I’m a member of the Writer’s Market. One of the features they offer is a list of different literary agents and the genres they work in. Each agency on the site has a brief summary of what they’re looking for in manuscripts, and more specifically what they need. Sometimes they also offer tips. I thought I’d share some helpful advice offered directly from the agents.
"Build a résumé by publishing short stories if you are a fiction writer."
"Please keep your (query) letters to the point, include all relevant information, and have a bit of patience."
“Make sure of margins, double-space, and use clean, dark type.”
"Know your market. Agents, as well as publishers, are keenly interested in writers with their finger on the pulse of their market."
"If an agent has a website, review it carefully to make sure your material is appropriate for that agent. Read lots of books within the genre you are writing, work hard on your writing, don't follow trends—most likely, you'll be too late."
"Do as much research as you can on agents before you query. Have someone critique your query letter before you send it. It should be only 1 page and describe your book clearly—and why you are writing it—but also demonstrate creativity and a sense of your writing style."
"Do your homework and submit a professional package. Get to know the agent you are submitting to by researching their website or meeting them at a conference. Perfect your craft: Write well and edit ruthlessly over and over again before submitting to an agent. Be realistic: Understand that publishing is a business and be prepared to prove why your book is marketable and how you will market it on your own. Be persistent!"
“Do not write 'cute' queries—stick to a straightforward message that includes the title and what your book is about, why you are suited to write this particular book, and what you have written in the past (if anything), along with a bit of a bio.”
"Be professional, be patient. It takes a long time for me to evaluate all the submissions that come through the door. Pestering phone calls and e-mails are not appreciated. Write the best book you can in your own style and keep an active narrative voice."
"Always keep in mind that your query letter/proposal is only one of hundreds and thousands that are competing for the agent's attention. Therefore, your presentation of your book and yourself as author has to be immediate, intense, compelling, and concise. Make the query letter one-page, and after short, introductory paragraph, write a 150-word KEYNOTE description of your manuscript."