February 3, 2011

"After The Call": That Pesky Thing Called a Referral

After The Call is a series on my blog that chronicles what happens after you get an offer of representation from a literary agent. I aim to answer questions concerning multiple offers, communication, revisions, and even how to break up with an agent. For previous posts in this series, please check out the "After The Call" sidebar.

Referrals = Referring someone to your agent.

As in: "Dear Agent Jim, Please read my friend's butterfly-werewolf-fairy novel! She is awesome and so is her book!"

Referrals are a great way to bring quality manuscripts to your agent's attention. Plus, it's a nice way to help out your fellow writers---if your critique partner has written something totally AMAZE-BALLS then a referral from you could be her foot in the door. Huzzah!

Sounds so easy, right? Well...not so easy for me. See, I languished over this whole referral thing when I initially signed with Jim. First of all, I was a new client and I didn't want to bother him too much. Second, I wasn't sure how to make a referral without hurting someone's feelings. I'm in critique groups. What if I referred one member but not the others? Wouldn't they feel slighted? And third, what if I referred a book to Jim and he didn't like it and then he thought my taste in books was awful?! Eeek!

Ha! Melodrama. It rules my life.

And so, I decided that I wouldn't make any referrals for the time being. I'd wait until I established a longer-term relationship with my agent before sending any manuscripts his way.

But then something happened. A writer sent me an email to ask a few questions about Jim. Did I like working with him? What sort of books was he seeking at the moment? Did I think the writer should send Jim a query? I shot off a quick response and said something like, "Yeah, you should query Jim if you want to! I think he reps what you write."

A few weeks thereafter, I got another email from this writer. He let me know that Jim had requested his full manuscript and he thanked me profusely for referring him to my agent. My jaw dropped. My stomach churned. I wanted to stick my head inside my laptop and shout: "Dear Lord Baby Jesus! I didn't refer you to Jim! Gah!"

I emailed Jim and apologized. I was so worried! And mad! But Jim told me not to worry and that this sort of thing happens more often than not. Phew! Relief set in. Then, I rounded my shoulders and sent another email to Jim, telling him that I would give him a heads-up in the future if I was sending any referrals in his direction. This way, he could be sure if I was really referring someone or not.

Concerning referrals... Learn from my mistakes!

1.) Talk to your agent about her referral policy. If you decide to make a referral, how should you let your agent know about it? What are her preferences in this regard?

2.) Tell your agent that you will email him if you are referring another writer. This will help your agent discern between a real referral and a made-up one.

3.) Don't be afraid to be direct. Looking back now, I realize that I could've been more direct with the writer who asked me questions about Jim. I could've said something like, "You are more than welcome to send Jim a query, but please know that I am unable to make any referrals at the moment." It could have saved me a lot of grief.

Any questions out there? If you have an agent, what is your policy concerning referrals? 

7 comments:

  1. I guess you could have been more direct, but your first response doesn't seem like a referral to me! The way I see it, if authors gave referrals for everyone who asked or everyone who kinda-sorta knew them, then they'd be meaningless.

    Great post for those with and without agents!

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  2. Very helpful!
    Eek, I never even thought someone might fake a referral (or just be confused as to what it actually means).

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  3. No kidding. Wow, some people have nerve! But great advice.

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  4. Great post! Since I've only been with my agent for less than 2 months, I'm nowhere near comfortable with referring another writer to her yet. I'm with you--I'd like to let our relationship build before opening that door. :)

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  5. This is a really great series, thatnks so much for it. You're right about there being so little information about what happens next. I'll be interested to hear about what happens once your agent starts sending it out to publishers.

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  6. I hadn't even given this one a thought. I've only been with John a short time, and wouldn't know the procedure. Thanks for the heads up on the whole subject.

    Needless to say, I haven't referred anyone, and like you I would probably feel a bit uncomfortable about the whole thing.

    Another killer post, Caroline!

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  7. Tracey, yeah I didn't think my response sounded like a referral either! Haha. Guess some people just read into things too much?

    Alyson, I'm so thankful we have such a nice understanding agent! Jim didn't even blink an eye when I told him about the fake referral and he told me he'd be happy to take any future referrals I had. Classy guy!

    Janet, indeed! Some people certainly have some nerve! Haha.

    Pam, I feel you! I've been with Jim for about 9 months and I'm not sure if I feel comfortable referring anyone just yet!

    Kate, thanks! I do hope to write some posts soon about the whole submission process and how to stay sane during it. :)

    Ian, thanks for the kind comment! Do you think you might refer someone in the future?

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