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Let's Discuss! Do Connections and Readiness Go Hand In Hand?

When I was researching Erin Murphy for her Spotlight, the following quote from one of her interviews stood out to me:

In general, I don't think a writer should contact an agent without a referral or connection. If a writer hasn't gotten out there enough to have met agents at conferences or met other writers who know agents, she's not ready for an agent. Being part of the world of writing for children is what takes a writer to a new level and gets her ready to be published. Children's writers form a unique community. They look at each other's work and help each other improve and learn, so a referral from another writer means a lot to me.

I agree to some extent. I do think, if you're networking, making friends, participating in one or more critique groups, going to conferences and workshops, etc. you're bound to make some connections (even doing just one or two of these). Also, if you're writing has reached the level that it needs to be at, I'd like think you'd connect with some writers (friends or otherwise) who are excited enough about your writing to want to refer you to their agents. Note the very large, subjective IF.

Now, I did say to some extent; not only because taste in writing/story is so subjective, but also because I don't expect that most writers would make a lot of these connections. So if you have, let's say, five connections and none of them pan out, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to twiddle your thumbs until you've had a chance to make more (though you might want to get another critique or three to reassure yourself it was ready in the first place.). It's possible that the best agent for you isn't even connected to anyone you know, and plenty of amazing writers have been pulled from slush.

What are your thoughts on this?


Mim said...

I think that making the connections are important. The conferences, the blogs and everything else, but I don't think you shouldn't be querying agents if you don't have a connection. Doing everything you can to make the dream happen is great, but not everyone can afford to go to a ton of conferences, and like you said the connections may not all pan out. It is important to keep trying no matter what!

Corey Schwartz said...

That quote definitely jumped out at me too! I got my agent through connections (both times!) I do think that is a very good way to go. That being said, I am sure there are people who got their agents out of the slush, so it is not necessarily the ONLY way to go.

Heather Kelly said...

I thought that this was a very unique perspective. It is so different from the advice that most agents give to query wide and often. I think you have to have both systems in place to get published. You should be a part of the writing community at large, and connect with writers and agents, but also query all the other agents in your genre. Who knows who will love your work? It might not be those people who you've happened to meet.

Angela Ackerman said...

**In general, I don't think a writer should contact an agent without a referral or connection. If a writer hasn't gotten out there enough to have met agents at conferences or met other writers who know agents, she's not ready for an agent. Being part of the world of writing for children is what takes a writer to a new level and gets her ready to be published. Children's writers form a unique community. They look at each other's work and help each other improve and learn, so a referral from another writer means a lot to me.**

Respectfully I have to disagree. But let me explain. :-)

Should a writer do all that they can to learn about the industry, the players (agents, editors,etc) interact with writers, join critique groups, improve their writing? Oh yes, all of it. Should they attend conferences? If they can.

Let's face it, conferences are expensive. Not all writers live close enough to a major city to have the benefit of a conference close at hand. Conferences often mean more than the initial fees--in the hundreds of dollars--they also mean plane tickets and hotel costs. Without the benefit of a conference, your interaction opportunities with agents are limited to the writers you know.

So, let's look at our writer friends and our potential referral opportunities. This is way-high, but let's just say for sake of argument that each writer has 10 crit friends who are all agented.
Let's say that all 10 of those believe in the writer's work enough to provide a referral to their agent. (Anyone who knows the industry knows how unlikely this is, but stay with me here).

With agent tastes being so individual, what are the chances that one of those 10 agents will fall in love with the book and offer representation? Pretty unlikely.

There are hundreds of reputable agents out there, and as any writer knows, they are all attracted to different things. A writer's career would go nowhere if they waited for personal connections to happen or crit partner referrals to be made.

NOW THAT SAID, every writer should be making the most of their ability to 'create' connections. What I mean by that is RESEARCH. Get to know the agent through blogs, interviews, client sites, books they've represented.

Knowledge can be the connection.

Using the information gleaned from the WWW can forge a connection in the query letter. Does the agent rep an author you admire? Mention this briefly and why. Did they post something helpful on their blog that you appreciated? Tell them! Is there a piece of information from an interview, advice they gave, or an interest they have that connects to your book? Yes, yes, yes--mention it!

These are your connections. Meaningful bits of info you collect will individualize the agent and personalize your query letter to them. Don't pick irrelevant facts, or whimsical, gushy stuff. Explain why the info you discovered led you to them, and why you feel they will connect to your book.

This is readiness. Personal referrals are great, but rarely come about. Conferences are the bomb, but aren't always available. Forge opportunities wherever you can, and make use of what you have. That is what a writer truly needs to do.

Information is always there, waiting to be found. Use it to create the personalization you need to make an effective connection. :-)

Casey Something said...

I agree, Mim. I definitely think connections are fabulous in their way and sometimes DO lead to representation, but they aren't a sure thing (at all!), so we have to be willing to chance those cold queries.

Very cool, Corey. If the connection is actually a compatible one, it can be a great opportunity for all involved!

Definitely, Heather. We have to use what connections we have, if we're even interested in the agent(s), and then put the rest of our efforts into querying widely.

Look at you go, Angela! Love your comment. I think you've explained better what I was trying to say with my "to some extent." I really do beleive referrals can suggest readiness, draw specialized attention from the agent, and end up in representation IF both parties really find it's a good match (this is where I agree with Erin), but the agent still has to love your MS and feel they can get behind it with all they have. And, as you pointed out, this isn't particularly likely given the number of connections the average writer can form.

As for your bit on research:

*Knowledge can be the connection*


This is exactly why it's worth the time to do our research and personalize our queries, everyone. Having a specific reason for querying an agent (not querying just because they're breathing and have the job title), and saying so with a meaningful comment, can jump out at an agent the same way the name of a referral can.

I'd like to add that I don't mean this topic to be connected to Ms. Murphy's submission policy. I really respect agents that don't accept unsolicited queries, actually. If you view it from their perspective, they really don't NEED to. Yes, they'll miss the occasional slush gem, but if the average agent rejects 99% of the queries they receive, it's just not worth it for someone with an already full list.

Carry on! Looking forward to more comments.

storyqueen said...

Yeah, this quote jumped out at me, too. And I was disappointed to read her view. However, I can understand why she would take such a stance. I can't imagine facing an inbox with hundreds of queries each day! This would most definitely shrink the amount of her slush!

But, (and I don't think I'm alone here) I work a full time job in addition to being a writer (which I also consider a full time job) in addition to being a parent (which is also a full time job!) I have been lucky this summer to have the time to play around in the cyber community of writers and have virtually met some incredible writers.....but that will change, soon when school starts and the job kicks in again. The part of me that gets to "network" and meet people and stuff gets to hibernate for a while. The connections won't matter at all if the writing does not get done.

And the writing must get done.


Unknown said...

I think there is a definite link between readiness and connections. As a relatively new writer, I've spent a lot of time learning about the industry by reading books/blogs/anything else I can find, etc. Then I joined a critique group of published authors and have grown as a writer due to their great advice. In a few weeks, I'm attending my first conference and attending my first local SCBWI meeting. The more "ready" I feel, the more I'm reaching out for new connections. So I think they're related but know there are plenty of people who obtain agents without one. I just want to increase my odds :)

Casey Something said...

There is that, Shelley. We're all unique in our situations regarding time, finances, etc. Just think of all the writers who have managed to get published without a network of any kind!

Love your input, Kristi. If we're not counting the lucky exceptions, I beleive most writers (that are likely to succeed) do get to a point where they're making connections like these. I think it says a lot about readiness if agented writers are willing to put their name behind your writing. I beleive that's essentially what Ms. Murphy is suggesting.

What I think most of us disagree with, however, is that first line that writers shouldn't, in general, contact agents without a referral or connection. If we lived by that rule, our chances at representation would be severely decreased and we'd be shooting ourselves in the foot as far as options go. I don't want whatever agent my friends can get me hooked up with, I want the right agent.

Crystal said...

Casey, when I followed the link and read that excerpt yesterday, I was really floored. I don't know if Ms. Murphy has ever been by Verla Kay's Blue Boards, but if she has, she would have seen, just from the "Good News" section alone, that MANY, MANY aspiring writers have gotten agents without having met them at a conference or anywhere else beforehand. And I think her view is really ATYPICAL of what most agents advise. I mean, I respect her opinion and all, but I really don't think it's grounded in reality. Because, like others here have said, not everyone has the money or resources to attend a conference during the year. Many of us have children's needs (clothing, food, medical, dental), mortgages, car notes, car insurances, etc. to pay.

I personally think, in this day and age, that you DO have to query widely, because as Angela said, agents' tastes are so individual. Thus, to reiterate what Angela said, the key here to making any kind of connection is, basically, RESEARCH. Read agent blogs, interviews, Casey's Agent Spotlights, the blueboards (especially the sections on agent response times, market news, and education/conference info), and also keep an eye out for who's repping who when you visit another writer's blog. Sometimes a writer will mention their agent's tastes in their blog.

I won't take up too much more time here, but I just wanted to mention one example of someone who found their agent WITHOUT a personal connection. Cindy Pon, debut author of Silver Phoenix: beyond the kingdom of Xia, queried over 100 agents before connecting last year with Bill Contardi of Brandt & Hochman (who got her a 3-book deal at HarperCollins!). (If anyone is interested, she has the whole story of her query experience on the Blue Boards.) I just read her book and it is AWESOME. But if she had waited to make a personal, face to face connection, would she be published now? I highly doubt it.

Sorry this was so long, guys! But when I'm on a roll . . . :)

Casey Something said...

Hi Crystal!

Most agents do seem to preach "query widely" and a lot of authors have found success doing so. I love Cindy's story and it's a great example. It's a good thing she believed in her story so much! I'm not sure I'd have lasted through 100 agents on one project. Kudos to Cindy!

Unknown said...

I think it is entirely unreasonable to expect this of authors.

I live in a *very* remote area. I can't go to many conferences because of time and money factors. And although I have met authors online, I have only a few published connections close enough to ask for a recommendation--and once those are up, they're up.

I think the intention of this quote is that you need to have someone who is knowledgable about writing read and critique your work. But I don't believe this needs to be another author--and I don't believe that, unless it is a published author, it's worth mentioning. Let the writing stand on its own.

Nora MacFarlane said...

Connections are great, but affordability is often an issue when it comes to attending conferences. Although I believe most writers would LIKE to be able to attend and make contacts, I don't think it's realistic to expect everyone to be able to do so. Especially in this economy.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that opinion struck me as strange. I don't think anybody would deny that connections are a good way to go if possible. That "if possible" is the whole catch.

Even as somebody with connections, I'm kind of hesitant to try them. Like, I have this horrid fear that a friend's agent would call his/her client (the friend) up after reading and say "How could you suggest this person?! She sucks!"

I can't speak for any agents, but yeah, that just seems weird. There are a ton of agency websites that say "We'd love to hear from you" and I don't think they're aiming that only at by-referrals.

Love your blog!

Anna said...

Count me in with those who don't agree with Ms Murphy's opinion.

Like someone else pointed out above, most debut authors on the Blueboards (which has a lot of pubbed authors) got their agents straight from slush with good old-fashioned querying. How many of the most popular writers actually got theirs via a reference? Not Melissa Marr, not Stephenie Meyer, not Jay Asher, not even Jo Rowling.

And mind you, networking doesn't actually increase your chances of getting signed. It only increases your chances of getting *read* - getting signed is a whole other issue because the agent has to fall in love with your work. I don't think agents sign anyone just because their client happened to recommend them. And since you as an unpubbed author can't possibly network with every agent who reps, say, fantasy YA, the number of agents you can target is much lower.

And of course, people like me who live abroad and have low-paying jobs can't possibly even think of traveling to the US to get connected. For me the only option is to send a query, and I'm so thankful for those agents who are open and eager to find new stories to sell.

Stella said...

I, too, disagree with Erin Murphy. I'm sure she's a great agent but I find that attitude a little snooty. As others have said, not everybody has the time or resources to go to a ton of conferences. I have to work full time at the job that puts food on my table and pays for the mortgage.

Perhaps Murphy is really talking about readiness but even then, going to a lot of conferences isn't a sign that your manuscript is ready. I network mostly through my computer and for now, that's the way it's going to have to be.

Mame said...

Devil's Advocate reporting for duty!

It may be unfair by most standards, but it is true. Immersing yourself in the write world can only be to your benefit. If you can't go to conferences, do what you're doing now...connecting through the interwebs. Sites like this one (*Fist pump! Go Casey!*) and Janet Reid, Agent Kristin, Rachel Garder, the list goes on and on and on, can only be to your benefit.

And remember, one agents opinion does not an issue make. I see nothing wrong with Ms. Murphy's decisions to run her affairs as she sees fit. I actually don't blame her. Consider the one billion writers sending out hack queries and even worse writing who are clogging up the inboxs'. Now there's a target...

Casey Something said...

I agree, Beth. It is hard when you don't live in an area with an active SCBWI group. And we might be looking too far into what she's saying. Plus, I went back and looked at the interview, and it is from 2003. Online networking wasn't *quite* as big then, and meeting people in person (in the past) was the best way to get your work into the hands of professionals and other writers.

Definitely, Nora. It would have put a big dent in our finances if I had attended SCBWI-LA and I only live a few hours away!

Andrea, It does make the prospect of rejection more frightening, doesn't is? The connections I've made have all been online and I'm still scared of what they'll think!

Definitely, Anna. It really does cut down our chances of making a good match. It would certainly be nice for agents, if they were only receiving referrals and queries from people who have done a lot to advance themselves (I do understand from that perspective!) but from the writer's angle it just doesn't work if your connections don't pan out.

Yup, Stella, I think Erin was mostly talking about readiness, too. And I DO think she seems like a fantastic agent. I didn't mean for this to post to bash on her AT ALL. I mostly wanted to discuss the idea.

Thank you, Aimee! As I said in an earlier comment, it really does make sense from her perspective and I respect that. And I agree that we often need that networking to get to our writing to where it needs to be.

Overall I was very impressed with Erin and I'd like to point out that she represents, not only great clients, but everything that really matters in an agent.

Let's keep this discussion respectful to Ms. Murphy, everyone. It's the idea I was interested in discussing, not necessarily who it came from. Everyone is allowed to have their opinion, just like we've all done in expressing ours here.

storyqueen said...

I AM one of those writers who got published from the slush, no connections, at three different publishing houses!

I still have not engaged an agent, although it is getting to the point where it night be necessary just to get stuff read.

I really appreciate all you do here on your blog to make us aware of different agents and their likes and dislikes. As I compile my list, I have found your help incredibly valuable!

Rock on!


Casey Something said...

Thanks, Shelley! I think you've accomplished great things on your own with your career. It does seem like more and more houses will only accept submissions from agents though, and you're probably much more aware of it than I am.

I'm glad this blog has been so helpful to you and others. Since it's rare we meet agents in person, it really is important that we try to establish a list of agents (at least at first) that really seem compatible, and to try to make that connection that Angela talked about. But it's not foolproof, as I've mentioned before, so I hope everyone is also considering what they will ask a prospective agent should they come a' calling. And yes, I'll be doing a post on that, hopefully soon!

Tara McClendon said...

Connections can be helpful, but they shouldn't be a make-or-break-it type of thing. More important is getting your book where it needs to be.

PJ Hoover said...

I think connections are way important, but I also think some authors are more introverted than others. Referrals can't be the only path to an agent, IMHO.

Corey Schwartz said...

Wow! What an interesting discussion. I do want to clarify... when I said earlier that I have gotten two agents through connections, I just want to to say for the record that neither was through a conference. I happen to be a new yorker, so the first time I got lucky and knew someone who knew someone at Curtis Brown. The second time I met someone in an online critique group. This person does not even live in the same country as me! I say this to make the point that you can network even without the money to travel to conferences. BUT again, this certainly is not the ONLY way to get an agent.

You should not limit submissions to people that you know, but you definitely should take advantage of contacts. Don't be afraid to use them. It took me a very long time before I asked my online friend if she thought I should sub to her agent. And it turns out, she was happy to give me a referral!

Casey Something said...

Definitely, Tara! Love to see you commenting. : )

I'm pretty introverted, PJ. I can see myself going to conferences but I can't see myself trying make a point of meeting agents and editors. I'm not the type to throw myself out there like that. It would have to be serendipitous.

Great little story behind your agents, Corey! Thanks for sharing it. I think it's actually a lot easier to make connections in our digital world than at conferences these days. The few connections I've made have all happened through online networking. Pretty darn cool, but I have no intention of relying on those connections to get me an agent. There are other agents that I think would be a better match for me.

This has been a great discussion everyone! If you have something more to say, feel free to keep posting comments.

Crystal said...


I don't think I said it before, but I just wanted to say THANKS so much for this great post! I really enjoyed this discussion because not only was it informative reading the viewpoints & perspectives of the other writers, both published & unpublished, but it also boosted my confidence about the agent query process.

And I look forward to reading more "Agent Spotlights," Casey! Great job! :)

Casey Something said...

Thanks, Crystal! I'm so glad you enjoyed the discussion. I did as well.

Christina Farley said...

Well, I agree to an extent. But then I have only attended one writing conference because it is so expensive to get to one from Korea.

While networking and blogging are important, ultimately, I think it comes down to great writing and a great story.

Casey Something said...

It definitely boils down to the writing and story, Christina. If the writing is that good, a complete nobody with no connections will still get picked up.

Great point!