My method for finding an agent is as follows:
The first sources I’m using are the #MSWL hashtag on twitter, and googling “literary agents actively seeking middle grade”. The hashtag is “manuscript wishlist”. This is a great source, and should probably be everyone’s first (IMO). Agents are advertising their desires, what they want in a manuscript. Does your ms match their wish? QUERY!! And put #MSWL in the subject line or at least the letter itself.
The Google search mainly got me blog posts from WD, but they were still helpful. I got one or two from them. These agents are usually new. Many writers actively search for reputable agents. That’s great, but there’s nothing wrong with a new agent. I’m a new writer. Highly reputable agents probably aren’t going to take on that many non-highly reputable writers. By no means does this mean you settle with a “bad” agent, but I am actively querying new agents with gusto and hope.
How long do you search?
This depends on each person. For me? At this point in time, I’m giving it six months. I may change my mind as time goes on; there’s really no way of knowing for sure.
What do you do in the meantime?
This also varies. It’s easy for me. The ms I’m querying is the first of a series. I’m currently writing synopses for the next three books. After that, I’ll outline/plot out the next three as applicable. And then, I’ll write book 2. So I suppose, instead of six months, I’ll query until I finish book 2. And then I’ll really have no choice but to move on.
But for others, they may want to write shorts or flashes for magazines, enter a few contests, or start another big project.
What do you do if you don’t get an agent?
Originally, I had another project, but I have since changed my mind. I have heard so many wonderful things on book 1 (things I didn’t hear on my shorts), that I will self-publish. I hope to not go that route. It’s dark and scary. My main concern with SP-ing is that most SP books are, well, not published by a TP for a reason. And my book will automatically be grouped with those books from the get-go no matter how good or bad it is.
No matter what your choice is, direct TP, agenting TP, or SP, I wish you the best of luck!