Tim Pratt posted a letter he sent to a writer who wanted to be published by a big New York publisher and it’s full of great advice. If you’re looking for advice on becoming a pro (or you’re just generally interested in that sort of thing) you should give it a read. It’s good stuff.
I would add a few things, though. First, if you’re looking to find out who is the agent for a specific writer, I find it’s much easier to just Google Specific Writer agent before I try searching their websites or acknowledgements in their books. If you Google Tim Pratt agent, you find his agent’s name right in the previews on the Google search page. If you do the same for me, you have to click through, but it’s the work of a few seconds. Super easy.
Second, rather than pay Publisher’s Lunch, I’d drop by the database of Agentquery. You can click the checkbox for one (or more) genres, then do a search (recommended: Put a “not important” in “Actively seeking new clients”), and you’ll get dozens of names of legit agents.
Sadly, it will be in no damn order at all, as far as I can tell. However, it’s easy enough to copy pasta their data into a spread sheet, then sort it by, for example, the agency where they work. It’s boring work but it’s damn easy to do.
Agentquery is also kind enough to link to agency websites. Info on their own site trumps anything you might find on other websites, such as whether they’re currently accepting queries (that’s why I suggested “not important” above).
After that, it’s a good idea to plug the agent’s name into the “Search This Forum” box at Absolute Write’s Background Check board, just in case they’re clueless or a scam.
A further bit of advice: if you’re making a list of agents and you decide you don’t want to submit to one (let’s say you are querying a science fiction novel right now but plan an epic fantasy series in the future, and discover a great agent with no interest in fantasy) it’s best to change the text of the agent’s information to a nice bright color like red rather than delete them outright. The reason is that this can be very time-consuming, and you don’t want to waste hours or minutes researching an agent you’ve already decided against once.
And that’s all. Good luck. #SFWApro