Here are some of the things to avoid.
Don't pay a reading fee. Agents read manuscripts—many, many manuscripts. If they're interested in looking at yours with a view toward selling it, they take the risk of reading bad manuscripts—and they receive a large number of them. They can also stop reading in the middle of page 1. I've heard that most agents accept less than 2 percent of the manuscripts they read.
Don't pay retainer fees. I don't hear much of that these days, but it was an old method of asking clients to pay a small amount such as thirty dollars a month and it usually went on for a couple of years until the innocent writer figured it out and stopped paying.
Avoid literary agents that put ads in magazines or on the Internet. Good agents don't have to advertise. Most literary agents have more would-be clients clamoring for their services than they want.
The advertising agents seem to accept anyone who offers a manuscript and charge a fee to read, but I've never heard of those agents ever selling anything.
Good agents have websites. One questionable agency signs clients and then charges them $195 for the cost of setting up the writer's personal website with them.
Good agents gladly tell you the names of their clients, the books they've sold, and the names of the publishers. On their Internet site, one agency lists clients by profession and gives you first names only. My advice: Skip that agency because there's no way for you to verify their statements.
Good agents never refer you to a specific editing service. It's illegal for them to do that. They may suggest you get editorial help and come back, but they can't tell you which editor to contact.
If you have any questions about a particular literary agency, Google the name on the Internet. It's difficult for dishonest agents to hide these days from serious writers, but they still pull in money from the ignorant and naïve. Don't be either.
If a literary agency tells you how easy it is to get published
by signing with them,
you don't want to sign with them.