Referrals can be a good way to warm up the otherwise-arctic query process. Good referrals are a recommendation to an agent from someone the agent knows. Really good referrals are when that someone has read your book, likes it and says so.
I pay very close attention to these kinds of referrals; when they come from my clients, I act on them immediately.
By act immediately I mean I google the author being referred.
Recently, one of my clients gave me the name of an author who was looking for an agent. The author was talking to friends, getting names. My client sent me a heads up that she's read the author's book, liked it, and had passed my name along to the author.
When I got my client's email, I immediately googled the author. Her website was the first item on the google results list so I clicked on it. (The other options were Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook, her publisher's site, Twitter, and then some book reviews.)
The website was a disaster of epic proportion.
Not least among the problems was that her website allows comments on her pages, and her comment column was filled with spam. (Remember discussing using blogs as websites?)
This is a TERRIBLE first impression.
If you're querying, you want to make sure your website or blog is spiffy.
Now, I can hear some of you plaintively asking why? why? It has nothing to do with the writing!
That's very true. It has nothing to do with the writing.
It has an ENORMOUS amount to do with the my impression of how much coaching you'll need on what are now the fundamentals of Being a Published Writer.
When you're a published writer, your competition is no longer the slapdash, the ignoramus, or the wretchedly bad writer. It's GOOD writers. It's PUBLISHED (or about to be published) writers. You're no longer competing for agents. You're competing for readers.
And if you think agents are tough to please, wait till you meet real readers in the trenches of the Amazon reviews. Or on your blog.
Or worse: not at all.
You want a website that gives readers value for their eyeball time. They're looking for info on your books, probably some info about you, and often a way to contact you. What they're not looking for (at least on your site) are cheap term papers or scented dog poop bags or ways to attract a man.
And yes, I help my clients with that stuff. So yes, I'm much MUCH more
interested in someone who's at least on the ball enough to watch their
blog for spam.
If you're at this stage of querying, google yourself to find out what I'll see first. Then make sure what I can see looks polished. At the very least clean up the spam! And have you checked your Goodreads page lately? What impression will I get there?
You'll notice all this happened BEFORE I knew anything about her writing or had even gotten a query from the author. In other words, this is something to take care of EARLY rather than waiting till you think you need it.
This kind of googling tells me how to prioritize this referral and subsequent query. If I'd seen something less daunting, I might have reached out to the author. As it is I'll wait for the query, and it's not going to be one of those I drop everything to read.