In other words, since you wrote a novel during this flight (which I’m still really impressed by, I must say), go ahead and connect to the Internet and head to PM. Then, go to the “Deals” section and search by the category “Thrillers.” Read through all of the recent Thriller deals and make a note of all the agents who have sold books that are at least somewhat similar (though not identical) to yours. Of course, if you’ve written a novel of a different genre, adjust accordingly.
Once you have that list of agents, go to the “Search Contacts” page on PM and start putting together e-mail addresses. “E-mail addresses?” you ask. “What about mailing addresses?” Let me stop you right there. First off, we don’t need to kill any more trees. Second, every agent I know prefers e-mail queries to their snail mail counterparts. The only exception (for me) is when it comes to graphic-novel projects; for those, I like to see the pages in living color. Otherwise, jot down the e-mail addresses. It’s OK to submit to more than one agent at a time — unless you find the absolute perfect agent and want to give him or her the exclusive first look at your material. For this scenario, make sure to let the agent in question know that he or she has the exclusive, and then give a cutoff date. This will ensure (in theory) a speedy read of your book.
STEP 2: THE QUERY LETTER
The query letter is, by far, the most important step in landing a literary agent. The preceding research, in comparison, is a piece of cake. A query letter is a mini work of art. It has to catch the agent’s attention, quickly convey the story in a compelling way, and get the agent interested enough that he or she will pause long enough during a busy day to reply and request some or all of your magnum opus.
First up, and perhaps most obviously, is the subject line of your e-mail. Seems simple, right? Nope. I get about 10 queries a day (sometimes more), and most of them end up in my Queries folder without being immediately opened. One of the biggest reasons for this is that most of the queries I receive have the following subject line: “Query.”
While simplicity may be the best approach for some endeavors, getting an agent is not one of them. However, many authors err on the opposite side of the spectrum. There must be a book or website out there that tells authors to write a diatribe in their subject line. I often get e-mails that have subject lines like this: “Query — Novel about a woman who quits her job after she realizes she never fulfilled her dream of being a trapeze artist, and she runs away to join the circus and falls in love with the lion tamer, but their love is destroyed by the jealous bearded lady.”