Friday, February 29, 2008

Nothing To Lose? Think again!

As you know, I travel back and forth to work on the subway. Some days I manage to leave right during the busiest commute time and find myself cheek and jowl with many of New York's...well, citizens might be the least judgmental word to use.

Today was such a day.

I managed to scratch and claw my way to a seat on the train, when some bumbling fool smacked into me hard enough to make me drop the book I was reading.

"Excuse me!" I barked "I believe that is mine."

"Hands off lady," he barked back. "That's mine."

I quickly realized he'd bumped me on purpose to get his paws on my book.

There's an increasing volume of "Is not!, is SO!" exchanged until we are crouched, inches from one another, reaching for instruments of violence. Mine a hat pin, his a menacing looking Evian bottle.

Someone must have panicked because soon there were transit police in the car, and bystanders told to move along and catch the next train.

The first officer grabbed me by the scruff of my neck, hoisted me off the floor and said "Lady, what the hell are you doing!"

I saw the Evian wielding book thief was receiving similar treatment.

"That man tried to steal my book!"

The officer looked down at the book which by now had skidded across the subway car and teetered precariously in the gap between car and platform.

"Rodriguez," the officer bellows "grab that book!"

The other transit officer unhands the book thief, grabs MY book and comes over to the cop still holding me by the scruff.

"This one?" he asks.

"That one," Officer Scruffy responds. "We're going to hold it for evidence."

"Evidence!" I shriek!
"Evidence!" the book thief shrieks!

"No!" we shriek in unison "It's MINE."

"Prove it" snarls Officer Scruffy.

Well of course, neither of us can. I'd opened the mailer in my office and tossed it. I'd just kept the book. I certainly hadn't written my name in it. I had no receipt from a bookstore.

Damn, damn damn.

Evian Man is equally unable to prove ownership, of course, thief that HE is.

And this is why, dear readers, my lovely beautiful ARC of the new Jack Reacher novel is being read by two very happy transit cops tonight instead of safely home with me, assuaging my sore throat and making me feel better.

Fortunately, I took a photo of it with my cell phone cam to comfort me in my hour of need.

Tomorrow, I march down to Police Plaza to find my book!

You don't mess around with MY Reacher novel, no you certainly do NOT.

Why this isn't in the Northon Anthology I do not know

Some things you just have to read to believe.

What happens when you send me a mass email

I open it.
I see it's a mass email.
I mark it "spam."

Your email is flagged as spam by my email program.
I never see anything you send me, ever again.


If I'm considering your manuscript, be it full, partial, pages, or just a query, DO NOT start sending me all your "my novel got great reviews at Amazon's contest."

I have ZERO tolerance for mass email right now because I'm so behind on stuff and I try very very hard to respond to my queries promptly.

Be smart.
If you wonder if you should send it, the answer is no.

If you want to send something just to ME, it should have direct relevance to what I'm considering. Amazon contest reviews, newspaper mentions, what other agents or editors or readers have said, do NOT qualify.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The value of a good editor

There's a lot of talk about editors and what they want, and what they like to see, but hardly anyone talks about the real value of a good editor.

My client Patrick Lee is a wonderful writer and I loved the book we sold to Sarah Durand at Harper.

We got the editorial notes tonight. It's not quite 10,000 pages. Ok, it's four.

I'm in awe. Sarah's insight into plot, and character development, what works and what doesn't is amazing. Her careful reading (it took about a month, and two reads for her to get back to us) will make what was a pretty good book, a much better one.

More and more I realize that finding the right editor isn't always finding the editor that wants to buy a project. Finding an editor with acute vision, a sensitive red pen, and a good author-manner is just as important.

And the funny thing is, most people will never know. They'll read the finished product and say "wow that Patrick Lee is a great writer." Well, yes he is. But he's also got a great editor.

June 2009. Get ready to be blown away!

Middle of the night stuff

When my good friend and colleague Sorche Fairbank can't sleep, she reads her query letters and ends up signing amazing clients.

Me, I find my amazing clients mentioned in very very strange ways.

Like here.

Yes, I know I should be mainlining vinegar, and sleeping.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

one of those little things that doesn't matter..till it does

You've surely heard of the Great Vegetable War between Jessica Seinfeld and The Sneaky Chef. Jerry Seinfeld went on David Letterman and scoffed at "vegetable plagiarism" which we all thought was hilarious of course.

Well, the Sneaky Chef didn't think it was so funny and filed a lawsuit.

The Seinfeld's filed their response today.

If you check it out, look at paragraph 77.

No damages allowed because even if it was all true, the Sneaky Chef hadn't registered her copyright in time.


One of those little things you never think about till it's too late.
Maybe more spinach..I hear it's brain food.

No, I'm not dead

but you wouldn't know it to listen to me, or how far behind I am on my email.

Yes, the galloping crud has galloped right over me.

I'm horizontal and thinking clean healthy thoughts. It's a real challenge, lemme tell ya.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Geeze, now I know why all my authors are gonna need pen names

Via Sarah's always useful, always well written blog, came a link to this:

Simply searching on "novelist" or "writer" turns up all sorts of info about who gave what to which political campaign.

Now, I'm all for this free and democratic election thing we've got going on here (try not to choke when you read that), but man oh man, I'm not sure I want people knowing I gave money to Ron Paul Mike Huckabee Barack Obama. Well, let's make that I'm not sure I want readers knowing that.

This ability to find out info is fun a lot of times, but in this instance it strikes me as coming close to prurient. We're not interested in making sure Ron Paul Mike Huckabee Barack Obama's money is coming from real people and in lawful amounts, now we're interested in who people are giving to.

If I gave money to Ron Paul Mike Huckabee Barack Obama would you be more or less likely to buy/read a book I sold? Or to query me?

In this day and age, I'm not sure I want to risk it. And for the record, I'm voting for KC Dyer, one of the coordinators of the Surrey Writing Conference. I can assure you the world would be a MUCH better place if she were in charge of running it.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Raising the bar...and not in a good way

Yes, I read every query.
Some queries just aren't very enticing.

Here are some phrases that raise the bar on whether I want to read your stuff, and that's pretty much NOT what you want:

1. coming of age
2. set in the 70's
3. long suffering VietNam vet
4. billionaire
5. shadowy conspiracy
6. must run for her life
7. horrific abuse
8. evil

And when you give me a list of events in the book rather than a hook, my answer is "so what". That is not what you want my response to be either.

I'm actively looking for good stuff, but it's YOUR job to show me it's good. (Which means you don't tell me it's good and then list a bunch of reasons why ...but that's another rant entirely)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Swagolicious! yet again

"First thing I did was, I stole a body."

With a first line like that, the editor was lucky I stayed for the rest of lunch. All I wanted to do was read on.

Repossessed is a hilarious novel, and might be just what you're looking for if you have boys looking for something good to read. Girls too of course.

I came right home and read straight through. I have 97 emails waiting; it was worth it.

Jeff Somers yet again, again

Jeff Somers has another fan!

And rights to his book just sold in Hungary.
We're gonna take Budapest by storm.

Now that we know where it is

Some of the best writing to learn from

It's extraordinarily difficult to write well in a short form. I beat my head on the desk over cover letters, pitch letters (and phone scripts!) and email pitches, just like you beat your head on the desk about query letters.

One of the ways I tune up to write those devilish things, is read really good short form writers. One of the very best is Oline Cogdill who writes at the SunSentinel and contributes to the blog there.

I read her regularly, much like I read the short book reviews in the New Yorker, as much for style and writing, as for content.


I have a new found delight over at the Good Girl lit blog. I found them through a link on Nathan Bransford's blog about finding God in The Wire. (I've mentioned that topic before here too)

But what made me love them was their link to this:

If you're still snail mailing queries

Postage is going up on 5/12.

You'd do well to use Forever stamps starting about now so that your SASE will have correct postage no matter when it gets sent back.

(Thanks to Nathan Bransford's blog for the info)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Why I love my job...reason manyfingers?

There I am at the Century Club for the Thomas Dunne party. Nice joint. They make me check my firearms at the door, so you know it's genteel. The coat check attendants even refuse the dollar I've made sure to bring (after last year's fiasco when Jeff Somers had to lend his very own agent-moi- a dollar to get her jetpack out of coat check!).

I make a dash for the bar. One new Dunne editor, clearly never having met me before, gets in the way. I exchange brief civilities with him then feint left, duck right, and throw myself at the bar. A very nice bartender says "ya, whats yers." I point at the scotch bottle. He misunderstands and picks up a glass. I realize this is a nice place and walking around with a bottle of scotch might send the wrong message.

I accede to the glass.

Then this "bartender" puts ice in the glass. I shriek NO! NO! (the glass breaks).

He says "what? no ice?"

I plead yet again, "no! no!"

He picks up a wine glass. Again, the shriek. NO!
I point to the mixed drink glasses-four ounce tumblers.

Then he pours me a full glass. Not a shot. Not even two shots. He fills the glass like it was a mixed drink. And hands it to me.

The only bad thing about this? Eric Stone and my other Scotch drinking clients aren't actually here to enjoy it with me.

But, all in all, a damn fine party.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I love editor lunches with new editors!
They bring presents!!

I hauled in some NICE stuff this summer when David Rogers introduced me to Donald Antrim's The Afterlife.

I got James Tiptree Jr: The Life of Alice Sheldon this summer too; a book I loved so much I'd actually already read it!

And today, yea, I got some really good new YA stuff:

Audrey, Wait by Robin Benway
La Petite Four by Regina Scott
Talent by Zoey Dean (so new it's not even up on Amazon yet)

I have a long plane ride coming up!
Yummy reading!!

Did I mention I love my job!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Smart advice about writing

One of my great rants is on why authors should not teach "how to get published" workshops. The flip side is I don't think agents should teach "how to write novels" seminars either ... unless they are published novelists.

I'm not a novelist. The closest I come to feeling your writing pain is doing long form blog posts, and I only do those once a week.

I do however keep my eye peeled for interesting posts on the craft of writing because it helps me talk to writers about why something may not work.

Here's one from Susan Adrian's blog on fear.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Updated AAR guidelines on conference consultation fees

I will never forget the consternation I caused one conference coordinator by telling her that I couldn't do one-on-ones if the conference charged money for them. Particularly if they gave me some of the money. She was so surprised we were forced to retreat to the nearest bar for an emergency scotch. She ended up refunding a LOT of money to very glad conference attendees.

AAR has been pretty particular about this prohibition. The feeling was that paying an agent to look at work was a slippery slope. Whether I thought it was too strict was immaterial; we were supposed to adhere to it.

Now the AAR has revised the guidelines and says it's ok for a writing conference to charge money for a one-on-one, and pay an agent for it too.

It's still absolutely NOT ok for an agent to charge upfront reading fees. DO NOT PAY AN AGENT. I'm always amazed when people ask what I charge to read things, or worse, offer to pay me to leap to the head of the line, but agents who belong to AAR or adhere to the AAR Code of Ethics do not charge reading fees.

Here's the text of the revised AAR guideline:

The AAR believes that the practice of literary agents charging clients or potential clients for reading and evaluating literary works (including outlines, proposals, and partial or complete manuscripts) is subject to serious abuse that reflects adversely on our profession. For that reason, members may not charge clients or potential clients for reading and evaluating literary works and may not benefit, directly or indirectly, from the charging for such services by any other person or entity. The term "charge" in the previous sentence includes any request for payment other than to cover the actual cost of returning materials.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, members who participate in conferences or other events where writers are charged separately for individual consultations with agents in which the writer's work is read or evaluated may provide such consultations. The AAR believes that the potential for abuse presented by the practice of charging reading fees in such circumstances is mitigated by the fact that the agent is acting within the context of an independent writers’ conference. Moreover, the concern that such participation would reflect adversely on our profession is outweighed by the potential benefit of such participation to writers, a benefit that cannot be duplicated in another manner. This exception for conference participation does not in any way dilute the AAR’s belief that literary agents should not charge clients and potential clients for reading and evaluating literary works in the ordinary course of business.

Get off my should list

You should read this.


Cause it's good! And funny! And lots of other good things!


Cause it is!

If you can quit answering why with should, you'll have a query letter. I'm so damn tired of "you should read this cause there are women in America who like to read novels about women" I could just scream. Ok, I may scream anyway, it's been that kind of day.

A query letter doesn't tell me how enticing a book is; it IS enticing.

They may be hard to write but I know it can be done because I get them EVERY SINGLE DAY. About one a day, mixed in with all the rest of the should.

Should isn't persuasive. It's not persuasive when someone tells YOU what you should do either, is it? Fastest way in the world to get someone's back up is to say "you should eat your vegetables" "You should buy me a car" "You should vote for BarackObamaHillaryClintonMikeHuckabeeMittRomney"

Hell, you should see my incoming query pile.

But more important, you should listen to how to get OUT of the pile and onto my "oh my god, you gotta read this cause it's the most elegant piece of writing about two lovers I've seen. It's funny, and interesting and just sucks you into the story."

My bs detector's batteries are working just fine, thanks

Here are the phrases you use in a query letter that activate the BS-alert siren:

"You come highly recommended"..without a name or any description.
Ya, sure, you know my ma too. This is clearly crap. Don't use it.

"I'm approaching you because I've researched agents carefully".
Save that for date night at the Y.
You're querying me cause you need an agent. We both know this. Just get ON with the part about your book.

"I know you're busy."
You really have been spending too much time with my ma.
Get over it. You don't have to jolly me into reading your query letter.
I'll read soon as you start telling me ABOUT THE BOOK.

"I've never published before."
I don't care. Tell me ABOUT THE BOOK.

Why You Won't Even Get A Form Letter

This is an email I received today:

My name is (name). I'm a (age/gender redacted---and NOT someone under 30 and thus perhaps just immature) in (city/state), who just discovered the joys of writing fiction two years ago. I'm in the middle of my first full-length manuscript -- a romantic thriller. I saw your name in the Crime Scene Writers Yahoo Group run by Wally Lind, retired forensics cop. You came with a high recommendation for mystery writers -- even though I'm working on a suspense novel. I'm also a member of RWA and the Kiss of Death Mystery and Suspense chapter.

I'm not ready to begin marketing my work yet, so you may wonder why I'm contacting you.
What I would like to know is: What can you, a literary agent, do for me besides brokering a better contract, thereby earning your keep? There it is. Straight forward and to the point .

I'm beginning my interviewing process now so that when I'm ready I'll know who I want to represent my work.

My response: delete unanswered

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Killer Year review!

Bill Cameron's short story in the Killer Year anthology gets a nice review here.
Always nice to see short stories get some attention, particularly well-deserved in Bill's case!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Great news!

We've taken on a new agent at FinePrint Lit, and she specializes in SF and fantasy; graphic novels too.

Colleen Lindsay is ACTIVELY looking to build a list. She's chained to the desk reading queries, and of course she takes them electronically.

Her background is book pr and we plan to exploit her mercilessly.

Her email is first name at fineprintlit dot com so give her a holler.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

I need a topic!

I write a weekly post for another blog and I'm fresh out of interesting (ie not ranting) things to say.


Anything you'd particularly like to hear me blather about? The blog is for crime novels and such, so I need to work in some sort of criminal element to the post.

All ideas (well, ok, probably not ALL---my clients being the clever group they are, I'm AFRAID of what they'll come up with) welcome.

I need to write it SOON.

A new form letter, perhaps

Pursuant to the rant below on why you get form letters, one of my wittier clients emailed me the following suggestions for new form rejecton letters:

Literary humor?
Sorry, honey!
I could maybe sell this . . .
if only it was funny!


Sorry, no,
but don't start crying!
There's other agents.
Keep on trying!


No, but keep trying
and best of luck.
Somebody might think
you don't totally suck!

Perhaps I'll vary them by week.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Why You Get Form Letters

Periodically I lose my mind and send non-form rejection letters.

Here's the response to one I sent last night:

You probably think you are doing me a favor by being honest. I have a thick skin. I've been doing this a long time. This is a third novel, not to count all the years of short-story writing in the writing programs. I think if people had talked to me like you just did all
along I would have given up.

But I'm damn good at it, and I know what I'm doing. I've been through this before and from our end it's a grueling process. However, I never cease to be surprised by the things that agents will say in all seriousness.

You are supposed to be one of the "nice" agents. Writers actually LIKE you.

You are in a position of power. Don't abuse it.

Look back over your email to me. If you find nothing wrong with it, then your ego is beyond repair. I don't expect an apology or anything. Just please learn to keep such thoughts to yourself.

This is not a relationship that would have worked out.

And for your viewing pleasure, here's the non-form email I sent:

Comic literary novel?
Let me hit myself in the head with that hammer, save you the trouble.
Those things are damn hard to sell. I know this. I have two on my list.
Three if you count the one I managed to sell after two years of trying.

I'm not taking on more right now. Do query other agents. Some of my
inability to sell these may be fault.

When, like an UTTER idiot I responded to the email I got this:

Your tone was condescending, your attitude dismissive. Writing a novel is a major endeavor and you of all people should respect it.

I understand the realities of the business. It's no excuse.

A form letter is at least professional.

I'm sure I'll probably go off my head and do non-form emails again, but every time you're tempted to rue the form letter, and wish agents didn't send them, you'll at least know why we don't. One of these a week is quite enough.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Agent Kristin is right on the usual

I was scouting around the blogosphere tonight and came across this post over at Kristin Nelson's on doing your own research on agents.

I'm pretty sure this guy has called me a couple times too. The first time he was very disdainful cause he hadn't heard of me and I didn't have any sales listed in the public record (duhh...I'd been an agent for all of about five minutes). The second time he mailed me something that looked like a xerox of a xerox, asking for all sorts of information. I trashed it. Then he called again. He didn't remember he'd called me before but I sure knew him. No I wasn't interested in being listed. No I wasn't going to talk to him, no I wasn't about ready to have him send my name to anyone.

Then he called again asking if my "attitude" had changed.


For 42cents you can send me a letter and with another 42cents I'll answer.

For the truly economic minded, you can email me. Free. I answer all the queries that have my name on them.

You do NOT need a service of any kind to limit the number of people you query. In fact, it's foolish to query less not more.

The only thing I don't like about my job

I love my job. I love all of it. Ok, not the rejections part, but honestly, those are just part of the game and all I need is an offer and all those no's just fade from memory (well, not exactly but mostly.)

The one thing I'm not loving quite so much these days is that I'm saying no to a lot of very good stuff. The reason I'm saying no is I've gotten busier with my established clients. Jeff Somers is busy writing, (and I'm reading right behind him); Patrick Lee is busy writing (and I'm busy reading that); Amy Minato's cover designs came in (and I've got to stare at those for a while). That's in addition to going out on projects, following up on projects, and calling up my bookie to bet on the SuperBowl. Oh, and answering query letters.

I've had a spate of interviews recently and that jumps my query numbers. A deal posted on Publishers Marketplace: that jumps the queries.

And I think people are querying me now who might not have before. I've also seen a very dramatic increase in the quality of the queries. Whereas before if I had 100 queries a week, about 5 of them were things I'd seriously consider. Now it's more like 10. That means you can't be A- anymore; I'm able to choose from entirely A level work. For me that's nice. For you at A- or B+, it stinks.

On the other hand, all these categories are so subjective you couldn't start to quantify them. That means you MUST query more than "a select group of agents." I know you mean that phrase to be a compliment but I think it means you haven't been paying attention.

Query widely. Find people who want your work. Pick from the group that says yes. Don't artificially limit yourself by querying too narrowly. I said no to three things just tonight that a year ago I might have taken on. That's got nothing to do with the caliber of your work and everything to do with my workload.

Query everyone....but me first, of course.

Friday Night at the Question Emporium 4

I love your blog, and I would love to query you, but unfortunately I don't write mysteries. I do have a question, and I am hopeful that you will be able to answer me in your usual straightforward, no-nonsense manner. I'm not good at making up hypotheticals, so I'll just use my own example.

I have an urban fantasy novel for which I'm trying to find an agent. Of course I'm querying the normal run of agents who rep fantasy, but what about branching out from there? I know urban fantasy isn't a new genre, but it is one that seems to be gaining popularity. Could I target agents who rep commercial fiction? Or what about agents who want action with a strong female protagonist? Am I shooting myself in the foot by querying those agents too? Or what about Stephany Evans, of your own agency, who is interested in women's sports. My female protagonist is a marathoner. Would I be stupid to query someone who might want to read about someone who shares their same interests, even though it's outside their wheel house? I mean, look at Jeff Somers, who even said he thought his book was sci fi. He won you over with great writing, I'm sure, but did he pitch it as a thriller? If I'm querying someone where my work isn't usually what they rep, should I pitch it as something they might rep, and slide the whole paranormal angle in there later?

Am I wasting time I could be spending sending query letters by just asking you this question?

Thank you for your time.

First, Stephany Evans represents a lot more than women's sports books. She discovered and launched Emily Giffin just for starters. She recently sold, at auction, Single Undead Female, a book I'm salivating to read. You'd do well to query her.

I think you should query everyone who represents fiction. Your job is not to keep an agent's slush pile manageable. Your job is to write such an enticing query letter that someone who hasn't liked urban fantasy before will want to read your work.

I've actually done that myself. I took on a debut YA author recently cause her book was so marvelous I just had to have it. I had a lot of fun calling up new editors and introducing myself and the book.

Obviously you don't query agents who only handle non-fiction, but everyone else is fair game. If they get annoyed cause they don't handle urban fantasy so what. They weren't going to take it anyway. (Notice that very few if any of the posts marked "annoy me" are about people querying me for something I don't represent)

Your job is to write well and query widely.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

No sissies at SiCs

Are you a member of Sisters in Crime?
Brave souls, those Sis's.

They've invited me to be the mentor of the day next Tuesday. Three people emailed me using the phrase "be nice." I had to look "nice" up in the dictionery. Turns out the definition is "the antithesis of that scotch-sipping agent over at FinePrintLit. Well, I've got time to learn.

Tune in on Tuesday 2/12 and bring your questions.

"Do you have to include an SASE"

"Why don't you write more personal rejections"

should start the discussion ....nicely.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Oh man, I love this town, I do!

If I'd come across this scene at Grand Central, my first thought would have been "damn, I wanna do this too!"

Monday, February 04, 2008

Tommorow is "Tsunami" Tuesday

It used to be just plain old Super Tuesday with a couple of big primaries. Then everyone got tired of being last so they moved their primaries up to 2/5/08. No more winner take all stakes in California in June; no more New York being ignored till April. Newp, tomorrow we vote.

I have a thing about voting.
I love it.
I mean, really seriously love it.
I love the little ladies guarding the poll books.
I love the security officer standing by in case a scuffle breaks out between the D's and the R's who have to co-mingle while on line.
I love going into the voting booth and pulling the lever for the candidate of my choice.

And frankly the hell with everyone who says one person's vote doesn't count.
I don't care.

What I know is that people died, literally died, to give me the right to do this. Women particularly but Americans in general. They took voting pretty damn seriously. The least we can do to respect what they sacrificed is exercise our right to vote.

And not just "vote, for whomever." It's not that hard to figure out what a candidate's position is on any number of issues. They've all got websites, and they've been all over the news with their take on matters large and small.

Overthrow the government: vote.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

I'm holding the ARC in my hand...

and it's one of the most glorious moments of my entire career.

You've heard me talk about Marching Up Madison Avenue for a year now. How Richard Gilbert queried me several years back; how we worked for a long time to make the manuscript better; how I sold it to a small publisher with a big vision and an even bigger heart.

It's here.
The ARC is here.

I've loved every single book I've helped see to publication, but this one, this one is special.

It's special because it was so long in coming but also because I admire and respect Mr. Gilbert so much.

This is a man who never gave up. He'd write and re-write. He'd send the manuscript back and wait patiently for what seemed like my endless suggestions and corrections. He never said "heck with you, you upstart agent." He always did the work.

And his career is amazing. He was an ad man on Madison Avenue in the 50's, 6o's and 70's. I remember some of those ads vividly. And more important, a LOT of people are starting to surface who remember them too.

A sheer stroke of luck brought Don McCaig to us to write the intro to the book. He worked for Mr. Gilbert at the agency. He's gone on to be a successful novelist. You might have heard of his latest: Rhett Butler's People.

I'm so thrilled to hold this book in my hand that I can hardly wait to go to BEA to actually talk to booksellers about this.

I hope you'll love it too.
You can buy it here.
But mostly you can tell your librarian about it.


I've had a spate of query letters recently using the phrase "so and so referred me to you." Normally of course, that means I pay closer attention to the query letter. These letters however used the name of someone I didn't know.

Rather than help the querier's cause, it made me wonder about what they were trying to do. Were they writing to the correct agent? Maybe they had been referred to another agent here at FinePrint. Did they know what "refer" means in terms of a query letter?

I wrote back to one such querier and said "I don't know this person that you're citing" and the author wrote back to me telling me who the person was. Ok, I still don't know him even though I now know he's on the faculty at the Write Bite and Fight Vampire MFA program at Bloodsucker U.

Think of it this way: I know who George W. Bush is but I don't know the man personally or professionally.

Referrals need a couple things to be actually helpful to you.

First, I need to know the person you cite. If someone says "oh you should query Janet Reid, she's just the coolest thing since KelvinZero, I heard her speak at CrimeBake" that is NOT a referral. That is a suggestion. That's how you phrase it too: So and So heard you speak at CrimeBake and suggested you'd be a good agent to query.

Second, the person you cite should actually have read, or be familiar with your work. I get referrals all the time from someone that I know hasn't read the work. I know this cause she actually told me she just tells people I'm an agent. Ok, that's fine, but it means that citing her as a referral is useless.

There's a lingering sense that you need to be "introduced" to an agent in order to query. That is just flat out wrong. EVERY agent I know who is looking for clients will read query letters. If they are NOT looking for clients, they may limit what they read to referrals only but that is NOT the norm. And it's certainly not what I do. I read all my query letters. Whether I read further depends on one thing: your writing. It's the only thing you have complete control over. Make your writing as good as it can be and leave the introductions to the Freshman Mixer at Vampire U.