Your situation may be different, but for me, this is an argument for skipping the whole process, which is why some of us created Thoth Books (named for the Egyptian god of writing seen at left). The kind of f2f networking advocated here is not going to work for somebody like me at this point in my life (living in a little town across the ocean from New York). Also, agent pursuit takes a lot of energy that would better be devoted to writing, and gets you into a mind-set of writing pitches, writing to sell rather than for any of the other reasons we write (to discover new ways of thinking, to create something we consider beautiful or somehow wonderful, or any other non-market intention).
When I was living in New York, I did manage to get agents interested in my work, but not interested enough to take it on until one agency sought me out after seeing the review of Welcome to My Contri. Not a top agency, and they weren't really in tune with what I was writing, and tried to steer me to write what they thought their editorial contacts were looking for. It didn't work. And if it had worked, if I had managed to write something sellable in those terms, I would have been very unhappy.
But then a writer friend promoted me to her agent, who passed me on to her partner, who became my agent — even though we never met face to face. She did sell a book for me, a difficult book that I really wanted to write, not one especially designed for the sales department of a particular publishing house, Hispanic Nation. The book's argument was so unexpected that it could have been a hard sell, but this agent found an editor with the imagination and enough sense of adventure to take it on. That turned out very well (in terms of readership, not income, but that's a complicated story involving Carol Publishers bankruptcy). It's a book I'm proud of and that is now in its 4th printing (paperback) by University of Arizona Press, where it was a "best seller" and is still selling (though the royalties still go into the debt sinkhole left by Carol Publishers). The agent tried to sell a subsequent novel of mine but got no takers, nor was she much help in recovering anything from the heirs to Carol, and we parted company. That was a long time ago.
I'm not likely to run into agents at a literary conference, so — as happened that one time — I would again have to get connected through somebody who already is connected. OK, I'm open to that if it happens, but don't expect it and don't want to again put as much energy into the pursuit as I did for A Gift for the Sultan. Lots of responses to my query, but finally no takers. I want to put most of my energy into the writing. And I no longer mind publishing it myself. I hope that through our Thoth Books editorial collective to attract a few more readers than by doing it all on my own. My new e-edition of Welcome to My Contri is our first publication, but my partners and I have others near ready. We'll see how it goes.
Causes Geoffrey Fox Supports
Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières