On Referrals


Here’s the basics on what is and isn’t a referral.

This is a referral: An agent’s client who says “Hey you should query my agent, and use my name.”

How to use it: In your query: “Client XYZ raves about you and suggested I try you with my novel, GENIUS WORK.”

This is not a referral: An agent’s client who you know on Twitter/blogs/writer’s group, but who has not offered to put you in touch with his or her agent.

How to use it: In your query: “I like your Client XYZ’s blog and am in Client ABC’s writer’s group, and so I wanted to be in touch about my novel SERIOUSLY IT’S AWESOME.” (Not a referral, not strictly necessary, but certainly doesn’t hurt, and can help personalize your query if that’s your bag.)

Referral: An editor I know emails me your ms, or an editor/film agent/etc I know emails me to see if I’d want to see your ms.

Not a referral: An “editorial service,” whose staff members I don’t know, provided a list of agent names. Apparently, this happens–but if you put this source in your query, that person’s name won’t mean anything to me. Save your money and visit QueryTracker or Agentquery or the site of your choice to do your own research.

Referral: Another agent suggests my name and says to say s/he sent you.

How to use it: Include pretty much exactly that in your query.

Not a referral: Another agent passes on your query.

How to use it: No quotes from someone else’s pass, no matter how complimentary. For more on this see Jessica’s smart post.

Not a referral: Finding an agent listed on an agent search site.

How to use it: You can mention where you saw the agent listed, if you’d like, but it’s not necessary for me, anyhow.

A referral, if you legitimately have one, is a lovely thing. But it’s not a golden ticket, and a “referral” from someone I don’t know, whose word has no weight with me, doesn’t help. I request materials from authors with no referral or connection all the time; you’re not down before you begin. So rather than trying to snag a referral (or worse yet, badgering someone so badly trying to get one that the author couldn’t say anything pleasant were their agent to ask), just focus on writing the best novel & query you can.

If the referrals come as a result of the relationships you’ve formed in the writing community in the meantime, great! You’ll do your referrers proud. And if they don’t, you’ll still have a strong query that will catch an agent’s eye, no introduction necessary.


13 Responses to “On Referrals”

  1. Helpful! (And hilarious…)

  2. Great post, Holly!

    I recently received a referral from an agent (my first!), but unfortunately, the agent she referred me to was one I’d already queried – and that agent had already requested a partial and passed on it.

    • An excellent confirmation that you’re targeting the right people, at least. Congrats on nabbing that referral!

  3. 4 henya

    Right. The Golden Ticket. What is the golden ticket?
    It was refreshing to read that you often request materials from authors by virtue of their writing alone.

    Thank you. I needed to read this.

  4. 5 5kidswdisabilities

    I had an agent interested, he just e-mailed me he was “pursuing other interests”
    and wished me luck. Guess I hitched my star to the wrong wagon…..

    Lindsey Petersen

  5. D’oh! Is this really confusing to some people?

    It’s all common sense and etiquette, I think.

  6. 7 Your devoted fan

    I refer all 250,000+ word fiction novels to Holly. Frankly, I’m a little surprised and saddened by the lack of thanks I get for such generosity.

  7. Great post. 🙂

    Also, I am living proof that ‘real’ referrals WORK. You referred me to Miriam Kriss after reading my query & opening pages, and to this day I remember Miriam saying: “Holly has a good eye! Send me the full.” I’d queried her anyway, but that had been months ago and I assumed it was either a “no” or my query had gotten lost in the pile. Your referral served to get me back in the running with her.

    Miriam has been my agent for 18 monts and love her, and my first novel comes out with Flux 11 months from now.



  8. Hi, Elizabeth S. Craig suggested on Twitter that I read this blog, and I am glad I did.

  9. Great post! Love the the “visual” way to explain the differences. This will help authors identify what is actually a referral and what situations says the otherwise.

  10. 11 Samuel_MacDonald

    Hey guys, just wanted to get some advice even if this is perhaps the incorrect forum to do so. I have currently written the first novel in a trilogy and I am following Jeff Herman’s guide to Literary Agents and Publishers. My trilogy is historical fiction and set in Nazi Germany predominantly on the Eastern Front. I have been receiving good feedback (roughly 1 response per 4 queries) from the big conglomerates but as yet no offers to take things further. As an Australian, I have decided that going to Australian publishers is a waste of time because the market is so small, but for every 4 queries sent to the US it cost me an arm and leg. I am under no illusions that rejection is the name of the game but I am considering a change of strategy i.e headhunting an Agent or maybe…and I stress maybe look down the e-book path. Any advice would be terrific, thanks 🙂

    • Hey Sam (and any other international residents out there)–you should 100% be making use of e-queries. Virtually every agency accepts emailed queries now, which will save you that arm and leg. Check out querytracker.net and agentquery.com both of which have email-submission focused search tools. Good luck to you!

  1. 1 Query break & new location « Waxman Literary Agency

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