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. Certain agencies separate their query piles, or have assistants review it so I know they pass things between each other. At our agency we all look at the same slush pile where all the queries go, so I very rarely send things on to Curtis or Maria because I know they’ve already seen the query. Sometimes I get personal referrals which I will then share.

4) It’s not our job, it’s yours. This question stems from a sense of hopefulness that agents can make magic happen. It’s not our job to give you a list of agents. Yes, we can do it in our sleep. But no, we can’t because if I did that for every full manuscript I read I’d be giving away about an hour of my time every week or so. I say it time and time again, but there are so many resources out there to help you find agents. Namely: here, here and here.

There are instances where I will send a writer elsewhere:

  • I have an author writing something similar so I can’t take both on
  • My list is full right now

But these are rare instances (i.e. once per year) for me at this time in my career. So that’s why agents don’t give referrals often.

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

13 thoughts on “Why Literary Agents Do Not Give Referrals

  1. I don’t think I would ever ask for that, but would assume if you thought it was valuable enough you might share with someone in your office. But only if it was valuable enough. Your time is far too valuable.


  2. Having worked in the publishing industry, this is quite understandable. Everyone’s busy and it is important for writers to go through the proper channels. Sometimes when I had to take over reception in order for the receptionist to get some lunch, I’d sometimes get cold-calls from writers (like seriously, I’m in marketing…there’s no way I can help you). Also, I think it’s important for writers to put in the work, follow the rules, and keep trying! This shows people the kind of person you are and what you might be like from the publishing to promotion stages as well as for future opportunities. Thanks for sharing, Carly!


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