Back when I was an agent, I was on a panel and 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.
Literary agent Kate Testerman’s answer was lukewarm toward these types of quotes, and I shared her lukewarmicity.
Personally, I think there are a couple tiers of quotes and blurbs and referrals at the query letter stage.
Also: for all referrals, I’d recommend that you still reach out to the agent directly, rather than having someone else write on your behalf. Agents usually want to hear directly from the person they’re potentially going to work with, and they can reach out separately to the person who referred you if they feel the need.
Tier 1 referrals
A referral from a client, author, editor, or some other professional the literary agent knows and trusts who writes and says “You should take a look at this I really love it.”
Tier 1 is an extremely effective means of gaining an agent’s attention, perhaps the most effective method in existence short of sending a query printed on courtside tickets to their favorite sport’s team. If someone the agent respects is recommending something: they look very, very carefully.
They still have to love it, but you can bet they’re looking closely at the manuscript.
Tier 2 referrals
A blurb or quote from an author famous enough for the agent 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 the agent’s eye and will be worth a few points, but it’s not necessarily going to tip any scales. Agents take these types of quotes with a grain of salt (more on that later), and again, they still have to really connect with the query.
Tier 3 referrals
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. Agents will likely sort of absorb these quotes and move on to the rest of the query.
Tier 4 referrals
Quotes from everyone else, including friends, family members, classrooms of kids, and supposedly impartial observers.
In a query letter, these quotes will likely 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.
Why your referrals are taken with grains of salt
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 very-brand-name authors who agents know to be extremely generous with quotes, which makes me love them a lot, but when I was an agent I second-guessed these recommendations because I didn’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 didn’t know the real story, and thus at the end of the day I had to judge Tiers 2 and 3 with healthy skepticism and reach my own conclusion.
It’s the book that matters
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 take investment in an author, friendship, and a great manuscript, and none of those come easily.
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Art: Una and the Lion by Briton Riviere