I keep thinking of the author as a traveler, with different tools in their bag that will help them along the way. As far as I understand, these are such tools as an Author needs:
1 - The Manuscript and Errata
Your manuscript is important. Don't send it out until it's ready to be published. But have offerings for the Agents. A Proposal, with a synopsis, a query letter, a perfectly polished chapter. Pluck is great, preparation is better. Make sure the Agent knows the book's genre and cool factor, how it would appeal to people, who those people are, and be ready to tell an Agent how it ends.
2 - The Grappling Hook
When talking to an Agent, you're not going to get picked at first. It's like a grappling hook, you can throw it but if you don't find a niche for it to grab it won't hold. That's cool. Pull it down, aim somewhere else, and throw again. Eventually you'll find some way to scramble up the cliff face. It helps if you have something (like the Bishop's Ring, or The Leg) under your belt.
3 - The Bishop's RingNo matter how good you are as a writer (or in this metaphor, an intrepid detective), it helps to have something to get noticed. In ye olden days you could show the bishop's signet ring to someone to make them sit up and take notice. Nowadays, it's a Namedrop, but it works the same way. Being able to namedrop someone of note to the Agent will mean you're connected in the web. The Agent takes interest, you get five more minutes.
4 - The Leg
An Agent wants to be seduced by a proposal. Show a little leg, just enough to entice. A paragraph. Half a page. The less you show, the more the the author will want to know. As long as it looks good, the rest must be good, and now there is so much more to discover! Give an Agent too much and they won't have time for it.
5 - Self Awareness
In one of our readings there was an exhaustive Author Questionnaire from Simon and Schuster covering everything from basics (Author's name, address) to inquisitive (religion, business affiliations) to oddly specific (do you shop at Costco's, Sam's, or BJ's?) I took from this that it's important to know yourself and to be willing to share your biography. Also, if you want to publish, now would be a good time to be the sort of person who gets published.
6 - Thy Friends
In my notes I keep writing the reminder, "You are Not Alone." Not only do you have help publishing (From agents, editors, the various people who work at the publishing house who have the job of advertising) but the people you've known or helped along the way. Other authors you've supported, fellow students, old friends with connections at that local library. These are people who can point you to the places you need to go, and can help tell people about your book once it's in the pipeline, or yammer about it on Goodreads. Related, Goodreads Explained.
7 - The Clouds
Just as a vagabond knows how to watch the clouds for rain, or strong winds, someone getting published should watch The Cloud for trends, emerging markets, new players, lightning flashes that might draw people from all around, where you can share directions, news, helpful herbs. Right now two big thunderheads are rolling in: Small Press and Independent Publishing. Both will blast trees to pieces with a thunderclap, both will enrich the soil and new things will grow, whether or not we want them to.
There's a lot more a person needs. Time, Tenacity, Ingenuity, money helps too. And as I learned at In-Print last week, the road to publication is rarely straight, there are bound to be lots of twists and curves. It's more about keeping up with the journey.