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How (Not) to Ask for Recommendations, Referrals and References, Part 1

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I recently met a first-time author, who gave me a copy of his book. Shortly after, I got an email from the author’s publicist saying, “We’d appreciate it if you would post your five-star review of the book on Amazon.”


  • I don’t mind being asked to post a review of a book (though this ask was poorly done).
  • I don’t mind being asked by a publicist, as opposed to the author, if it’s done well (this was not).
  • But what frosts me is being told by a publicist what rating to assign the book without even asking whether I’d read it or even intended to read it.

Let’s break it down: What are the rules governing recommendations, referrals and references? And how many did the publicist violate?

How to ask for a favor

Rule #1. Don’t ask for a favor; ask for the repayment of a favor already done. The ideal way to promote your book is to start six months in advance by deciding whose help you’re going to want and immediately start promoting them. Comment on their blog posts. Tweet their material. Introduce them to others.

That way, when it comes time for your ask, they are simply discharging an obligation of etiquette, a favor they are more than happy to grant. (And lest this sound coldly utilitarian, note this is a description of what friends do for friends).

What’s true for books is true for referrals. Haven’t done any favors for others lately? Then you’re going to come up short when you start trying to ask for favors. Life is like that. Favors earned are favors granted.

Think that’s not fair? Wrong. It is very, very fair. It’s the essence of the matter.

Rule #2: Assume absolutely nothing. Do not assume the person has the time or the interest or the inclination to do you the favor you want.

In fact, make it clear you have no clue whether what you’re asking is reasonable. Say something like, “I realize this may be an inopportune time or more complex than I realize or there may be other reasons you can’t do this, and I assure you I don’t mean to be asking for an unnatural act on your part…”

By explicitly saying you’re not making assumptions, you give the other person all the degrees of freedom. You grant him several outs, should he choose to take them. You willfully give up the guilt-trip approach and you humbly recognize that you are not in a position to judge them.

Let a favor be a favor, not a guilt-tinged, calculated script. A favor freely given is worth vastly more than an extracted behavior.

Referrals, references, recommendations all follow another “R” word: reciprocity. What you give, you get. What you don’t give, you won’t get. To get, give. Pay it forward isn’t some dumb movie line. It’s how it all works.

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Charles Green is founder and CEO of Trusted Advisor Associates LLC. For more information, go to


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