Thanks very much to the organizers and attendees of the SCBWI San Francisco Agent’s Day on Saturday, which was a lot of fun! It was held at Fort Mason here in San Francisco, and the weather was nearly expressly engineered to strike fear into the hearts of the non-Bay Area agents in attendance. Fog, cold, wind, August… just another summer day in San Francisco!
I gave a presentation on Finding an Agent That’s Right for You, in which I hopefully did not just repeat information from the blog (although you will find much of what I said here), and which hopefully did not simply boil down to the phrase “do your research and take your time.” Sure, I could have said that and sat down, but people love specificity, and I aimed to deliver.
Although I will probably be mining the event for blog material for quite some time, I wanted to start off by addressing a question that was asked after Kate Schafer Testerman’s extremely impressive power point presentation on things not to do in a query letter (seriously, the slides alone were worth the price of admission).
Someone wanted to know whether they should include quotes and blurbs in query letters from authors they know or who have read their book and commented favorably. Kate’s answer was lukewarm toward these types of quotes, and I share her lukewarmicity.
Personally, I think there are a couple tiers of quotes and blurbs and referrals.
Tier 1: A referral from a client, author, editor, or some other professional I know and trust who writes me and says “You should take a look at this I really love it.” Tier 1 is an extremely effective means of gaining my attention, perhaps the most effective method in existence short of sending a query printed on courtside tickets to a Kings game. If someone I respect is recommending something: I look very, very carefully. I still have to love it, but you can bet I’m looking closely at the manuscript.
Tier 2: A blurb or quote from an author famous enough for me to start envisioning the blurb on the cover of a book and thinking, “Huh, that could probably sell some books.” This type of a quote will definitely catch my eye and will be worth a few points in the query points system, but it’s not necessarily going to tip any scales. I take these types of quotes with a grain of salt (more on that later), and again, I still have to really connect with the query.
Tier 3: Quotes from other authors who I’m sure are extremely nice people but may not have enough name-recognition factor to move copies with a blurb. I sort of absorb these quotes and move on to the rest of the query.
Tier 4: Quotes from everyone else, including friends, family members, classrooms of kids, and supposedly impartial observers. In a query letter, these quotes will actually harm your chances of finding representation because not only will agents not believe them, they’ll think you are, um, what’s a nice word, gullible (sorry) for believing them and thinking it would help to list the quotes. Would you list your mom as a reference on a resume? Um. I guess don’t answer that.
The reason for the grain of salt-taking in Tiers 2 and 3 is that most authors are extremely nice people. They remember how hard it was to be an unpublished writer struggling for a break, and they really want to help people out. There are a couple very-brand-name authors who I now know to be extremely generous with quotes, which makes me love them a lot, but I have to second-guess these recommendations because I don’t know the backstory. Does the author really love it? Are they just trying to do a favor? Are they just trying to help out a fan? If they loved it so much, why didn’t they already do a Tier 1 recommendation to their own agent?
I don’t know the real story, and thus at the end of the day I have to judge Tiers 2 and 3 with healthy skepticism and reach my own conclusion.
So before you go spamming authors for blurbs, please keep in mind that at the end of the day it’s probably not going to be a deal-breaker in a query. And please also keep in mind that Tier 1 blurbs don’t really just happen and no one is going to get a Tier 1 blurb out of the blue. They certainly do not arise by Spamming the published. They takes investment in an author, friendship, and a great manuscript, and none of those come easily.