You’ve got a great book idea, or maybe a completed manuscript, and are ready to get someone to represent it. Here are the steps to take that will ensure you have the best chance of catching the right agent’s eye.

1. Prepare
Before you even begin to contact agents, you have to finish the book (or for most nonfiction book, the proposal and several sample chapters). Preparing a proposal is an entire article in itself, but the main point is to be sure you have the complete work on-hand so you can send to an agent the moment he or she expresses interest.

2. Do Your Research
Gather a list of several dozen names and email addresses for agents that represent authors similar to you or cover the genre in which you are writing. A few helpful online sources for finding agents and their info:

Literary Market Place is a \huge directory for American and Canadian book publishers and agents. It costs $24.95 for weekly access.
Writers Market maintains a detailed database of agencies, including advice from agents themselves. A monthlyt subscription costs $5.99.
Association of Authors’ Representatives allows authors to search for agents by genres represented and other categories.
AgentQuery is a searchable and free online database.

Build this list further by asking author friends who their agent is or agents they may know personally. Also review the acknowledgements in the back of any of your comp titles or those within your genre for agent names.

With this lengthy list of agent contacts, prioritize them into rough groups from those that would be ideal for your book, to those that you would be satisfied to have represent you, but might not be a top choice. These should break down to roughly three groups.

3. Send Queries
Once you have your list of agents, send query letters to the first tier. Tailor each to the specific agent — citing in the first paragraph the book or author they represent that led you to believe they would be the right person to represent your book.

Websites like AgentQuery offer paragraph-by-paragraph breakdowns of how to compose a query, and often agency websites offer their own specific preferences.

Lucy Carson, one of the principal agents at the Friedrich Agency, points out that not only do agents and their assistants get loads of queries, but they generally read them toward the end of the day, after more urgent client care has been handled, making it that much more important to be sure they are attention-grabbing.

“Using language that suggests you are ‘shopping’ for an agent rather than asking for some of their time to review your work is not going to help your cause, nor endear you to the overwhelmed agent,” says Carson. “Please and Thank You go a long way.”

4. Follow Up
After proposals are sent, an agent may respond right away expressing interest in reading your whole proposal. But more likely, you won’t get an immediate response, in which case a gentle reminder might be in order.

Carson suggests authors include a request for a confirmation of receipt in their initial query, rather than emailing multiple times. But with that said, she adds, “I recently had an editor ask me to follow up with her as much as possible because she knew how overwhelmed she would be! We’re all doing the best we can in a demanding industry that seems to evolve by the minute.”

If you get no bites on the queries to your first tier of prospective agents, send out to your second- and then third-tier choices. With persistence, your pitch will soon strike the interest of an agent, or several.