I am cold querying and wondering how much time I should spend on personalization.
I mean, of course I'm reading about each agent to make sure he or she reps and will be interested in what I'm querying. But aside from addressing the query to the agent, is it worth it to write a sentence or two about why I think the agent would be a good fit for my work?
I'm sure it probably wouldn't hurt, but would my time be better spent sending more queries rather than writing a few individual lines in each? Does a cold query stand only on the merits of the work being queried, or would a few lines of personalization really make a difference?
There is no industry standard on this. Some agents like personalization, some don't give a hoot. I am among the latter.
However, just cause I don't care if you personalize doesn't mean I have no opinion on how to do it well. Of course I do. (Janet Reid has an opinion IS an industry standard!)
Here are the five key things to know about how to personalize your query:
(1) Most important is if you've met the agent in a positive way.
YES: We met at the Rocky Mountain Writers Conference and you offered me some help on my query letter.
NO: We met at the Fecal Roster Writers Conference and you said no to my pitch.
See the difference?
(2) if you've had previous contact with the agent that was personal.
YES: I've participated in the Chum Bucket experiment and you gave me advice which I have taken to heart.
NO: I've queried you before but it wasn't right for you (this is particularly bad when I look up your name and see that I sent you a form rejection)
See the difference?
(3) if someone I know said to query me.
YES: Barbara Poelle read my manuscript and said it was too high falutin for her vodka swilling tastes, so she sent me over to you.
NO: Felix Buttonweazer said you were a good agent (this is particularly bad when the person you name is NOT someone I know)
How do you know if the person knows me? Ask them. If it's someone giving a presentation at a writers conference, the odds are lower that they know me. If it's someone with a whisky bottle and bite marks, the odds improve.
(4) if you've read and LOVED my clients' books
YES: I read RUN by Andrew Grant and it knocked my sox clean off. I'm hoping my high concept, action packed thriller will be right up your alley.
NO: I read The Electric Church by Jeff Somers and my book on the influence of electronic music in churches is just like his but MUCH better.
In other words, read the book. And don't say yours is better (even if you think it is.) No one is better than my guys. That's just an ironclad fact. Most agents feel that way about all their clients too.
The bottom line here is:
(5) Personalization MUST be real. Don't over reach. It's better to leave it off than get it wrong.
Here's why: if you demonstrate that you don't know what you're doing in the first line of the query, I'm less likely to want to work with you. That means your novel has to be A+++ not just A+.
As I said though at the start, tastes vary on personalization. This is one of the major advantages to agent blogs, and Twitter and Facebook. You can get a better sense of HOW to personalize a query and whether that personalization is important to the agent.
Me, all you need to do is write like Patrick Lee and it's all good.