Dear Miss Snark, When searching for a literary agent to query, what would you suggest are key factors/criteria to consider and should the agent's geographical location to the author be of importance?
First thing you want to know: "What have you sold". Accept NOTHING but a clear answer to this. It's either titles, pictures of book covers, ISBNs OR the perfectly acceptable statement that the agent is new. Do not fall for smarmy brush off tactics like "we have books in consideration by all the best houses"; "our list is confidential till you sign with us"; "we've had many best sellers"; "we've worked on books such as". The EXACT phrase you want to hear is "I sold this title, and that title, and this title and they are published/forthcoming from this, that and the other publishing house". NO exceptions.
That's the first thing. You'll probably knock 25% of the agents off your list with that. There's a lot of obfuscation slithering around agent lists.
Second, you want to know if the agent is a member of AAR, OR subscribes to the Code of Ethics. Several very good agents aren't members of AAR cause AAR doesn't let you do packaging. Some just choose not to be part of the group. Some newish agents don't yet qualify.
That's all ok, as long as they say things like "we don't belong; here's why; we subscribe to the code of ethics". Avoid anyone ANYONE who says AAR is for wusses, it's too expensive, I don't want to be in the club, etc." That's the sign of an agent who can't qualify.
Third, no reading fees. Not now, not ever. Never. No exceptions.
Fourth, location. You don't need an agent based in NYC to have a good agent. Many very very good agents are outside the city. Boston, Denver, Atlanta, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and some very foreign place called...New Jersey...all have excellent agents.
That said, I like being in NYC cause it's where the action is, it's where all the fun stuff goes on, there's a greater opportunity for serendipity and besides, I love New York with all my heart. You'll get me out of here only when a house falls on me, or Mr. Clooney diverts the subway to his own private lair in Italy.
After the basic stuff, query widely. You don't want to query "a" literary agent. You want to query MANY. It's more who wants to take you on, if you have good rapport with that person, if their working style matches yours, etc.
It's a bit like having a list of things to look for in a date: yes he has to be Catholic (or whatever) but you can learn to love brown eyes instead of blue.