Why Literary Agents Do Not Give Referrals

shannoneileenblogspotOne of the most popular question when I’m on an agent panel at a writer’s conference goes like this: “If an agent reads my book and it’s not for them, will they send it on to another agent who they think it might be a better fit for?”

My answer is usually no. Some agents say yes, but I say no.

This is why (I should clarify) MOST agents don’t give referrals:

1) If we loved it we wouldn’t let it go. If we are over the moon about the book we’ll make time in our busy schedules. If we’re not, we don’t have energy to spend on projects we aren’t pursuing. It’s a reality of our job and saving energy for what we choose to invest in. You’ll be thankful of this when you have an agent, believe me.

2) We don’t have time. We work for our clients first and foremost. Looking at queries, helping writers on Twitter, and all of these extra things we put on our plates are not part of our business model. So when we know a project isn’t right for us we don’t wrack our brains thinking of ways we can help. We try to get the project off our desk as soon as possible to help the writer move on and seek out someone else.

3) Within the agency: sometimes yes. Continue reading

#WFpitch Session January 30th, 7pm EST

Women’s fiction writers looking for agents, here’s your event!

Women’s Fiction Writers Association, agent Katie Shea Boutillier, and me will be hosting a Twitter pitch session Thursday January 30th at 7pm EST.

Use your tweet to pitch your manuscript and make sure you use the hashtag #WFpitch so we see it.

Get your pitch ready! (Finished manuscripts only, please.)

We’re looking forward to seeing what you’ve got in the book club book and women’s fiction category.


Deal News: THE WELLNESS KITCHEN cookbook to Adams Media

paulette and chris EMWLE

Registered Dietitian, Director of Nutrition at the California Health & Longevity Institute, and former Nutrition Expert on ABC’s EXTREME WEIGHT LOSS Paulette Lambert’s THE WELLNESS KITCHEN, featuring the delicious, healthy, and disease preventative recipes that have already helped thousands of Americans lose weight on TV and at home, to Maria Ribas at Adams Media.

Being an agent is about reading between the lines

reading on couchAgents are looking for projects that are as close to ‘ready’ as they can be. Of course we want a quick turn around on projects because that gets the enthusiasm moving right along from writer to agent to editor. However, we’re always doing edits and we’re always looking for potential in our query inboxes as well as finished projects.

The reason that this business is so subjective is that all agents have different taste and different ideas about what potential projects can be. I’ve passed on projects that I thought needed work, because I wasn’t the one that was going to be able to connect the dots on that manuscript. And I’ve signed up projects where I could see the potential screaming at me but it needed a bit of work to get it there.

What agents do for authors in the slush pile:

  • We look at what has potential
  • We look at what we can bring to life
  • What look for what we get excited about

This isn’t an excuse to send us less than ready projects. But, it does let you know that all agents are looking for something different.

If you are looking for a collaborative agent focus your queries on newer agents who have time and energy to give. More established agents don’t have as much time to edit and grow new writers.

What you can do as a writer to make yourself open:

  • Accept revise and resubmit letters with the intent to always make yourself better
  • Don’t take rejections as the ‘be all and end all’ of your writing career
  • When an agent opens the dialogue, whether by email or at a writers conference, take notes and listen objectively
  • Take time away from your writing so you came come to it with an open mind when you do get feedback

At the end of the day this is a very collaborative business. Your agent and editor will provide lots of feedback and things to think about. There is not one way of reading anything, not one way to make improvements. Listen to the agent that provides the notes that connect with you, not the agent whose notes push you in a different direction.

You are the writer and creative force behind everything you do, an agent’s job is to recognize and cultivate it so you can grow together.