Throughout my career I have occasionally heard that writers looking for an agent should ask an agent’s clients for references. My advice? Reconsider that advice.
I don’t say this because I’m afraid of what my current clients will say to a potential client. I’m far from perfect, but I do hope that if there was a misunderstanding, we worked it out long ago so all of my clients would offer good reference should they be asked.
Rather, I say this because by the time you and I are talking seriously about representation, you should have vetted me and not feel the need to ask for any references. Asking for references is working backwards, in my view.
How References Normally Work
Think about it. When do you use references? When you are a stranger to a company, writing a resume or CV, you list references. With this document as your introduction, you approach a company where you are unknown and they need to call up previous employers to be sure you show up to work on time, and you aren’t lying about your responsibilities with them or your education, etc. By this time, your resume is likely to be one of three or four out of a stack of hundreds that has been culled. Contacting references is a matter-of-fact part of the hiring process in this scenario.
How to Find Me
Not so with a writer looking for the best match in an agent. You can find information everywhere. An Internet search I just conducted of my name yielded 24,900 results, and a search for The Steve Laube Agency yielded 116,000 results. I’m on Facebook and Twitter almost every day. And our web site is full of biographical information and hundreds of blog posts which reveal a lot. In other words, I’m not hiding.
And of course, there are other ways to find out about agents. Attend writers conferences. Join online or in-person critique groups. These will not only help you grow as a writer, but will give you a chance to connect with other writers and ask about their experiences with various agents.
What Asking Tells Me about You
An author asking for a formal reference suggests the author is:
- isolated and doesn’t talk to anyone in the writing industry. Ever.
- not connected to me in any way and hasn’t learned who I am.
- not on social media.
- a bit paranoid and could be difficult to work with down the road. (Maybe.)
Time is Money
Also consider other people’s time when you make this request. Unlike many a salaried supervisor at a company, authors work on their own time. A telephone call or email from you asking for praises or dirt on any agent interrupts the author’s day and takes away from the author’s writing time. In other words, by not doing your own research, you are costing authors money. As a working author under contract and deadline, would you appreciate having your day interrupted by a stranger who should have found out the information on her own? If you think answering a reference question won’t take at least a half hour, think again.
I know it’s unlikely an Internet search will yield information such as, “This agent ignores my emails.” So it’s understandable that you may want to talk to the agent’s current clients. It’s really not that hard to get authors to talk about their agents, especially to other authors seeking agents. Vetting informally through natural networking is much less off-putting than going the formal route, and will yield information that is just as good, if not better.
How did you find your agent?
What is the main question you would ask a potential agent?