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
Margaret Yang says
I’m already trying to figure out how to work that one into conversation….
arrrrgh ive been qerying 6 mos now and still no deals….ARRRRfdg
I guess that pretty much eliminates the two quotes I wanted to include in my query letter, one from my mother and the other from my dog. That’s a bitter pill because they were great quotes. Mom said, “Ken could never hold a real job so please take his book as a special favor to me and I’ll send you some of my banana bread.” And my dog said “Woof!” which translates as “Stunning, brilliant, Chabon mixed with Rowling, a rare blend of perfection and humility.”
Good luck to you Anon 3:43, hang in there!
Nathan, why don’t people just tell you how much their mothers like their book… I mean, mothers make the world go around for pete’s sake. Thier opinion must count for something, right? Right??
Oh, this is a business. Crud.
Jen Turner says
I have to agree with Nathan on this one (even though I’m sure my mom could write a hell of a recommendation!).
I once had a N.Y. Times Bestselling Romance Author, who I met at a book signing, tell me she’d love to write a blurb for my novel when I found myself published. As far as I knew at the time, she’d never seen any of my writing (although it was possible since she referenced my website). But I’d have to agree that sometimes authors are just trying to be nice to their fans.
Anonyomous at 3:43 hang in there. It’s taken me two years of studying, learning, practicing, researching, and listening to reach the point that I think I’m close. I have several close friends who are multi-published. One who has now published over 20 books and says it took her 9 years to make her first sale. Hang in there.
As for the quotes or referrals, I can’t bring myself to ask any of my published friends to give me one. I feel like it should be offered freely.
Julie Weathers says
Nathan, thank you for bringing this up. I would have never thought of including quotes since I am trying to make every word count.
So, I guess it still goes back to write a dynamite query.
Marilynn Byerly says
How do agents feel about legitimate book review quotes of other published novels when a published novelist queries? By legitimate, I mean well-known review sites and magazines.
Nathan Bransford says
Those are definitely helpful.
A Paperback Writer says
Oh, I agree:
has anyone called the OED yet?
Thanks for the info, Nathan.
Somewhat related to marilynn’s question, what about book review sites that have reviewed the book of a new author? I had my book reviewed by a site popular with readers in my chosen genre. My logic was that an agent could judge the legitimacy of the site and some of their other reviews and form at least a considered opinion.
At the moment, I am considering just pointing out the link in my queries and moving on. Cool?
Adam Heine says
I’m with you, Anon 3:43, but don’t let it get to you. I’ve been querying for… 3 months (is that all?), and I’m learning to manage my expectations. Worst case scenario: everything I’m learning goes into my next novel, which will be that much easier to sell, whether or not this one does.
Crap. My mom doesn’t read my books, so I can’t get a quote from her. She swears it’s because she needs new glasses. I know it’s because she likes my no-good brothers more than me.
Can I quote my husband? He knows he’d better be nice…or else.
I like Ken’s quote from his dog. They always give honest opinions, but may be slightly biased.
My cat just sneers at me.
Adaora A. says
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!
Oh man, I think you guys have been using a windmill machine or something to blow your August weather our way? The weather in Toronto is supposed to be beautiful right now. Not the case this year. Whenever it gets too hot, it rains. Because you know, nobody wants hot weather….
Don’t worry about repeating yourself. Some things bear repeating.
Anon 3:43 here–thanks for your support, people, but it’s still killing me–6 months and no deal arhghgishggggggggggfza.s. I sent out 10 freshies today…
My wife thinks I’m nuts about this, but the whole idea of using somebody I know (let alone a stranger, no matter how famous) to provide quotable capsule reviews, well, just feels, like, ick. Oh, sure, if I could include in my query puffs of air from (to use Ken’s two examples) Chabon and Rowling themselves, it might be tempting to do so. But it would require me to hold my nose.
There’s a new paid service called Blurbings; you pay them and they provide you with 10 or more blurbs for your book or, I guess, your MS. It saddens me to think some folks will use this to “punch up” their queries.
M Clement Hall says
I’m fascinated by the “Blurbings” service to which Jes draws our attention.
I can’t believe this could possibly help sales, but there’s so much that’s unbelievable in the publishing industry yet turns out to be factual.
I think everyone has missed the key to his post — he wants court-side tickets with the query. *runs off to Ticketmaster*
Instead of focusing on how long you’ve been querying, perhaps sit down and write another book (or more, depending on how long it takes) to keep your mind off of it?
Just a suggestion that’s worked so far for me…
Kimber An says
My mommy doesn’t even know and we don’t have a dog, yet.
What about a small “Letter of Recommendation” as a way of making up for a shortcoming?
In my case, the only part of your Query Example that didn’t work is the use of writing credentials. I have none. Zip. Nada. Nichts.
Would an endorsement by someone in the biz that you knew was very good help get around that particular problem? I don’t mean another author, I mean a highly respected editor or related field writing a very specific song of praise.
Here’s my question.
I had a well-known editor who moonlights as a book doctor come to our local chapter. She read many synopses. When she read mine she said that if it came across her desk she would ask to see pages.
Is that good enough to put into a query letter?
Nikki Duncan says
My cats lay on my arms when I try to type or edit on paper. What do you think that means they feel about my writing?
Hmmm. Guess it’s best that I just move them out of my wat. lol
Nathan Bransford says
A letter would be the same as a quote. Unless I really know and trust the editor, I’m honestly not going to put much stock in it.
Thanks, I appreciate the info and honesty.
If I may, I’d like to ask for more about what you think good credentials are, perhaps as a blog entry. If you’ve done that already I apologize for missing it.
I can be creative and come up with a few really strange credentials, but if you don’t care it only takes up space. I’ll just assume other agents are similar if you do hit that topic.
Nathan Bransford says
There’s a post in the Essentials on how and whether to list your publishing credits.
Thanks. I remember that now that I see it again. I had forgotten the “do not worry” part most specifically as I was looking at your query letter examples.
You know that we all worry, yes? You may tell us not to, but we’re bundles of worry. This is one of the strangest forms of lottery in the world, given that the price of entry is months of hard work instead of a buck plunked down on the counter.
Ah, well, thanks for the help – even if I can’t remember that it is nearly all here, somewhere.
I know that getting my work referred by an author or editor is an effective means of better grabbing a literary agent’s attention, but how is this done? If you could answer this question I would greatly appreciate it.
Erik – I’m with you! Every time I look at one of the sample query letters, I see the writing credentials part and feel my heart drop! I have absolutely nothing published either.
Then I go back and reread that post where Nathan says not to worry, and to PROUDLY admit that it is your first novel. That makes me feel better. At least for a while, anyways. 🙂
Nathan Bransford says
It’s all about networking. Networking is a difficult process to describe, but it involves getting out there, being a part of writers groups and circles, socializing… it takes a whole lot of time. It’s a matter of placing yourself in a situation where your work will be read by other published writers. Not everyone is able to do it, nor does everyone have to do it, but the ones who can are able to reap the benefits.
Thanks, Mr. Bransford! I really appreciate it!
Could I send you my query scrawled in sharpie marker on the backside of a shiny new plasma HDTV for those Kings game in lieu of a pair of tickets?
Have you ever included blurbs with your client submissions to editors? Just curious.
Nathan Bransford says
Yes, and they can help. But blurbs are more meant to show marketing potential rather than trying to convince the editor that the book itself is good. Which is why they’re not usually that helpful in a query. I’m not worried about marketing when I read a query, I’m just wondering if the book is good.
Not to get off topic, Nathan. But did you send the manuscript off for the blurbs, or did the author provide you with the blurbs?
I ask because I have another manuscript about to go to submission soon and wonder if this could be an option for me. Anything to help the cause.
Maybe I should ask MY agent instead of you… but you brought the topic up. At least I can blame you now.
Dear (my agent),
The great and powerful Nathan Bransford suggested…
Nathan Bransford says
Usually the author, but situations vary.
I have not just been waiting for 6 mos while querying; I have written another ms, first draft of which is almost complete; but i am still super-bummed i haven’t sold the first one ye tin 6 mos
I can’t remember how I stumbled onto your blog, but let me tell you that I love it! Very informative! I do have a question though and I hope I’m not “beating a dead horse” by asking another question about an agent. Let me first start out by saying I’m sure that this wouldn’t be for you as far as content, but I would appreciate your input all the same. I’m writing a journal that I would love to some day get published. It ‘s about our farm and the crazy things that happen on it on a day to day basis. As a mother of soon to be seven kids and cattle and hog farmer, well as you can guess, funny stuff happens here. Anyway, do you have any idea where I could find an agent for this type of material?
Suzanne of the reinvented Hee Haw
PS Ken, you are hilarious, I’ll throw in some chocolate chip cookies so you can get published. That’s if my three year old can stop hiding them in the dryer.
Colorado Frog says
Julie Weathers has a blog about finding an agent. I think that I can help by sharing how I have not found an agent.
First write a novel try very hard to be correct with the spelling and grammer but don’t worry about it to much as every one knows that the story is the thing that counts.
Next write a query and sent it out. When that one returns a reject read about writing query letters. Write another clumsy letter and send it out. When the pile of rejects is higher then the pile of the pages of your book. Write another book. Continue this process forever. I have read that persistance is much more important then talent. Nathan be expecting another qurey as soon as I finish my next novel.
To follow up on Colorado Frog: Julie Weathers’s entertaining blog post is called “Culling the Herd or How I Got an Agent.”
And you thought you were obsessed with finding representation…
heheheh obsessed is the right word…
You gotta wonder…
Is the vision some of these regular bloggers have in alignment with their skills? Are they spending too much time on the blogs and not enough actually marketing? Or even writing?
I’m starting to wonder.
Tracey S. Rosenberg says
Nathan – if you get a query letter with a Tier 1 blurb, do you double-check with the recommendee? I see a lot of room for abuse there, along the lines of ‘X told me to query you!’ when they met X at a conference and X gave them the stanard line about ‘yes you should try to get an agent’.
No, I won’t be trying it. 🙂
Nathan, what is your opinion regarding leaving character names out of the plot paragraph in a query letter? thanks, Nic
What about quotes from agents and editors?