So, you've finally got that novel finished and you want to send it off to every single literary agent you've ever heard of - or, maybe, just the one that happens to represent the writer you think is (by far) the greatest living writer on the planet (besides you).
Sadly, neither approach - the everybody or just one philosophies - will really work. We all know that getting published takes both luck and skill, and to be good at this game, you're going to have to go back to your research.
If you send it to everybody, you won't take the time to really figure out which literary agent is right for your book, as there are as many different types of literary agents as there are books. If you send it to only agent only, there's a good chance your book won't ever get read - and you'll have to wait six months just to realize that.
So, what do you do?
In your research, you should look for two things: a literary agent who represents books like yours and a literary agent who is open to representing who you are as a writer. The first half is what people normally get right. The second is the one they tend to screw up.
What I mean by a literary agent who represents your kind of writer comes down to this: do they take on new writers at all? do they take on unpublished writers? do they take new writers but are really looking to expand into a new area of publishing? If you're a new writer, don't submit to an agent that doesn't take unsolicited submissions. It's not going to get you anywhere, and you're wasting time.
Instead, here's where places like Guide to Literary Agents come in. Editor Chuck Sambuchino's blog is filled with great information on literary agents, as well as info on what agents are looking for right now. Because agents are like the rest of us - just as we writers change from one novel to the next - agents, too, can be looking for new and different types of works, like Sambuchino's recent announcement that literary agent Suzie Townsend of FinePrint Literary Management (pictured at right) is looking for adult fiction.
You can catch these announcement on various publishing sites, and basically, they'll tell you when a good time to submit to a certain agent is. This isn't to say that you can't submit to agents when they don't have a call out for something specific. But it helps - and when getting published, you're going to need all the help you can get.