Assuming that you have written the best manuscript you can, that it has been completely vetted through your critique group, then you may choose to find representation. This is not the only way to go, but I think it is the best way for the majority of writers.
Looking for an agent is easier than it has ever been before because everything is on the computer. The main thing is to do your homework. The best way is to attend conferences and talks where you can meet the agents in person, or at least listen to them speak. But if that is not practical, you can also do your research on the internet. This opportunity is wonderful for aspiring authors. Start with pubrants.blogspot.com and follow her links once you’ve read all the sample queries and excellent posts about getting an agent. Look at queryshark.blogspot.com and agentquery.com and “preditors & editors.” Read Chuck Sambuchino’s excellent advice and stories from agents. Sign up for Publishers Marketplace and spend time searching for agents who sell in the genre you write. Then google them and read their interviews. Give yourself a couple of months to do your research before you query both established agents as well as new, hungry ones at established agencies.
You might be in the rare position of having a personal recommendation to another writer’s agent. This would come because a close friend volunteers it (you never want to put a author on the spot by asking). All you have to say to a writer you personally know is that you are going to be submitting to agents. If they want to recommend you, they will offer.
Do not even think about lying. You do not want to be that person who stretches the truth and represents themselves as “friend of author x” or “recommended by author x” if that is not the truth. The publishing world is surprisingly small and everyone knows everyone else. Once they discover you’ve lied, and they will find out, not only will they automatically not consider you, but word will get around and your reputation will be blown. So be honest. It’s for your own benefit.
Once the agent has your full manuscript, you then wait. A response can come as quickly as a few hours, but the more typical time frame is weeks or months. Hopefully, you are also querying other agents. You may want to give the first agent a head start (a week or two), because they came in on a personal recommendation, but after that it’s better for you to have options.
Once you have one agent who offers to represent you, the courteous thing to do is to contact via email each agent who has your full. And you put in the subject: “Offer of Representation.” That gives them a head’s up and they will read your email. Don’t try faking this, it only works if it is real (see paragraph 4). In the email, you explain how one agent has offered representation and you wanted to give them the courtesy of knowing. You do not need to mention the name of the agent. This is a good time to also alert any referral friends and bring them up to speed.
Now agent #2 (and 3, etc.) have the opportunity to either let you know that they are in the process of finishing reading your manuscript or that they would also like to make an offer of representation. They might ask you for a few more days. Or they may say they wish you well. But by doing it this way, you have handled this professionally and have not burned your bridges. The agent you are turning down today might be an editor you’ll want to work with next year.
What agents dislike is to suddenly get an email saying that you have accepted representation elsewhere, without any other discussion, while they may have invested precious hours reading your manuscript. By giving them this courtesy, you’ve shown everyone that you are a professional. If you need more proof, see what an respected agent has to say on the subject:
The agent who may be perfect for one author may not be the one who is perfect for you. It’s a bit like a marriage. That’s why you need to do your own research and come up with a list of possibilities. Some conferences have actual speed dating with agents. However you do your research, be sure that you evaluate an agent based on your specific chemistry, how you click, your needs and goals – not someone else’s — so you can find your perfect fit. Good luck!