I've received a lot of emails from writers ready to start submitting their work. A word of warning, this process can take longer than your eventual agent finding a publisher for your book. But getting the perfect agent for you is so worth the wait and work.
Now, how to go about finding a good agent. While there are tons of good agents, you want to find the right agent -- for you and your book. By the right agent, I mean someone who "gets" your book, loves your book, and will do everything humanly possible to find your book a good home with a publisher.
My own agent Kristin Nelson -- who in my opinion walks on water ; ) -- has some great resources on her site to help writers looking for representation avoid being taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals (I won't even call these people "agents"), and to help guide the newbie to finding the best agent for them.
First, the sites whose purpose is to inform and protect writers:
Writer Beware Compiled by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. This is their site for warnings about literary fraud and other schemes, scams, and pitfalls that target writers. It's not just for SciFi/Fantasy writers; it's for all genres.
Preditors & Editors A guide to publishers and writing services for serious writers.
20 Worst Agents The thumbs-down list of agents, and the warning signs you should look out for in your search.
The best places to help you research and find the right agent for you:
WritersNet Writing resources, news, and discussion for authors, writers, publishers, editors, and agents.
Agent Query The Internet's largest and most current database of literary agents.
Publishers Marketplace The granddaddy site of them all. This is where I found the agents who I queried (and where I found Kristin). Click on "Search Members" in the left nav, then click on "Agents", then check the box of the genre you write (or whatever search criteria you prefer) and hit "Search". You'll get a list of agents with links to their websites. It's simplicity itself. And best of all, it's up to date. Once you get to the lists of agents, you can click through and see their client listings, what genres they specialize in, and their industry references (very important). I would advise going with an agency that is a member of the AAR (Association of Authors' Representatives). This is the publishing industry's equivalent of the "Good Housekeeping seal of approval" (for those of us of a certain age). AAR members do business by a strict code of ethics. Trust me, you want ethical.
Basic guidelines for sending that query letter: If an agent says in their profile or on their site that they don't represent mysteries, don't send them one. You're wasting your time and theirs. If they don't rep them, it means they don't particular like them. And you want an agent who is head over heels in love with you work. Kristin adored Magic Lost, Trouble Found. And she said in her profile back then that she was looking for fantasy with a strong female protagonist. If that doesn't describe Raine, I don't know what does. Kristin completely got what I was trying to do, and as a result, she was able to successfully get me a two-book deal within a matter of weeks. So when you reach the point that you're talking to more than one agent, I'd go with enthusiasm and "feeling the love" any day.
And when dealing with potential agents -- keep your emotions out of it. Be professional in letters, emails, and especially over the phone. I know this is next to impossible since we're all intensely passionate about our work, but publishing is a business, and your book is a product, not your baby. Agents really appreciate being approached and treated professionally.
For those of you ready to start your agent hunt, I hope this helps you get started. Good luck! : )