Why I Can't Recommend Another Agent For You
I haven't even read your book
Did you catch my secret bonus everyone-got-it newsletter on Thursday? (Really, I hit the wrong button but) Everyone, paying or not, got to see Thursday’s newsletter about how I don’t want a service that vets my queries for me. It’s behind a paywall now, but if you liked it, you can subscribe here!
I get asked this a lot: if my work is not for you, can you recommend another agent? 99% of the time, I cannot. You know why?
Because most of the time I have not read your book. At the very most, I have read your sample chapters and your query letter, and while that might be enough information to know that I am not the right agent for your work, it doesn’t mean it’s enough information for me to know why it’s right for someone else. I could be passing on your work because my client list is full; another client is doing something similar; I tried something like this and it didn’t work; I didn’t like the voice; it was too short or long; I just heard at lunch no one wants this genre anymore—any number of reasons that are hardly about quality. Very, very rarely do I read a query and think omg this is so good, but I can’t sell it. I bet Agent X can!
To pass it along to another agent, I have to have some confidence about it. Maybe I don’t like the voice, but the hook is great. Maybe my client list is full; but my friend is on the hunt. Maybe an agent at a party told me she was super into X and that just crossed my path. All these things happen from time! But you know what? It’s rare. It’s rare for the stars to align in that way. Over the course of the 500+ queries I get in a month, that’s going to happen less than one time, on average. It’s just as likely as I pick something up from the slush as I pass it on to someone else.
(Here’s a secret: when agents get a referral from another agent, they instantly think if this is so good why aren’t they going for it? We look gift queries in the mouth. When I pass something along, I tell the agent exactly why it’s not right for me to combat this. So, to pass something along, I have to think it will sell. And that doesn’t happen as often in the slush.)
But why don’t you just try? Everyone would win! you might think.
Sure! That’s possible. But my agent friends have their own 500+ queries in their inboxes. They have their own referrals and requests and conference meet-ups and things from their bosses, and tbh, we’re all topped off with queries. The agents I know have plenty.
And passing a query to another agent, or suggesting a name to an author, is an extension of my reputation. If I just give out recommendations on Twitter or whatever, that writer is going to say to my friend Kate suggested I be in touch with you. To that agent, it that means Kate thought this was good enough to pass along. That’s flattering, to the writer and the agent. But if I haven’t read the work, and the receiving agent thinks it’s not great, for any reason, they might think geez, what was Kate thinking? She thought I would like this? What does she think about me and my taste? That damages my relationship with that agent. I only pass along referrals to other agents or hand out names when I’m almost certain the receiving agent will like it. Otherwise, it’s a waste of everyone’s time.
I also get: you don’t represent my genre; do you know other agents who do?
Sometimes I do. But guess what? If I don’t represent your genre, there’s a reason. It’s because I don’t know anything about that genre. Let’s take mysteries for example. (As I have said before) I cannot remember the last straight up mystery novel I read. Does Misery count? I read that in like 8th grade. I’ve never read Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes. (Don’t come at me. Everyone gets to read, or not read, what they want.) It’s just not my thing. I don’t watch L&O or SVU or anything like that. That stuff just makes me anxious.
I don’t really know the agents who do mysteries. I’m sure some of my friends do. I think one of my colleagues might be open to it (we don’t do a whole lot of them at HMLA). But, like, I don’t know if they like whodunnits, or more like Gone Girl, or historicals, or…. other things I don’t know about because I don’t know about mysteries! Therefor, I cannot recommend an another agent for you who works in a genre I know nothing about. You don’t want me to. I would probably give you bad advice.
Agents are not interchangeable. We are not email machines that get your work into editors’ inboxes. We don’t all know all editors and all genres. Yeah, we probably know more agents than you do, but we don’t know YOUR BOOK. You don’t ask your dentist if they know a good podiatrist and expect them to hand you four names from their Rolodex.
You know your book best. Do your own homework. If you do get referred to another agent, thank everyone profusely.