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?