Agency Lessons: Referrals

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.
I'm way behind in queries so I've been reading them in massive quantities in my attempt to catch up so I can re-open. Whenever I read queries in quantities like this, I always find trends. Some of them good. Some of them...not so good.

The newest trend in my inbox...referrals. Unfortunately, these are not doing anyone any favors. So let's clear the air on referrals, what they are, and what they get you.

What is a referral?
A referral is when a current client or professional who I respect sends me an email to let me know about someone who they think would be a good match for me. This is someone else willing to put their name on recommending an author and their work to me. These emails are usually short and sweet and let me know about the author and a little about their book. 

These emails let me know that a query is coming my way. They do not take the place of a query and they aren't a golden ticket. More on that in a bit.

What it is not?
Anything that is not a the above situation. Someone telling you that I might be a good match for your work is not a referral. Someone I don't know giving you my name is not a referral. Someone mentioning that I represent books like yours is not a referral. Basically, if I didn't already know your query was coming, it's not a referral. 

Also, while we are talking about other people, a referral is not a querying service emailing me on your behalf about your book. These are actually the worst and I have never requested a manuscript from one of those queries. Don't do this.

So what does a referral get you?
I'll be honest, not much. For some agents, a referral moves you up in line, so you get your response a little faster. For me, a referral basically gets you a longer look. When I get a referral, I tend to take my time reading the full submission, even if I normally would have stopped reading after the query or pages. 

Sometimes I query will get you a slightly more personalized query. I try to always add in a little something specific when I respond to queries, so with me, this isn't special treatment for a referral. Keep in mind every agent will be different with how they treat referrals.

What doesn't a referral get you?
That golden ticket I mentioned earlier. Yeah, it doesn't come in referral form. At the end of the day, I still have to love your work. Just because one of my clients or a trusted friend in the industry thinks your work is great, doesn't mean that I will. Publishing is highly subjective and just because I love my clients work doesn't mean we love the same kind of stories. 

A referral is not a guarantee that I will request your manuscript and it certainly isn't a factor in deciding to offer representation.

At the end of the day, referrals are one of those things that can sound magical when you are just starting out. Having another author offer to refer you to their agent can sound like a dream come true. Just keep it all in perspective. It's a lovely thing to get, but not the glass slipper waiting to make your dreams come true. Just keep writing and querying, because that's how all of my clients came to me.