Tuesday, April 12, 2022

More on personalization

Hello Madam Shark,

I binge-read your blog and Query Shark over the holidays, and I feel tons more educated about publishing and querying. Thank you!

You make it very clear that you believe personalization is not a good use of time/space in a query. I have absorbed this into my being.

I recently did a workshop with a long-time editor where we discussed query letters. The editor believed personalization is critical. Not just "get the agent's name right" kind of personalization, but the personalization where you mention if you were alumni of the same school or share an interest in Great British Bake-Off.

I understand personalization if you met an agent at a conference, or even a quick mention that your manuscript perfectly matches their manuscript wish list (if it's true). But if my book isn't about, say, murders on Harvard's campus or a Rhode Island baking competition, I don't see the need for the personalizations mentioned above.

I mentioned my opinion during the workshop, and the editor and I came away politely disagreeing; they thought that human connection in a personalization is critical to get an agent to read on. I know editors aren't agents, and even agents disagree about personalization. If an agent specifically mentions they want personalization, yes, I'll do it. But I'm worried now that if I do zero personalization as a default, I'll sabotage myself during the querying process.

Am I worrying too much about this as I spin my hamster wheel? Or are there agents who will reject me because I don't add a few personal sentences in my query?

Dear Chum,

The fact that I think personalization is an utter waste of a writer's time, and further, is a huge barrier to new writers, doesn't address the reasons agents ask for it.

Within the last five years the number of agents has increased a lot. I'm thinking it might have doubled. That means writers have a lot of potential agents to sort through.

But at the same time the number of agents has increased, so has the number of writers, and the barriers to querying have diminished substantially. All you need now is an email address. When I started in this biz, you mailed your queries with an SASE if you wanted to hear back. There was no Publishers Marketplace. The Writers Digest Guide to Literary Agents was out of date the minute it was set in type.

Agents use personalization to sort out shotgunned queries from the more researched ones.

I understand that position, but I don't support it.

But, I've lost that battle.
The only question now is how to personalize effectively.

Here are some examples of what NOT to do that  I've seen recently:

According to your agency's website, you represent exciting debut fiction writers,

This isn't effective, you're telling me what my website says.

If you think I'll instantly conclude that you too are an exciting debut fiction writer, you're wrong.

I read your bio and it is inspiring as well as impressive. You are looking for voice, style, to gasp, and to laugh.

Again, parroting my own words back to me, and thinking if you do that, I'll tbelieve you've got voice and style. You're wrong.

Here's an older blog post on how to effectively personalize your query.

Personalization is a total pain in the ass, but you don't want to just say "the hell with it" cause in some cases, lack of personalization is an instant pass. 

The last thing you want is a pass cause you didn't at least try.


Steve Forti said...

I get it, but at some point, I feel like personalization just isn't possible. Everyone ought to be able to personalize their first batch or batches of queries to the agents they've been following and have a strong reason for wanting to work with. But if you're not getting any bites after that first dozen, I think most people will move on to the "warm body who accepts my genre" phase. When you're on your 50th query, what is there left to say? "OMG, I LOVE how you're not closed to queries and actually reply to almost 5% of them!"
I mean, maybe that's indicative of a problem with your story to begin with, though, that you've run out? (Plus, I hate feeling like I'm blowing smoke up someone's ass, especially if I think they know that's what it is.)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I tried too hard for personalization in a few journeys in the query trenches because agents asked for it. Not making that mistake again. Apart from the necessary niceties. If they like my writing, then they can find out more about me. And I include my website which should tell them everything they need to know. Maybe more than they want to know. I hope it will be enough this time. I have really tripped over my own two feet in past ventures. Embarrassingly so.

I have enough issues socially. Not going to compound that by trying to do something that it seems most agents don't care about if they are being honest.

Unknown said...

Janet, Thanks for the note on personalization.

The link "how to ... query." gets to a 'Blogger: Onboarding' that talks about EU rules for blogging. Must we join yet another social site to read it?

Katja said...

Janet, I apologise I haven't read this post yet (no time just yet) BUT: maybe you can post an update here in the comments that you're fine?

I just heard on the (Swiss) radio that there's been shooting in Brooklyn in the underground (plus several explosive things have gone off or not).
People are reportedly being hurt...

Are you okay?

LynnRodz said...

Same here as Katja, I came as soon as I heard on the news about a shooting at a subway station in Brooklyn. I hope you're okay.

Janet Reid said...

Thanks to LynnRodz and Katja for inquiring if I'm still vertical.

Yep, I am.

I wasn't on the train at all, and the location is far away from me (in subway terms anyway).

It's very scary to read this stuff I know.

Janet Reid said...

I don't have a problem with the link.
Can you check again?


is anyone else not seeing the link?

Kitty said...

The "older blog" link goes to one of my blogs, although that's not the URL you posted.

Karen McCoy said...

What Kitty said. It links to my blog, not yours, and not to the page in question. Hope this helps!

Timothy Lowe said...

Glad the Shark is ok. Now I am worried about my former agent, who also lives in Brooklyn. Can the world just be a little less crazy for a day or two? FFS!

Craig F said...

Glad you are okay, too.

I dug deep into the well of this almost information system called google, and researched personalizing for my first few queries.

Got an infestation of crickets in my inbox. I made the query better, using all of my round about 250 words (253 to be exact), and still got crickets, though the query is a good read.

Maybe a social media presence is what I need.

Luralee said...

When I try the link I get what looks like an ad for Blogger. I know I should get myself a blog but…

Anyway, personalization. Steve Forti has it about right. I have exactly 2 agents who will eventually receive a real personalized query from me. Only one of them reps my genre. Sigh. In lieu of making up personal connections where there are none, Wouldn’t it be much more interesting to lead off with something like, I recently got a telephone call from the North Pole, and it wasn’t from Santa!
Sorry, I just needed to say that.

I probably won’t start my queries as follows:
Dear Agent, it appears you represent my genre and you don’t show up on my google search of agents behaving badly on twitter.
I will certainly think it, though.

Ash Complin said...

Dear Agent,

The "how to effectively personalize your query" link looks like it is a link to edit the post that you meant to link. It points to "https://www.blogger.com/blog/post/edit/17040756/8660814593385545363", not a link to jetreidliterary.blogspot.com.

Now that I've personalized this, here is my query about the time when Felix Buttonweezer accidentally performed a simple URL copy-paste error that sent his whole family into a zany adventure that they will never forget.

"Chaos in the Comment Section" is a 99 word blog post comment set in modern New York.

Janet Reid said...

I may have to gnaw my own fin off!
I think both the links are correct now.

Blogger used to let you check them before posting.
They used to have a spell check feature too.


John Davis Frain said...

Nominees for "The Link Take Me To" are

- Carkoon, directed by Janet Reid
- Funny You Should Ask, written by Barbara Poelle
- Otto the Spell Czech, written by Jeannette Read
- The Wire, Season 1, Ep 1, written by David Simon
- Just About Anything, written by Laura Lippman

And tonight's winner -- The Link Takes Me To ...

Jeff Somers' newsletter!

(Not really. The link took me right where it was supposed to, which was a little anti-climactic but eventually beneficial.)

AJ Blythe said...

Steve Forti is bang on. It is really hard to personalise a query that doesn't sound clunky and try-hard. The few agents you've been following, sure, you can discourse on the merits of kale from Carkoon, but after that, it really feels like lip service. Plus it can be really hard to find information that lets you personalise.

Bugger that you're even telling us it's now a must do, Janet.

Unknown said...

So let me get this right. It's not enough that NRMN, and even the best of them send mostly form rejects.

It's not enough that set up rules and guidelines you MUST comply with in order to gain the privilege of them reading the work you've done and potentially profiting from your efforts.

Now you have to kiss the ring as well and let them know just how awesome and special they are as they open your email.