Wrestling with Referrals

You’re finally ready to query. You know a fellow author through Facebook and think her agent would be a perfect fit. You could query through the regular process: email the query (if the agent is open to queries), obsessively hit refresh on your email, and wait weeks or months for a response. But you know somebody. Should you ask your acquaintance for a referral?


Before you draft that Facebook message, let’s look at referrals from the agent and client point of view.

Referrals: The Agent POV

I conducted a completely unscientific survey of a few agents, and asked a few common questions about client referrals. Here’s what they had to say.

  • Most agents loved client referrals. Yay!
  • The nature of the relationship between the author/illustrator being referred and client is often important. Agents want to know if the client is referring a person whose work they’ve read and adore; a friend or family member; or (occasionally) an acquaintance who has simply requested the referral.
  • A referral may allow you to query an agent who is closed, but it doesn’t necessarily help you jump the query queue. With a client referral, agents often continue to read their inboxes according to whatever system they have. One agent said she might prioritize a referral, but only after it had made it out of the initial inbox and into the “interested” pile.  Each agent does it his or her own way. The bottom line…don’t expect a response tomorrow. Expect to wait the standard response time.
  • A referral does not guarantee a response. Still, agents may be more mindful of responding to referrals, even if the agent has a “no response means no” policy.

Referrals: The Author POV

Again, I conducted a totally unscientific poll of authors and illustrators to ask how they feel about giving referrals.

  • Some authors and illustrators don’t mind giving referrals, if 1) they believe the work is truly ready and 2) it is a good fit for their agent. 
  • Others said the process felt awkward. Some likened giving referrals to setting up two people up on a blind date. These folks worried about the fallout if the agent and querier didn’t hit it off. (Side note: Agents generally said they didn’t think any less of their clients if a referral didn’t work out.)
  • Being asked for a referral can be a turn off for agented authors and illustrators. The general feeling was that referrals can be offered but shouldn’t be requested.

So back to our original question…should you ask your Facebook acquaintance for a referral?

My personal opinion…Don’t.

If you’re writing quality work that’s ready for publication, a referral doesn’t give you much of a leg up. Its only benefit might be getting your work in front of an agent who is closed to queries. But keep in mind, if an agent is closed, it is probably for a good reason. The agent may not have the time and attention to focus on a new client right now. So do you really want that agent to represent you?

With that said, if you are constantly putting your work out there through critique groups or swaps, conference critique sessions, or classes with critique opportunities, an author or illustrator might offer a referral some day. If he or she does, celebrate. If not, no big deal. People get agents every day without referrals.

Referral “How To’s”

If you do get a referral, the agent likely will let you know (through the client) how to query. It may require an introductory email from the client or a special subject line and/or indication in the first paragraph of the email. (Ex. Query: Stephen King referral for SCARIEST BOOK EVER by Kirsten Larson)

But just a word of warning, don’t fib when it comes to a client referral. It’s pretty easy for agents to figure out if you are faking. And then you’ve blown your chances.

If you want to know more about referrals of all kinds, you might also check out this post from one of my favorites, Query Shark Janet Reid.


One thought on “Wrestling with Referrals

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  1. Overall I think a lot of it comes down to talent and luck. Thinking about it a little more I guess I can add one more: Not knowing when to quit. Those who continue long after the game is won are unique. I like unique. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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