Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

QUERY 101 SERIES: The Personalization Quandary April 25, 2014

Filed under: Blog,Literary Agent,Publishing,Query — chasingthecrazies @ 8:21 am
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Let’s say you’ve got the body of your query at a state of perfection. Character, conflict, and cost are all there, and your critique partners have given you the “thumbs up” to send. You paste the body copy, along with your bio, and perhaps some sample pages (if agent requires that as part of submission) into your email. You type “Dear XXX” and then you get stuck.


What do you say next? Should you personalize the greeting? Add how your work would be a good fit for their list? Personally, I think this part of the query can be the most difficult. You want to be professional, yet you want to prove you’ve done your research too. But…you don’t want to bog down the agent with too much greeting before you introduce your story.


One word of note here: Queries should be addressed to ONE agent only. And you should address them by name. After reading agent after agent interview, I can tell you the quickest way to get sent to the “trash” is to start your query with “DEAR AGENT.”


How much you want to personalize your intro is up to you.  If you want to get to the meat of the query, I think that is fine. But if you have some personal connection to the agent (like you met them at a conference), or have a specific reason for querying them (their bio states they want YA Thrillers), then I recommend adding some level of personalization. Why? Because it proves you are serious about the process, have done your research, and know the agent works with your category and genre.


There is one other benefit to personalization: it makes you stand out.  As I read agent’s “ten queries in ten tweets” on Twitter, I see the same comments over and over – “I don’t take this genre,” or “person did not follow sub guidelines.” If you take time to do your research, and address the agent by name as in “Ms. XXX or Mr. XXX,” you will be steps ahead of other writers in the slush who don’t bother to follow the correct protocol.


Just like writing though, your personalization needs to be true to you. It doesn’t need to be overly flowery or poetic. If you are a “get to the basics” kind of personality, then that’s how your intro should be. If you are a writer who is more about making a connection, then it’s okay to state that you are an admirer of their client’s work and that is why you are approaching them for representation.


When it comes to personalization each writer is different. There is not one way to do it right. The key thing to remember is this is your initial introduction to an agent – the moment where they start to decide if they want you as a client. If you can state clearly why you are approaching them for representation, and add a hint of personalization,  you will be well on your way to making a good first impression.


What are your thoughts about personalization in a query? What approach worked for you? Would love to hear about it in the comments.







6 Responses to “QUERY 101 SERIES: The Personalization Quandary”

  1. If I’ve met the agent or been referred, of course I point that out. Otherwise, I say how I found the listing or that they represent what I have to offer. After the brief intro, it’s on to the real reason for the letter. The agents are too busy, and so am I, for a lengthy chat, but if I show I’ve done my homework, it’s a good first impression.
    Beyond Acadia
    Swamp Lily Review

  2. It certainly can’t hurt (assuming you execute well and don’t cross the line into ass-kissing). I’m a firm believer in a one-sentence (20 words, not a runon) cap on personalization. Once the agent (or reader) knows “yea, this person knows who I am, this is specifically directed to me” that part of the query is done.

    I also make sure to list precisely what the submissions guidelines say they want at the end (“Per your submission guidelines, the first five pages…”) as a reminder that, yea, I went to your web page, this isn’t simultaneously going to 100 other agents. I call those things the “brown M&Ms.” 🙂

  3. Personalisation is definitely the thing I worry/flail about the most. Because it took me ages to get the confidence to start querying, I kind of go into panic mode when deciding what to write to agents. I’d hate to say something that makes me sound like a loony. Being too enthusiastic, you know 🙂

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