If you're looking to start at the top of the literary agency scale, you couldn't go wrong with a query to Trident Media. It's a big agency peopled with high powered agents, the very type of representation that you'd need to get million dollar deals like Justin Cronin.
He's already published, of course, which has something to do with getting the likes of Ellen Levine to represent him. His novel The Summer Guest and his short story collection were well received, taken up by those who are fond of literary works that could be classified as family saga. For his latest work, he wrote a vampire book, which is all the rage in certain circles, and his literary agent went to work.
Ms. Levine shopped the manuscript to editors that she knew, but she very cleverly changed the author's name. Justin Cronin, you see, was typecast in a publishing sense, slotted as a writer of inter-familial angst. An editor would see his name on the cover sheet and do what editors do best -- realize that there could be problems because current fans of Mr. Cronin would like another family saga and not get it, leading to grumbling and bad publicity and poor sales. Those who like vampire stories wouldn't find the book on the shelves because they don't know Justin Cronin and wouldn't go searching. Such a dilemma, and publishing houses don't like things that make book sales challenging.
Acquisitions editors at Random House, Penguin Group and Ballantine received a manuscript that was written by Jordan Ainsley. Ms. Levine solved the problem for the editors by leading them to believe that she had a fantastic manuscript by an unknown author. As she has a stellar reputation in the industry, the big houses trusted her enough to take a look. The novel went to auction, Ballantine placed the winning bid, and then Ms. Levine let them know who had really written this next best seller.
And because Ellen Levine is a top-tier agent working in a top-tier firm, she was able to get the film rights sold for a very hefty price. Hollywood loves vampires and fantasy, and Mr. Cronin's novel has the makings of a series that will fill the niche that Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings once occupied. A once rather obscure author of literary fiction created a bit of commercial fantasy and his agent has garnered him a small fortune.
That is what a highly skilled literary agent can do for a client. That is why writers work so hard to perfect a query letter and get publishing credentials, to get the attention of someone like Ellen Levine, a literary agent who will lead them to the promised land.