Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Question: query personalization

When reviewing query letters on Query Shark, I very rarely see mention of why the particular agent has been selected. Is this omitted from your post or is it not necessary to include?

One of the disadvantages to QueryShark is that my preferences on some things are not the universal. Clearly this is a cosmic error of epic proportion and will be remedied when I am Queen of the Known Universe.

However, while we wait for that happy day, personalized queries are largely seen as A Good Thing by most agents. Not me. I'm an agent. You're a writer. I have skills you need.  You have a good project I might want to sell. As Robert Parker so memorably said in an early Spenser novel "Enough with the love talk, off with the clothes."

And frankly, personalization is just one more hoop writers are asked to jump through for no good reason. It doesn't improve the quality of your writing. It doesn't help me evaluate your work.  Basically it's a fucking ego stroke for agents and I have zero tolerance for that as a prerequisite for paying attention to a query.


IF you say you read Sean Ferrell's Man in the Empty Suit and loved it with the passion of a white hot sun, yes, that's something I pay attention to.  So, even my ice cold heart can be melted with some sincere personalization. (Notice it's not about ME, it's about one of the Fabulosity---that's a big thing to remember.)

IF you say you've read Josin McQuein's Premeditated and loved it with the passion of a white hot sun and you're querying with your YA novel, that shows me you are NOT paying attention, cause I don't rep Josin, and didn't sell the book.  I was just her first fan (of MANY.)

That's the very real downside of personalization---you have to really pay attention to details. And that's the reason I think it's shortsighted to ask writers to do this.  Why should you have to research this kind of detail for agents at the query stage? Your time is more valuable than that.  Unless you're writing the definitive history of Sharques in the Marketplace, who cares that I found Josin in the QueryShark chums?

But I've been on enough panels with other agents and heard them say they like to know why an author is querying to know I'm probably in the minority on this.

The good thing though is that so many agents are so much more visible and accessible now it makes it easier to find something good to say.

And while agents may like it, I don't think any agent anywhere at any time is going to reject a query because it doesn't contain the reason you're writing to them.  We're all looking for good stuff to sell. Tell us about the book in an enticing way and don't fret about anything else.


Alex Sheridan said...

I adore your shark-talk style. Every morning I stop by for a bite, and today's serving is delicious.

Laughing and learning over here, it's better than a cup of coffee! said...

Ditto Alex Sheridan's comment. That's one of the reasons I keep coming back..., even though I'm not in a query stage. There has always been something to learn on your site. Plus, there's contests! And pics! And recommended books to read! But mostly, it's because of her Sharkiness and her sense of humor.

GC SMITH said...

Getting an agent and writer together is IMO business not a love fest, so as the writer I'd prefer to be straightforward with here is my product.

Colin Smith said...

Not just stroking your ego, Janet, but I have to agree with you. It's hard enough writing an enticing query to then have to think of ways to make the agent feel as if s/he's the only agent in the world for me.

Once you've called to offer representation, then I'll send you chocolate and liquor. ;)

Ginger Calem said...

At the risk of crossing the line into 'love-fest-zone' this post is one of the reasons you are awesome. I would so much rather it all be straightforward.

Thank you!

*waving from Texas* :)

Joelle said...

Actually, I'm going to disagree with you, Janet! I know! Brave soul that I am. I'll tell you why I think it can be useful to a writer to include this kind of info. When I was querying, I chose agents based not on who I liked but who they repped that wrote stuff that was similar to mine. Not the same, but would appeal to the same taste and possibly sell to editors they already have relationships with. For example, if you like Carolyn Mackler, you'll probably like my books. Not because I'm as good as her, or write just like her, but just because there's a certain feel to our writing. So if I was querying her agent, it would make sense to say NOT that I like her, but that I'm querying the agent specifically because she reps this writer, which means I might be a good fit for her. I've used this in regards to sales, too. For example, "I saw in PW that you sell regularly to X imprint and based on my reading, I think I would fit in well there." Yes, I believe the writing is the most important thing, but I also feel like (very briefly - one sentence) showing that you're following the business and are aware of what's out there can't be bad, and might be good.

Kyler said...

Joelle, good to hear your comment. I have to say, after querying WIDELY, and I mean widely, and getting an agent, the thing that seemed to work for me was personalizing my first paragraph. I always seemed to get requests when I did that - and when I forgot to, rarely. I believe the rest of my query was good...but when I said I attended a reading of an agent's client, or that I liked a book, etc, it almost always got a request. Just a quick thing in the beginning most often did the trick. Just my experience, of course, but when an agent gets so many, I've come to the opinion that something a little more than copy-and-paste is what gets you in the door.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I'm not querying yet, just ferreting away all these tidbits. The query letter is that stumbling block that comes after the novel has been rewritten and rewritten and burned down and built up. Do we say Dear Janet? Do we say Dear Ms. Read? Do we give comp titles? Do we go for voice? Do we go with hook-book-cook?

It's alchemy, I say. Just need to find the right formula.

Kitty said...

I bookmarked Josin McQuein's post on Query Shark because it was that good. I wanted to be able to refer to it later on.

Stephany said...

I'm with you, Janet - a heartfelt mention of one of my beloved authors is more important than a personal stroke. Or I could take no explicit personalization at all. What I want to see in the letter is that it's OBVIOUS that the author IS paying attention and does know that I am the right agent - or at least in the right ballpark for their work. What I hate is that false effort at personalization that goes something like: "I looked at your web site so feel we'd be a good fit." If the pitch that follows shows me that's true then that bit of fluff did nothing to further convince me - just took more time to read. Most times, though, I take that kind of line as something bland enough it can be sent to dozens at a time with the author bootlessly hoping it'll strike the agent as actual research.

Margaret Golla said...

Personally, I feel its ridiculous to query an agent to say that I was requesting representation, because why the hell would I query them if I didn't want representation??

Before I query an agent, I look at their bio on the agency website. The basic search engines(Query Tracker, Agent Query) are good, but there have been numerous times when I looked up an agent (who represents middle grade, for example) only to discover another agent in the group would be a better fit.

I'll query the other agent.

If there isn't a good story or reason for querying a particular agent, I won't sling crap at them just to make them feel good . . . hmm, maybe that's why I still haven't found an agent.

Michael Seese said...

You know, they say that the universe contains five times more "dark matter" than regular matter. Perhaps you should aim higher, and aspire to be Queen of the Unknown Universe, Your Highness

P.I. Barrington said...