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Laurie
04-13-2006, 06:13 PM
I have read and heard over and over that query letters should be personalized, that agents don’t like what reads as a form letter.



But…. How does one personalize a query when writing to a stranger?



At a conference, it was suggested to refer to books or authors the agent already represents to show you have ‘done your homework’ and know they represent work like yours. Others say that’s wasted words; the agent already knows what they represent.



One agent said use shameless flattery, stroke the ego.



When writing to a person you’ve never met, haven’t been referred to and have no knowledge of apart from what you read on their web page and in books such as Writer’s Market and Jeff Herman’s Guide, how do you make the query personalized?

Forbidden Snowflake
04-13-2006, 06:19 PM
Wah! I need glasses! http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/smilies/emoticoncry.gif

jchines
04-13-2006, 06:26 PM
Addressing the agent by name (ie, Dear Mr. Sellsalot) as opposed to a generic (Dear Agent) is a very good start.

The next thing I'd ask is why did you choose this particular agent to query? That might be something you could include. I tend to write humorous fantasy, so I researched agents to represented that sort of thing. Sometimes I would work in a mention of that, other times I didn't. Didn't seem to make a huge difference either way.

Mostly, I think you just need to keep it professional and give them a great manuscript.

CaoPaux
04-14-2006, 08:28 PM
Wah! I need glasses! http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/smilies/emoticoncry.gifI've got 'em and they don't help. :e2cry:

As far as "personalizaton", the only thing you need to do is make sure you spell the agent's name correctly, and address them appropriately. I.e., make SURE you know whether the agent is male or female (Kim? Chris? Ashley?).

If you make personal comments, such as comparing your ms to their previous books and such, it's too easy to sound kiss-up, and you'd be only the latest of hundreds to do so.

Keep the query about you, not them. It'll go without saying that you've done your research if you present them with a well-written book that suits their needs.

Laurie
04-15-2006, 05:29 PM
Keep the query about you, not them. It'll go without saying that you've done your research if you present them with a well-written book that suits their needs.

This makes sense, but goes against what I've read and been told by some agents.

It is hard to make a letter not sound like a form letter, when, in fact, it is just that.

And, excuse my apparent ignorance, but what's with the crying icons? I thought this was a place to ask serious questions.

Julie Worth
04-15-2006, 05:59 PM
I've got 'em and they don't help. :e2cry:

As far as "personalizaton", the only thing you need to do is make sure you spell the agent's name correctly, and address them appropriately. I.e., make SURE you know whether the agent is male or female (Kim? Chris? Ashley?).

If you make personal comments, such as comparing your ms to their previous books and such, it's too easy to sound kiss-up, and you'd be only the latest of hundreds to do so.

Keep the query about you, not them. It'll go without saying that you've done your research if you present them with a well-written book that suits their needs.

Yes! The best opening has to do with the book you’re pitching. Put yourself in an agent’s position. If you’re looking at a hundred of these personalized form letters every week, don’t you think you’ll start skipping over the part where they regurgitate what little they know about you and how great you are? As a jaded agent, you'll know it’s just damn lies and sucking up, so you’ll go directly to the bio to see if they’re really the loser they’re coming across as.

Jamesaritchie
04-15-2006, 11:27 PM
Yes! The best opening has to do with the book you’re pitching. Put yourself in an agent’s position. If you’re looking at a hundred of these personalized form letters every week, don’t you think you’ll start skipping over the part where they regurgitate what little they know about you and how great you are? As a jaded agent, you'll know it’s just damn lies and sucking up, so you’ll go directly to the bio to see if they’re really the loser they’re coming across as.





An agent rarely receives one personalized query per week, let alone a hundred. And no personalized query is a form letter. It's the ones that are not personalized that are generic, form letters, and the ones agents get sick of reading. Any agent hates generic queries, and the more jaded the agent, the less patience he or she has for them.

Poersonalized letters have zip to do with telling an agent how great she is. There's nothing personal about that. Personalized simply means you've done your homework, you know what the agent handles, who the agent handles, what books she's sold, and which publishers she sold them to.

Personalized queries have zip to do with lying, and less than zip to do with sucking up. They have to do with being a professional, and with coming across as a professional. They have to do with telling the agent this is not a generic query that has been sent to a dozen other agents with nothing more than the name and address changed.

Agents react to personalized queries the same way any other sane person does. . .with gratitude that someone out there did their homework. They also react to generic letters, non-personalized letters, which make up about 99% of what they receive, the same way all sane people do. . .their eyes glaze over and they reach for a rejection slip.

Now, the most useful part of any query letter does come in the bio, IF you can legitimately tell the agent you've been published in some of teh best magazines, but other than this, personalized letters work a thousand times better than non-personalized letters. It has nothing to do with telling an agent how great she is, you'd have to be dumber than a bucket of spit to do that, but it has everything to do with showing the agent you know what she's done, who she's sold to, and that you had a heck of a lot better reason for querying her than seeing in some guidelines that she handles a certain type of novel.

If you can simply type a different agent's name and adress on teh query and send it to them, it's a horrible query letter.

Julie Worth
04-16-2006, 12:10 AM
They also react to generic letters, non-personalized letters, which make up about 99% of what they receive, the same way all sane people do. . .their eyes glaze over and they reach for a rejection slip.

If that were true, if generic letters made up 99% of the queries and they automatically rejected them, then they wouldn't be in business for long.

CaoPaux
04-16-2006, 12:15 AM
And, excuse my apparent ignorance, but what's with the crying icons? I thought this was a place to ask serious questions.And yours was a perfectly serious question. It's just that the micro-font made our eyes cross, dat's all. Which is actually an excellent example of how personalization doesn't always work to your advantage: your query was nearly lost in our reaction to your formatting.

As James emphasises, the point is to keep the query professional. "Personalization" can mean many things, but the ultimate goal is to make your book stand out. This might not happen amid a lot of "your agency is great", so use it sparingly.

CaoPaux
04-16-2006, 12:26 AM
If that were true, if generic letters made up 99% of the queries and they automatically rejected them, then they wouldn't be in business for long.That doesn't follow, actually. 1% still equals dozens a year, if not a month.

Forbidden Snowflake
04-16-2006, 12:29 AM
And, excuse my apparent ignorance, but what's with the crying icons? I thought this was a place to ask serious questions.

Sorry, I didn't mean any offense. Just my screen is so bad that I cannot read the above post and I tried and, being an Idiot sometimes, I just had to comment.

Julie Worth
04-16-2006, 12:31 AM
That doesn't follow, actually. 1% still equals dozens a year, if not a month.

The percentages are meaningless since James just made them up. Still, I’ve had personalized queries where I never received a response, and generic queries that elicited requests for the ms. And I suspect that, if the “personalization” is not extraordinary, it will have zero impact, and thus just take up valuable space. Worse, if the agent doesn’t find the personalization of interest, she may go directly from there to the bio section, which is a problem for most of the people here. So if the first thing she sees is a terrific hook for your novel, you’ll have an advantage.

priceless1
04-17-2006, 04:34 AM
Personally, I only pay scant attention to the query letter, so it wouldn't matter if its personalized or not. I'm looking for the meat - the synopsis, first 30 pages and bio. For me, the query letter only serves as a 'howdy do.'

Julie Worth
04-17-2006, 05:50 AM
Personally, I only pay scant attention to the query letter, so it wouldn't matter if its personalized or not. I'm looking for the meat - the synopsis, first 30 pages and bio. For me, the query letter only serves as a 'howdy do.'

Are you an editor by chance? I've heard editors say they were far more interested in the work than anything else. Which only makes sense!

Valona
04-17-2006, 10:54 PM
Are you an editor by chance? I've heard editors say they were far more interested in the work than anything else. Which only makes sense!

Boy, I wish that were the case. If it were so, how come so many agents/editors reject the work based soley on the query? It would be great if they would at least read the first few pages before reaching for that form rejection slip.

jchines
04-17-2006, 11:17 PM
A query generally will not earn you an acceptance letter. Your writing has to do that. (Either the enclosed synopsis, sample pages, first three chapters, or the description of your book within the query letter, depending on what kind of query you're doing.)

A query can earn you a rejection letter if it marks you as an amateur, as someone who would be too difficult to work with, as someone who is presenting a project the agent doesn't represent, etc.

Julie Worth
04-17-2006, 11:21 PM
Boy, I wish that were the case. If it were so, how come so many agents/editors reject the work based soley on the query? It would be great if they would at least read the first few pages before reaching for that form rejection slip.

You can’t lump agents with editors as "agents/editors," because they take a very different approach. Most agents want to see the query in the first instance, while many editors could care less.

Valona
04-18-2006, 12:43 AM
You can’t lump agents with editors as "agents/editors," because they take a very different approach. Most agents want to see the query in the first instance, while many editors could care less.


You probably know more about this business than I. however, if that were true, then why do so many editors ask for a query before they will look at the rest?

Julie Worth
04-18-2006, 01:15 AM
You probably know more about this business than I. however, if that were true, then why do so many editors ask for a query before they will look at the rest?

Most editors (with publishing houses) don't want to see anything at all from you. “Get an agent,” they say. Of those few that will look at a submission, many (but certainly not all) care more about the work than anything else. A few actually say not to bother sending a query letter or a synopsis, because they won't read it. On the contrary, most agents insist on a query letter, though quite a few will read a few pages of the work if you submit them. My usual query package is a query letter, SASE, and anywhere between nothing and the first three chapters, depending on how rigid the agent is in that regard. The synopsis I don't include unless the agent insists on it.

priceless1
04-18-2006, 02:22 AM
Are you an editor by chance? I've heard editors say they were far more interested in the work than anything else. Which only makes sense!
Yes, Julie, I'm an editor.