Well, for one, most publishers are no longer reviewing un-agented manuscripts. It also behooves you to work with someone who has intimate knowledge of the business when it comes to editing your manuscript or proposal, submitting your work, and negotiating your deal.
I do a lot of different things! I scout new projects, read queries, review and track contracts and payments, edit manuscripts and proposals, and generally add my voice in where I think it may be of assistance, whether that is regarding a publicity campaign, submission list, or even a title choice.
You'll hear this a lot, but publishing is a very subjective business. I may look at a query and see something that completely wows me, where another agent may look at the same thing and immediately pass. It all depends on how your writing and plot work with that person's individual taste.
That's why I can't emphasize enough that you do some serious research before sending a query out; you'll have a better chance of connecting with the right person that way.
Aside from what I mentioned above, it's without a doubt the lack of personalization. (Dear Sir or Madam, Dear Agent, or nothing at all!) It's hard to invest in a project when the person asking you to do so hasn't even taken the time to write your name. Also, keeping 30 agents visible on copy—yikes!
I work with two fantastic mentors:
Senior agents Brianne Johnson and Rebecca Sherman
Great—we would love to see it! Please check their individual query guidelines here:
I think you need to take some time to evaluate your situation. How people are reacting at each stage of your project: are agents requesting your manuscript based off of your query letter? Great! That means your query letter is working—it's getting your story in the door. If they aren't requesting at this stage, you may need to work on how you are pitching your work.
Now, are they responding positively after you've sent sample pages? If not, why? What might be turning them off at this stage?
I would suggest throughly analyzing the reactions you receive at each stage of the submission process. Keep track of the feedback you're receiving and look for patterns. That can give you a great idea of what is working and what you might want to adjust in the future.
Also, don't be afraid to set a project aside for a while if it isn't working right now—everyone has their 'drawer projects.'
Internships! Check out the postings on Bookjobs.com and PublishersMarketplace.com, and of course, ask around!