred people visit my literary agent list every day. Many ask me how to find an agent when all they get are standard rejections of the kind: Sorry, too busy... or Sorry, not for me...
Thank you all who write, and I apologize for not being able to reply to everyone individually. Even though I am not the obvious person to be asked (given that with my three novels I am still un-represented) I think that after hundreds and hundreds of queries and countless conversations with other writers I can offer some general insight to agent hunting.
The process of (not)finding an agent can be very depressing, one that new writers may find easier to bear if they know up front that most agents will not reply to queries at all, whether emailed or snail-mailed (yes, even those with an SASE). Of the replies you will receive, most will be copy-pasted standard notes - No, thank you... Often you will receive a rude bugger off, or even a threat for... It is truly a bizarre world you will enter, in which a potential employee, rather than to thank you for offering them employment will spit at you (to be fare - of those agents who do reply - most will thank you for thinking of them). So, what is one to do but sit down and grind their teeth?
Be sure to keep a database of queried agents, complete with dates and the query letter version sent out (more about it below).
When you go through the full list of agents and still can’t find one to take you on... start over. Query again those who did not reply, as well as those who did - many agents do not read submissions - their assistants do, and assistants change frequently, so there’s a good chance that the second, or third time around you will reach an agent, and those who read queries may find yours appealing on the second try (yep, it happened to me several times).
Query other agents from the same house - few are those who will pass your query on to their colleague.
Change your query letter - concentrate on a different aspect of your story or characters.
Change your synopsis (as with the query letter).
Personalize your communication with agents - do not make it obvious that your are querying hundreds all at once (yeah, even I get those queries from writers!)
Start your query much as you would a thriller - with a bang, something that will catch the agent’s eye and interest right away. The letter should include a paragraph about the novel, a paragraph about you - particularly when your bio can be commercialized upon, as well as any publishing history.
If you think you’ve queried enough... see query statistics for my first novel.
Remember - most writers are not represented. You too can try publishers directly.
And last but not least... "Never give up, never surrender."