Recommendations

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People ask me from time to time if I provide recommendation letters or referrals to editors to my clients.

I don't do recommendation letters, or referrals, for a combination of ethical and practical reasons.

Here's why: I do know editors at just about every New York publishing house, and at companies elsewhere as well. If I promised access to them, I might get more work from writers eager to get past the closed doors at so many companies. But then those writers wouldn't be working with me for my services, but for my contacts. They'd be trying to buy access indirectly, but the reality is I couldn't really offer that, as I'll explain below. So I have an ethical concern about that.

What if I simply offered everyone I worked with access? Then there wouldn't be any ethical problem, arguably. One of my services would be acting as a go-between. But that wouldn't be possible, because the fact is that I work with many authors whose manuscripts, when they come to me, are some distance away from being "publishable." If I went ahead and recommended such a manuscript to someone I know, I'd lose credibility with that editor, damaging my ability to refer others to them in the future. If on the other hand I sent a manuscript to an editor with honest comments about what I felt it needed, that truly wouldn't benefit the writer; the editor would just quickly reject the manuscript.

I could take a different approach, and put a disclaimer on that promise, and say I'd write the recommendation letter only when the manuscript was ready, but that would only serve to keep people working with me, in pursuit of that carrot. Many manuscripts need multiple rounds of revision before they are done, and some manuscripts may never "get there," due to their inherent limitations or the abilities of the writer. Taking this approach would result in unhappy clients, as the writers I was working with came to feel that I was benefitting from a never-ending project.

So offering recommendation letters would be a hollow promise. In most cases I wouldn't be able to write one that would actually be helpful, and so writers who hired me for one would have been exploited by me. Other consulting editors who do offer such services may have a different view of this, but that's the way I see it.

I also have to say that I just don't think that referrals are as valuable as people assume they are. Published writers or consulting editors may refer someone to an agent or editor they know, which may guarantee that the manuscript will be read by that person--or at least by their assistant. But if the manuscript isn't of interest to them, or just not good enough, the result will be the same as if it had come in another way: a rejection. The referral will not cause them to lower their standards or become more interested in a manuscript.

Having said all that, I don't mind a writer mentioning that they worked with me on their manuscript, though many people prefer not to mention that, as they don't want an acquiring editor to think they couldn't get the manuscript into shape themselves.

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