It was recently pointed out that a number of agencies will not accept unsolicited proposals. Instead they state, in their guidelines, that they only take proposals via referrals or from meeting someone at a writers conference.
Our agency continues to keep the doors open to any and all who send material following our guidelines. It can be a challenge to read all the incoming proposals but I prefer to say “We don’t like to say ‘no’ unless we’ve seen it. But we do have to say ‘no’ 99% of the time!”
One way to cut through the mass of submissions we receive is to have it come to us from a client or an industry friend’s referral.
Referrals can take many forms. While this discussion may seem obvious I do think it can be instructive in different ways.
The Generic Referral
This type of referral is occasionally used by someone who has been approached by a friend, or a pastor, or another writer at some event. Instead of being the one to tell them “it needs work” they say “send it to my agent.” A mistake is often made at this stage of not telling the agent that you’ve made the referral! So the new writer approaches and says “your client xxxxx said you would love this book.” Which means we need to ask the client if this is really true or not.
It is hard to say “no” to someone, especially if they are a family member, or a friend, or someone with whom you go to church. But just giving them the name of an agent is not really a referral. It is a lead for that person to use. And that person may then use your name as a door-opener…without you knowing.
One interesting mistake is made by a few writers in their pitch to us. They use the list of Christian Literary agents provided by Michael Hyatt (if you want the list you have to sign up for his newsletter) and that is a great list. The mistake they make is saying “Michael Hyatt sent me to you.” Not really. He didn’t personally tell you to send us the proposal. It was taken from his list. You’ve be surprised how often we agents see this “referral.”
The Personal Referral
The above scenario is the same, but this time the client has sent me a note saying “expect a call or an email from this person.” That can be helpful.
But…remember that your endorsement of this person holds weight. At least be sure to have read the material before doing your writer friend the favor of making the introduction.
This happened recently, but the proposal had not been read. The first paragraph of the novel had vulgar language in it which made it one that I was not interested in. If the referring person had read it they would have known not to recommend that project to me.
The Qualified Referral
We have a number of clients who have come to us in this fashion. The client or industry friend has a good writer needing the services of an agent or even a new agent. My advice in this case is to be very selective and careful with those you recommend to your agent.
I am very happy to follow up with these kind of qualified referrals because I know they are not made lightly. These people do not send anyone other than the truly exceptional. This situation happened just last week and enjoyed a great conversation with potential representation a result.
This is the type of referral agencies are describing when they say “by referral only.” They are quality referrals made by qualified people.
Outside of your writing do you rely on referrals for anything? Plumbing? Tutors?
How to you discern if a referral is a good one?
Thanks for this helpful post Mr. Laube. As an aspiring author, this makes good sense. I do know, that when I applied to become a flight attendant, I had several Letters of Recommendation included with my application package; one from a pilot (family friend), one from a friend in management, (both worked for the same company I was applying to, and a flight attendant friend. I know this greaty helped get my application “noticed” and also helped me get through the rigorous interviewing process, and why I got hired from a pool of over 88,000 applicants. I am in my third year of flying now and really just wanted to make a little money on the side as I worked toward launching my writing career. I am still in that process. It’s challenging with my busy flying schedule, but I am confident that God has a plan to use my words to plant seeds of life and hope in the heart of women and children, in particular. And so i keep pressing forward. I just wanted to let you know that I always find your words so practical, honest, and helpful. i do appreciate you and your helpful advice. (Now…if only I knew someone from your agency who would write me a LOR perhaps I could land my first contract.) Thanks again Mr. Laube.
I’m glad to see this ariticle, Steve. Last year when I recommended the new manuscript of a writer–and I had read the entire book– the message was typed with nervous fingers. His submission didn’t result in a contract, but your reply to me was polite, and I didn’t feel I had burned any bridges by trying. Even your no’s are kind.
Steve, excellent advice. Not only am I careful with my referrals (and they come only when I both know the person and am familiar with the quality of his/her writing), I am equally careful with endorsements. After all, having my name associated with a book, no matter how carefully I word the endorsement, puts me on the spot as well as the author.
As for your question–yes, we depend on personal recommendations to help us choose in a number of areas, from plumbers to dry cleaners to mechanics. There have been some slip-ups, but by and large that’s still the best method we’ve found. Sort of a personal “Angie’s List.”
I hadn’t considered all the kinds of “referrals” that are out there. 🙂 I appreciate you defining each.
As for using referrals outside of writing. We do it often. I prefer word of mouth from friends when we need work done on our home, rather than looking up companies in a phone book, calling one and hoping they’re a quality company.
After moving from Florida to Tennessee, I asked the few people I had met for a referral to a dentist. Each one told me not to go to theirs!
As for being the recipient of a referral, I met Diana Flegal at the Florida Christian Writers Conference several years ago. She graciously forwarded my proposal to her then-colleague Tamela Hancock Murray. I’m thrilled to be one of Tamela’s clients.
Thanks so much for writing this up… because I expect I will be pointing it out to people along the way (in a, “Hey, It’s not me… this is the agency’s expectations” kind of way).
Admittedly I feel a bit nervous about having to be the gatekeeper (which may mean telling people: “I don’t think you’re quite ready for that step.”), but I guess we all need to do our share for the sake of “the team.” The less busy you guys are wading through proposals by people who haven’t honed their skills yet, the more time you have to do the “representing” side of your job.
Thanks for clarifying for us where our responsibility lies.
I feel like the kid outside looking through the window (and I’m a really old kid).
I can see a party, candy and a puppy … and its cold out here.
But I get it … I really do. Thanks for the information as always.
Referrals can happen not only from writers to agents, but from writers to other writers about agents. I’ve been writing fiction for several years. As I’ve prepared for the day I’m ready to submit to agents, I’ve gleaned information from my critique friends and other writers about agents–good and bad. Of course, I don’t want to take everything I hear and believe it blindly, but the truth is that people talk about their experiences with agents, editors, and publishers. The more I become acquainted with the industry, the more I realize what a small network it is, which makes me be intentional about my connections and how I speak about others.