Agent Referrals

Wendy Lawton

Blogger:  Wendy Lawton

I am often asked by writers, What is the agent referral? How do I get one? Will it get me past the query? The answer to the last question is yes. Now let’s tackle the first two.

One way around the oh-so-slow agent query is to come to that agent with a referral from one of his clients. Our clients become our best screeners. When I get a referral from a trusted client, I try to drop everything and give the submission my full attention.

Here’s the rub. You cannot put that writer on the spot by asking for a referral. And you cannot approach a stranger to do this. If the client is not familiar with you and your writing, he could never put his reputation on the line to refer you. His referral capital, so to speak, is only valuable if he has a good eye and the ability to offer a great possibility.

So, if you can’t ask directly and you can’t enlist strangers, how in the world do you go about getting a dreamstime_xs_5400809referral? It has to do with investing in other writers over a long period of time. When you first start writing, you need to join the community of writers online. You begin to identify writers you enjoy. You give them Amazon reviews. You write on their Facebook pages. You retweet their tweets. You attend their events and booksignings if you are close. You join a local critique group of writers who are a step or two above you.

As you get to know writers and invest in them, let them reciprocate. Let them read some of your work and get to know you. If the two of you click and the relationship is reciprocal–meaning you’ve given as much or more than you’ve received–it blossoms into friendship. It doesn’t hurt to let your friends know you are seeking referrals at some point. Let them tell you when they think you are ready.

You can tell this is not something you decide you need and then set out to make it happen. I’m not advocating using people. I’m making the case for honestly connecting with the community of writers from the very beginning. Your friends will help you work around some of these odds. It’s no surprise that so many of the published authors are friends–they’ve been helping each other for years.

Please share your story of a helping hand you received from a fellow writer. Was the relationship reciprocal? What are some other ways you can honestly offer help to a seasoned writer in exchange for any help or mentoring they might be offering you? Why is this important?

19 Responses

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  1. What goes around, comes around. You want the Miracle, be the Grace.

  2. Hmmm…I’ve helped out young writers and I know lots of writers who are at about the same spot as me, but writers who are farther along … I know a few but not closely. My critique partner and I are pretty much plugging along on our own. There are a few other writers that I see once a year at our conference … I do leave reviews when I love a book, but yeah, I could see how a referral is something that would only come with time and a close relationship where you actually see each other’s writing. I’ve actually had people offer to give me a referral though, which was really nice, but I haven’t taken them up on it, yet.

  3. I’ve been very fortunate to have writers who are further along this journey help me out by reading my work (especially before submitting to a contest or an agent) and giving me feedback. I’ve written reviews for some of their books.
    *I’m fortunate to have a craft partner who’s published. We help each other out by brainstorming aspects of our stories. She’ll read things for me. I’ll talk through story elements with her. And we pray for each other.

    • Jeanne, do you find contests and awards helpful? I saw a discussion of this some time ago, and the debate centered on their usefulness, as opposed to their being a “time-suck” and a distraction. I confess, I have never purchased a book because it had won some award or contest.

  4. I was friends with the author who referred me to her agent for a long time. By “friends” I mean at this point we had never met in person, but we facebook messaged and emailed all the time. It was over a year into our correspondence when she asked if i wrote, and I said “yes, but i am too afraid to show anyone my work”

    she was the first person i showed a few chapters to and after critiquing them, and being impressed with my social media engagement, she sent the chapters and a bit about me to her agent. i had long loved following her agent because of the authors represented and some of the titles proving successful. a week later, agent and i had an hour long conversation and during that conversation, i signed. since then i have been transferred to another agent with the same agency and that has worked really well. since the referring author and i are close friends now— i enjoy that we have different agents –it keeps it fresh.

    what i like about this story is that we really had enough time to develop a good rapport before she felt comfortable referring me ( for any recommendation in any professional manner is a reflection on the referee), and i joined my agency because of the connection i felt and my comfort level, beyond the reference. to add, it was borne of a friendship that now extends beyond social media.

    it is my third year anniversary with my agency and it is all because of that connection 🙂 now, i do what i can to pass it on by offering writers who connect with me advice on researching agencies and query guidelines,building a social media platform and being savvy enough in the industry to know where the ebbs and flows of the tide are ….

    i think the best agencies are based on long term relationships rather than the off-chance of a bestseller— and due to this tenet of the industry, its wonderful when you can work with referrals.

  5. I did have an agent referral (not with Books and Such), and it did not end in a signing. It was quite awhile ago, and while extremely grateful to the writer and the agent, I feel pretty bad about it as it wasted a lot of the agent’s time (he read a couple of versions of the full MS before passing), and as you said, Wendy, reduced the writer’s ‘referral capital’.
    * The issue was that the book was simply wrong for the genre and the market, and in a place of hubris I did not recognize that – and recognizing the mismatch was MY responsibility. I thought the story transcended some of these barriers, and that my snappy writing style would carry it along. (Yes there were craft issues as well.)
    * So I guess the moral of this is to be extra-vigilant about both ‘fit’ and craft, because your work isn’t standing on its own in this situation. It’s being carried in by another, and that person’s reputation is involved…and it’ll get a more serious consideration and thereby a greater investment of the agent’s time. A submission that’s short of excellent is damaging to the ‘reputation of judgement’ of person who refers, and a waste of precious time for the agent.
    * I wouldn’t go this route again. I learned a lot, and the most valuable learning was that wasting people’s time leaves a bad moral taste in one’s soul.

    • Andrew, when you say, “I wouldn’t go this route again,” I am assuming you mean the route of being referred? And the other option is to grid it out until you are able to secure an contract with an agent all on your own?

      • That’s correct, Damon. That the writer who referred me ‘squandered’ one of his referral opportunities and that the agent invested a considerable amount of his time weighs heavily on me; I should have done better research and seen that the effort would be a nonstarter from the beginning
        * I won’t lay that kind of burden on anyone again. If I don’t make it on my own, I won’t make it.

  6. My BFF’s husband works for a huge, HUGE company that started out small, and is now a verb. (When you search something on line, you??? Hint, it starts with a G)
    For hiring new people? They only go on internal referrals. No one gets a job there by sending a resume. The company will look at a resume sent on referral, but good luck getting past the round file if no one knows who you are. And that is one of the reasons Google is one of the tops companies to work for, is that each person is vetted not just by what they can do, but by who they are as individuals.
    I’ve met several writers here who’ve been wonderful to me and I consider them to be life long friends. A few have poured time and heart into my work, and into me. I won’t name them, for time’s sake, but thank the Lord for phone lines.
    As for a pivotal helping hand? Beth Vogt is a lovely person and gifted writer who mentored and nurtured me when I was in my toddler-writer years. Prior to signing with Mary Keeley in 2013, Beth took precious time out of her schedule to read over my work, crit it and give me valuable advice. One of those bits of advice was easily spoken, yet sorta monumental, after a very gentle and sweet rejection on September 3rd.
    “Re-write it.”
    Oh suuuuuure. Not a worry, but I only had 8 days between that advice and leaving for ACFW. But, Beth being the angel she is, she helped as much as she could, and it brought me insane levels of joy to share my good news with her on September 15th, 2013 at roughly 2pm.
    Beth could medal in “simultaneous squealing, jumping, hugging and crying”. Other than my wedding day, and the days I brought my children into the world, the day years ago when I found out I did not have breast cancer, and the days I found out my daddy had survived each of his 2 open heart surgeries, “signing day” remains one of the most joyous days of my life.
    Yup, it’s in the Top 10.
    And Beth had a lot to do with getting me there.
    Which reminds me, I need to send that woman an email, because gratitude has no “best before” date.

  7. Yes, this is one of the sweet things I’ve noticed in this writing world … there may be competition, but there is much love too. When you are traveling this road, doing the best you can, loving the best you can, helping the best you can … God pours out blessing. That’s just how He seems to work. And He uses His people.

  8. Sheila King says:

    Just hours ago my critique partner was named a finalist in an agent mentoring contest. Her first text to me was “and you know that in the event that I do get an agent, as soon as possible I will say,” So…I have this friend.”

    She is a talented writer and we collaborate enough that her success feels like my success!

  9. Like many blessings early in the journey, I didn’t know what a gift I was given at the time. I met a published author after sharing my workshop just the second time ever (and 2 weeks after the first time) he was and remains one of my biggest champions and encouragers.

    The concept, and my own writing was – I know now – nowhere near ready to be published, but the valuable feedback provided by the team at Books and Such on a few sample chapters from just a rookie was dead on and still used in self-editing as I write to consider the content and intent.

    The content was written for a workshop, and it read like a workshop, but the reader wouldn’t know the inflections or asides. So glad the doors didn’t fly open immediately, as the content as grown, developed more depth, and is in a far better place all around than before. Positive feedback from several publishers – yes, actual comments, not just generic fluff – with the biggest issue being lack of national platform.

    It’s getting there through another ministry path – and I trust His timing, and I am blessed every time I share the content in workshops, conferences, retreats, and various conversations as doors are opened.

  10. Teresa Haugh says:

    “You join a local critique group of writers who are a step or two above you.” Hmmm.. I’ve always felt shy about asking to join a critique group when I suspect I may be a step or two below them. Conversely, I don’t really invite those who may not be at my level to share critiques either. This is an important relatiionship that’s hard to find or figure out. I just pray God will bring the right person/group at the right time.

    • Teresa, I recently had to bow out of a local writers’ group/critique group. I was the only Christian writer in the group. Thus, each time I shared and asked for feedback, that feedback offered from the vantage point of one who had no grasp of the underlying concepts, and thus critiqued the content from a void of understanding, and in some cases, group members took offense at my writing about this mythical [g]od that I foolishly worship. It was very frustrating.
      Similarly, some time ago I joined Inspire Christian Writers, hoping to get into a critique group there, but have yet to be added to one. Apparently there are no openings.
      So, if you find a group, and feel so inclined, drop me a note about it. I’d love to get plugged in.

  11. I was quite surprised to receive a generous helping hand from William Sirls, author of “The Reason” and “The Sinner’s Garden.” We have never met, and I didn’t know him at all. I read an online interview he did and, on a whim, I sent him a question about a career choice he discussed in that interview, fully expecting to never hear back, yet within a week I received an email from him with a private phone number and an invitation to give him a call. “I love talking to other writers,” was his response. I did call him, and we spoke for about 45 minutes over the phone. He asked to see my manuscript and provided an address to which to send it. Having provided some excellent feedback on the manuscript, William later tweeted an endorsement of the published work. I was (and to some degree still am) shocked by his openness to helping out a complete unknown. The world is brimming with good, generous, decent people.