I know that by posting this, it's going to look as if I'm fishing. But I'm not, truly. Just overcome by curiousity! (Have been for months, actually.)

OK, the question. How indeed do authors come to recommend/refer unknowns to their agents? Do you pretty much have to have met them through an MFA program or a conference/seminar?

Again: not fishing. LOL

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I refer writers that I think will be a good fit for my agent. She actually doesn't represent that many mystery writers; she goes for more literary, multicultural and quirky stuff. YA, middle-grade and women's lit, too.

The way I found her (well, actually the agency and the agency's partner) was through the acknowledgments page of a published mystery series. The writer was doing something similar to what I was trying to achieve. I didn't know the writer. Still haven't met her.

You really want to find an agent who GETS you. Who's really into you. Editors and publishers will come and go, but odds are your relationship with your agent will be for the long run.
Thanks, Naomi. So what's better - focus queries to a select few well-researched agents, or cast a wide net to increase the odds that you will find the right one? (I guess starting out the first way, and then if it doesn't work, casting the net wider?)
Christa, one of the very best ways to find an agent is through the writers' conference route.

Yes, expensive - but very targeted. Otherwise, casting the big net is wise. Every path is worth a try.

Here's an author, editor and former industry insider who describes all the paths to finding an agent (and a publisher) - http://www.annemini.com/. Dr. Mini is something of a cross between the cruel, vicious Miss Snark and Miss Manners. Her advice on manuscript prep and presentation package prep . . . well, it would be worth the price of admission, if there was one (and it was damned high).
Depending on who the agent is, you may not need a referral. Most of the agents who only take referrals are quite full on their lists. I think getting on with them would be quite hard.

This is the one thing that's been a real source of curiosity to me. I've had complete strangers email me asking me to refer agents they can query, or to refer them to my agent. I suppose they think newer authors will be more willing to consider that... For me, at the time I'd had an agent for only a few months and this was more nerve-wracking, my relationship with my agent too new to feel I should be referring people.

Ideally, I think what should happen is that a writer identifies agents that represent the type of work they produce. (Obviously the agent should be legit.) They can then either plan to attend a convention where the agent might be at, or submit material to them as per their submission guidelines. Although I've gotten to know more agents over time, along with people in all categories, I've never met my agent face to face. We have a relationship that is, to present, based solely on my work. He wanted to represent me because he believed in it, and I like knowing that. Since I wasn't referred I don't have to worry about feeling as though I've let anyone down if things don't work out with the agent.

Now that I've thought it through, I'd be very particular about referring someone to my agent. Reading their work would be essential. It's more likely I'd consider referring someone we'd published through Spinetingler, because (although I've been asked by strangers to do this) I just don't have the time to read people's manuscripts to decide if I think they'll fit. My first priority for reading goes to the people I've critiqued with. Plus, the advantage to considering someone I've worked with on the ezine before is that I know something of their work ethic/level of professionalism. That's important to me too. I'd feel terrible if I referred someone who ended up being...well... a big problem.
I think that's where being an intern or assistant comes in handy. It might be unglamorous scutwork for awhile, but you get the benefit of your boss's endorsement and contacts too.

Also many editors become agents later in their careers, so of course that job is all about contacts.
I totally second this. My agent is wonderful and very supportive. I don't want to spoil that relationship by making demands on her.

And I would think that you'd want to read the other author's book before considering making a recommendation.

The best thing to do is to query and query widely among respected agents who work with authors in your field.
I was referred to my agent by a friend, after knowing this friend for five years. She approached me, said she thought my work had reached the point where I might need the agent's services. I would not refer another writer to my agent unless I thought the writer could make my agent some money.

Lord knows I haven't.
I'll generally tell someone "sure, send my agent a query," since he is still seeking new clients. Then I'll e-mail him saying "I met this person, he/she's sending you a query," then I let him know either "I've read their stuff and I think you might like it" or "I have no idea whether they're any good."
I got my agent through a referral, a writer I met online and eventually became very good friends with. She (the writer) loved my manuscript, and after some discussion (and a bit of research on my part) we agreed her agent and I might be a good fit. The referral helped a great deal, because it allowed me to pretty much skip the usual query process and send the entire manuscript. I'm sure all referrals don't work that way, though. The writer I befriended has been with this agent many years with many sales, and at one point was working as an acquisitions editor for the agency. In other words, the writer was someone the agent trusted to recognize the manuscript as a potential good match.

A couple of months after I signed, another online friend asked me for a referral. I hated to turn him down but, like Sandra, I didn't feel as though I had been with my agent long enough, and had enough experience in recognizing what he might be looking for, to do that. I think I should at least get a sale or two under my belt before asking my agent to look at an author's work.

That said, if I came across something I felt was brilliant, with bestseller potential, I might offer the referral even with no track record of my own. It would have to be something that really knocked my socks off, though.
When I finished THE BLACK WIDOW AGENCY, I joined Writer's Market on-line (www.writersmarket.com) where they keep an up-to-date listing of agents accepting mss. I used that mostly for my research and solicited agents that accepted e-mail queries because it just made sense to do it by e-mail. So I sent out a bunch of e-mail queries and voila, I found a great agent, Jill Grosjean. She's on top of everything, very responsive, very professional and a nice lady to boot. I highly recommend Writer's Market as a resource. The on-line subscription, which is very reasonable (about $30 a year) also gives you access to an on-line manuscript tracker where you can track submissions of either mss or query letters.
You know you don't need a referral to query most agents, right?

Sure it does warm up the cold call to say "Eric Stone said to give you a holler" but I read and respond to every query letter sent in the mail and 90% of those sent by email.

I don't know why or how my authors decide to give people my name. I always tell them it's fine to list me on their sites and tell people who I am. I make my living finding and representing great writers so I'm always on the lookout. 95% of my colleagues work the same way.

Good luck on the search.


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