Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Effective Personalization

A lot of agents ask that you personalize your query.

(My thoughts on personalization are here)

Beyond Dear Snookums (ie using their name) what makes for effective personalization?

First: Actual personal connection is great

Example: We met at Bouchercon when we were both blown away by Dana Haynes presentation on effective plotting.

Example: We met at CrimeBake and your advice on redrafting my query was very useful.

Example: I read your blog, and while you're not as funny as you think you are, it's been useful to meet the blog readers there.

(Ok, not that middle part)

Second: Research on how your book fits the agent's list

Example: I write fast paced thrillers and would love to be on the same shelf as Patrick Lee.

Example: I write first person traditionals with a twist like Terry Shames.

Example: I write fun cozy mysteries with off-beat characters who will charm their way in to your hearts like Loretta Sue Ross

Example: I write books like Jeff Somers. Which is to say with cats draped across me like a pashmina.

Third: Responding to a specific request for a kind of book

Example: I saw your #MSWL includes dino porn. Tales from the Swamp is dino porn

Example: I saw you tweet that you are "dying for good Icelandic noir" which is what Title is.

Least effective: your website says you're looking for high octane thrillers.

Least effective with a bullet: your website says you're looking for well-written books.

Now to the good stuff: what questions do you have?


Steve Forti said...

Main question: What happens when you DON'T have any personalized reason? Sure, everyone will have a limited number of agents they have some personal reason to reach out to. But what happens when you're moving further down the list, and at that point it's more of: you're an agent who hasn't yet rejected me, and you take on books in my genre? Maybe your research on something like QueryTracker shows they have a decent response rate (sidebar: NORMANs are frustrating) and a few people have said nice things about them. The advice is always query wide and query tons. But what do you do then?

Mister Furkles said...

How about paraphrasing Tarzan: "Me Writer, you Agent." Okay, maybe not.

Well, I wonder if the request for personalization isn't to screen those who send the same query to every agent on AAR or Query Tracker. Nobody wants to be on a mass email posting.

Brenda said...

How about ‘FYI, I write the name of agents who norman on kitty treats and feed them to Roscoe. As he’s getting a little chubby, it would be a act of animal cruelty not to reply to this query. The cat pics on your twitter feed indicate that you aren’t that person.’

Brenda said...

* an act

Colin Smith said...

Steve: See the article Janet linked. She rants about how it's your writing that matters most. While good personalization might entice an agent to read pages, it's no guarantee she'll like what she reads. Bottom line: Write great stuff and don't be an a**hat. So I think you'll be fine. :)

I can understand an agent might be a bit miffed if she asked for personalization and you didn't provide any. But are there really agents out there who would reject a query on that omission alone? Good ones, I mean.

April Mack said...

It's super helpful to see these examples! Thank you.

Katja said...

When I lived in Calgary, I went to 4 or 5 writing events. One was by Kelley Armstrong, author of Bitten, and was absolutely brilliant.

I liked another course quite a lot. One not so much but, frankly, the worst was the very first one by a Canadian literary agent. It was ALL about him. Every single question, he answered with an anecdote about his life. He could not do it without that.
The woman next to me fell asleep.

But what really made me cross him off my list was already clear after the first 10 minutes:
"If you query me, you have to personalise your letter and let me know why you query me. Otherwise I won't read your letter. I want to know why you write to ME. Look, I am important [yes, he did say that!], and there are only about 500 literary agents around in North America, 30 of them in Canada.
See how important I am?!"

Yeah, I saw it. And said goodbye...

Karen McCoy said...

My question is always where to put the personalization in a query. I'm sure opinions differ on this. In the first few lines before the book pitch? After the book pitch, where you mention genre, word count, etc.? Somewhere else?

Unknown said...

Could you clarify your second examples? They sound like editorializing and I always thought that was a turn off, like shouldn't it be obvious from my writing that my cozy mystery is fun with off-beat, charming characters because the MC lives in Stars Hollow with his family of Himalayan cats who become maniacal when he adopts a new family of Christmas Cacti?

Leslie said...

Steve, unless there is a direct connection (like meeting an agent at a conference or a direct referral from one of their colleagues), I don't personalize.

I write nonfiction, so when I was cold querying, I'd just state in the first sentence the title of my book and a few words on the general topic. That pretty much covered the "Yes, I've made it a point to learn what you're looking for and am not just querying random agents" thing for me.

Excellent idea, Brenda!

Karen, probably toward the top of the letter - wherever it feels most natural. I want to catch the agent's attention early and not risk him/her getting bored or deciding it's not for them and hitting "delete" before getting to the personalization.

On the few occasions I've used personalization, I put it in the very beginning. If I'd met the agent at a conference, I'd start out by mentioning that I was glad to have met him/her at [convention] last week (or whenever it was) and that I'm attaching/pasting into the email whatever it was they said they'd like to see. Then I'd mention the title and a few words about the book (topic, genre, etc.) before going into the rest of the query.

If I don't have a genuine connection to the agent, I didn't try to force it.

Just go with whatever feels most comfortable/natural. And good luck!