Saturday, September 06, 2014

Question: 5 Key Things to know about personalizing your query

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.


Kitty said...

What about mentioning that you're the very same Suzie Sweatheart who's a frequent reader of your blog? I've found your contests particularly helpful in my writing.

Janet Reid said...

Kitty, that works. Anything that says that we actually have had real interaction. And those contests are real...and I miss them!

Lisa Bodenheim said...

(Hmm, numbers weren't appearing via my other device. Will try again.)

So, if you are missing the contests, might that mean we can happily anticipate another coming our way soon? Jus' askin' QOTKU.

Unknown said...

This is off-topic, but I just heart your blog with big, pinky hearts. We hear so much from agents about what they don't like, often in the form of lists of "rules" for writing and/or pitching them. Your blog is funny, and gives advice in a even-handed and kind way that reminds us that agents aren't mythical beasts, they're people! Just like us! (I say this out of pure respect and Saturday morning lovey-doveyness. I haven't written anything that would be appropriate to pitch to you. Yet). Anyway, thank you for your blog.

french sojourn said...

It pains me that you would throw my name out as a cautionary tale. Maybe you don't remember me, but i'll never forget you.

Bora bora, sunsets, blue whale cocktails and our chums at the hookie-lau-a go-go.

Felix Buttonweazer.

Ellipsis Flood said...

Whenever I read NO examples like these, I find myself comparing queries to job applications (not exactly the same relationship, but in both you're trying to show what you can do).

I feel like asking people who put big NOPEs in their queries if they'd to the same if this was a letter of application.

And then I remember a few of the letters of applications I've come across. The answer is probably yes.

LynnRodz said...

Ahh, how soon they forget, Felix! (Too many fish in the sea, I suppose.) I will say, this wasn't the first post where your name was mentioned, so you aren't completely forgotten.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Janet, a dear friend and wife of my former writing teacher and literary agent, has asked if I would please pass this message on to you.

Dear Ms. Reid,
May I respectably request that you cease referring to my loving husband, Felix Buttonweazer, as anyone less than informed and stellar as a writer. When I think of the hours my dear Felix spends on his computer researching websites related to the importance of relationships, (thank God he doesn’t call those 900 numbers anymore) and how this has enhanced our relationship, I just bristle because of your flippancy.
We have a passel of little Buttonweazers who look up to their father, so please do not belittle the man, history will eventually recognize and admire as the writer whose last name has more letters in it than Hemmingway.
Betty Buttonweazer

Colin Smith said...

Just to add my personal 2c, I've found the most positive query responses I have received (and by "positive query responses" I mean rejections that are more than just a form letter) have come from agents with whom I have had some level of interaction (even if it's just on Twitter).

What I would caution against is "buddying up" to agents on Twitter, FB, conferences, etc. just to get them to read your stuff. OK, I'm sure it works, but getting to know them as people and having a genuine connection with them takes a lot of the pain out of trying to break into this industry. It makes you feel like you actually have *friends* in there, not just targets you're trying to use to further your career.

I may never write a novel worth Janet's time of day, but if I ever ran into her at a conference, I hope she would recognize my name and chat for a few minutes. :)

PS: I'm with Lisa, Janet--if you're missing the contests that much, there's a solution to that... :)

Anonymous said...

Contest pen...poised and ready.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Use these 5 words:


Jennifer R. Donohue said...

What a relief, I was hoping things like spelling an agent's name right and using phrases like "we've exchanged witty repartee on Twitter" would be good enough!

Hey, no pressure, but any time you're ready to run another contest....lay on, Macduff!

Anastasia Stratu said...

Enlightening - well, the usual standard... complimenting The Jet Reid became redundant ages ago, unless one wants to show respect and gratitude. Which I am doing now.

However, comments re: actual topic vs. my usual blah-blah show with Li Bai and stuff are postponed, as it is

#amwriting #weekend #plan

My #BleepingBucketoids and other #StarWars


#Opera #Rock #MolotovB*tch by #TheProdigy

Meamour #Memoirs #Vortex #Transarcane #QueryShark #Poetry #Fun

P.S. No hidden agenda of advertising. As I said, it is mere #fun - I just copy-pasted this proprietary hashtag joke from my Tweeter in the Wilderness folder.

Dear Ms. Reid, if you find this comment inappropriate, as usual, I won't say a meow if you delete it. Your servant, ma'am.

Julie said...

And I'm guessing, "Dear Orca,
I've annoyed you on several previous occasions with terrible puns. I'm hoping you remember them and will take my self-important 'literary work' extremely seriously for the up-and-coming classic it's sure to be.

Love and affection,
Dead in the Water" a sure winner?

Craig F said...

Is it alright if I tell other agents that I said the QOTKU was evil?

Oh, wait, that was fiction.

Okay I promise not to say you are evil if you run another contest.

Oh, wait, I can lie because that was fiction.

I am sorry I called you evil.

Anonymous said...

"If it's someone with a whisky bottle and bite marks, the odds improve."

Haha! The dangers of being friends with an agent.