How To Personalize a Query The Right Way

Recently I gave a talk about Agents to local SCBWI chapter members. One thing that we unfortunately didn’t get around to discussing was the whole concept of ‘personalizing queries.’

I’ve noticed this comes up at a few of the writing forums I visit. People want to know why it’s important to personalize a query and how a person does it without coming across as a butt kisser or sounding phony.

So…why personalize?

High up on every Agent’s hate list is the ‘Splatter Query.’ This is where the writer finds a list of agents on the net somewhere and sends out a form query to ALL OF THEM, hoping for a request. This is also known as the SHOTGUN approach to querying.

Four words: DON’T DO THIS…EVER.

Why? Because it’s disrespectful to the agents you query, other writers who did target this agent, waiting to have their query considered…and it’s disrespectful to yourself.  Not only do you waste everyone’s time with a miss-query, think about this: how many hours/days/weeks/years did you slave over your manuscript? And now you’re willing to hand it over to any old agent to try and sell? That’s crazy talk, right there.

Personalizing a query tells the Agent you researched them specifically as a match for your manuscript. It’s respectful to them and to your novel. You want to find the right advocate so your MS will have the best chance at placement. Taking a bit of time to research is nothing when considering how long it took to perfect your book.

Getting Personal: What it isn’t

Stickers, glitter, gifts, fancy fonts & formatting, colored stationary, drawn-on hearts, nicknames, declarations to name child after agent/get a tattoo of the agent’s face/etc in exchange for representation. No, no…just no. This damages the name ‘writer’ all over the world and screams RUN AWAY to the Agent.

Getting Personal: What it is

Think about what attracted you to the agent in the first place. What did you find out about them as you researched? Mention a compelling reason why you admire them and want them repping you. (And don’t forget to always address the agent by name when querying, never ‘Dear Agent’.)

It’s simple….Do your RESEARCH

Agents are often at conferences, book fairs, retreats and work shops, allowing for countless opportunities to shmooze and get to know them a bit better. If you don’t see them on the circuit, most agents are fabulous about keeping a web presence. Blogs, articles, discussion boards, websites, twitter, Facebook…all of these are chock full of advice, information and personal tidbits that help you get to know who they are. This makes it very easy for you to find something genuine to personalize your letter with.

Personalization ideas:

Did they speak at a conference? Did you learn something from it? Say briefly where you saw them and how they helped! If you met them personally, mention it.

When you researched their clients, did one of their novels/writing style make you believe your book would be a good fit, too? If so, mention this. (BUT if you didn’t read the book, in the name of zombies, don’t lie and say you did!)

Did you read an article by them on a specific topic and it broadened your knowledge? Thank them for it!

Do you follow their blog where they share tips and news about the biz? Let the agent know you appreciate the time they give to writers!

Are you up to date on their successes? Congratulate them!

Agents do a lot for all writers, not just their clients. They are very generous with their time, mentoring through blogs, conference talks, workshops and even Twitter. A genuine ‘thank you’ for all they do to help us learn and grow as writers is never amiss in a query letter, provided it’s professional and concise. Personalization doesn’t need to be big or splashy, just honest!


Angela is an international speaker and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also enjoys dreaming up new tools and resources for One Stop For Writers, a library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.
This entry was posted in Agents, Publishing and Self Publishing, SCBWI. Bookmark the permalink.

45 Responses to How To Personalize a Query The Right Way

  1. I always personalize my queries and in the first four months or so of querying- I really do pick and choose very carefully who I send my MS too. If I have no bites though? It gets to the point after 6 months where it gets harder and harder to be picky I’ll send it to any agent who represents YA in general even if their site or online presence doesn’t offer many more details. Sad but true.

  2. I’m all for personalizing queries, to a certain extent. Like use their name and follow the guidelines, read their blog if they have one – though many don’t. Be familiar with their clients and read the books if you can. And definitely no spam/form letters sent out in batches of thirty.

    But I also think that many of the reasons we are attracted to an agent, the reasons we’ve built up in our minds, are not usually the reasons we should sign with them, if they’re interested.

    And many, many agents are really hard to find information on.

    In the long run, I’ve even seen agents shoot down personalizing too much. Esp. when comparing yourself to a writer they already have – why would they want another writer like one they already have?

    I think writers can get sucked into the agent search time warp and lose many hours. Because really it is about the book, the concept, the writing, and the execution. I’ve seen several agents say, they don’t really care. Personalization is nice, but they really just care about your story and can they sell it.

    The better reason to research agents is not for the personalization but so you know who you might possibly be signing with in the future. Would you really want them as an agent?

  3. Jeffrey Howe says:

    I review the clients an agent has after I’ve filtered down by genre interest and before I start doing queries. If an agent is interested in a genre I’m doing, but their clients’ work looks nothing like mine, they go into a holding folder. I’ll come back at the end of the process to see if they’ve signed someone whose work is more like mine. If not, I won’t query.

    If there is a good client match, I refer to them as a reason why I’d like to work with the agent. If there are two, I refer to both. Haven’t found one with three good matches yet.

    Beyond that, I am wary of changing around the synopsis/jacket blurb portion of the query. For one thing, it took weeks of work, review, edits, rethinks, and other angst to get it where it is. Casually flipping the heart of the query around strikes me as dangerous. I agree changing how it’s framed is important, though, not just because it’s polite, but because I think it keeps you from shooting too many “air balls.”

    And any agent who runs a real, informative, honest agent blog is a saint.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I’d like it better if the people (agents) we (writers) are hiring would personalize their replies to us.

    Dear Writer:

    Thank you for your (whatever), but you’re not the droid I’m looking for.

    Ms. Agency (Intern pretending to be the agent)

    The few and far between who gave me a clear impression that they actually read my query letter were great. And I personalized every single query I sent out. I’m quite happy to be shut of them until I’m looking for someone to handle foreign translation or film rights. Please send a query telling me how you’re the right agent to work for me.

    Thank the heavens for Amazon KDP and small presses!

  5. Matthew Rush says:

    I’m not ashamed to admit I was naive enough at first to use a shotgun approach. It never ceases to amaze me how ignorant that was, for exactly the reasons you have laid out so well here, Angela.

    Excellent advice. Thank you so much.

  6. lbdiamond says:

    Nice post. Good suggestions on how to handle personalizing the query letter without seeming wonky.

  7. Mary Witzl says:

    Whew — I know all of this stuff now, but there was certainly a time I didn’t. I used to study every agent’s particulars carefully, but when it came time to writing that all-important personal line, I just couldn’t do it — whatever I wrote sounded so lame and sycophantic. I think I settled for referring to books we’d both admired, but even that made me cringe a little.

  8. Beth says:

    What a great post! I completely agree with everything you’ve said about personalization, and you’ve given me some new ideas too. When I’ve worked so hard on my manuscript, I wouldn’t think of sending it out without spending a few hours considering who I’ll send it to and why they’d be a good fit.

  9. Hi Angela…I hopped over from my dear friend Robyn’s blog. You have a great blog. Loved your Thesaurus. Had a peep at few emotions. You have a wonderful resource for writers.

    Thankyou for your generosity, for sharing this wonderful resource with all of us.


  10. I think it’s really important to keep notes on each agent or editor that you research. Then if you send out another project you already have notes prepared…

  11. GutsyWriter says:

    Since I’m in the Query research phase, this is a perfect post for me. Thanks again.

  12. Morgan says:

    As much as I’d love to decorate my queries with stickers and glitter (I’m still five years old at heart), professional personalization is the way to go. I get a lot of personalization ideas from Casey McCormick’s Agent Spotlights on her blog . Though her information is mostly for YA agents, I know there are a ton of other resources out there to make personalization a bit easier.

  13. Tahlia says:

    Well I’m glad I didn’t make any of those mistakes. It’s a good post for people starting out.

  14. Thank you as after Nanowrimo the question will be held, as I am still more into trying to do it myself, although it seems hard. Well… Thinking, considering. Doing everything via my blog, mostly.

  15. Thanks for the pointers.

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