Referrals vs. Cold Querying

Here’s a question from a reader that I got a few weeks ago:

I shared my manuscript with two published authors who write in the same genre as me (upper MG). One of them loved it and offered to refer me to her New York agent, who has placed books with all the major houses. The woman who read my book seems happy with this agent; however, they would not have been on my “top ten” list.

This seems like a great opportunity and I don’t want to screw it up. My question: Do I send her the polished manuscript to refer to her agent at the same time I query my top picks? Do I still query my top picks or wait to hear back on the referral? Or do I strategically time my queries between the referral and the “cold calls”? Does it even matter or am I overthinking this?

First of all, “am I overthinking this?” is my favorite question ever because it’s almost always self-answering. Yes. You are overthinking this. But I do understand that it’s not a no-brainer and that most writers who have an opportunity are fanatically afraid of screwing things up.

Luckily, there’s a very simple answer to this question. If you have a lead with any agent, take it, but don’t let it be your only lead. In other words, do take the referral, but don’t waste any time. Query other agents, also. You don’t need to mention anything to anyone except the usual, “This is a multiple submission.”

Why? Well, sure, the referral is great. Agents always take referrals from clients more seriously than straight slush. At the same time, though, while we’ll linger on the submission longer than we usually would and while we’ll probably look at it more quickly since it has a client’s name attached, we still have to evaluate the writing and the story and whether it’s a fit for us, as if it was any other submission. And it might not be a fit, even if a client vouches for it.

So, submit to other agents at the same time. You can always entertain interest from more than one agent at once. And be sure to thank your friend for the referral, even if the agent might reject you or if they’re not really on your radar. At the end of the day, you never know what might happen.

5 Replies to “Referrals vs. Cold Querying”

  1. Great post. It seems that many writers forget that agents are people too. We allow ourselves to get so worked up over this query process, we tie ourselves in knots. Thanks for your down-to-earth advice.

  2. I agree with Mary, submit to all. If you happen to receive an offer for representation from an agent you’ve been referred to, I believe it’s polite to let all other agents you’re on submission with know, it might even peek interest from other said agents!

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