Query Letter Personalization: How to Do It Right

The long story short on query letter personalization: Just like with citing comparative titles and other parts of a query letter, if you’re not going to do it well, don’t do it at all.

query letter personalization, parts of a query letter
Query letter personalization is a great way to start off, but only if you do it right.

The Long Story on Query Letter Personalization

It’s great when you take the time to personalize your query. It’s one of the parts of a query letter that can really catch a literary agent or publisher’s attention.

Think of all the time you spent writing and revising. That was months, maybe years, or your life. Put some time into researching agents and into writing queries as well. Most agents are online or beefing up their blog/Twitter/Facebook presence. Most agents have books out that you can buy and read and think about. You should want to reach out to specific agents because of what you think they can bring to your career, not just because it says “Literary Agent” on their business card and you’re grasping at straws. (More tips on the book pitch here.)

So the query letter personalization part should be a no-brainer. But there are many times when I get “personalized” queries that have tried to work around this step. “I am contacting you because of your love for books” is a lame personalization, (as is, “because you are an advocate for children’s literature” or “because you have sold some books” or “because you come from a reputable agency,” etc.)

I know immediately that the same line is in every other query you send out. (With agents like me, who have almost psychotic levels of online presence, there’s almost no excuse not to personalize with something that shows me that you really do intend to reach out to me and make a connection. I don’t get offended when a query isn’t personalized — far from it, I really don’t care — but in some cases, it’s just obvious laziness on the writer’s part, which does knock them down a peg or two.)

Work Hard on the Optional Parts of a Query Letter

Unless you have something real to say in the query letter personalization part, maybe don’t even mention why you’re contacting us specifically. Sure, the personalization is powerful, but it’s optional if you don’t have anything compelling to say here. It’s well understood that you’re emailing because you want to get published. And I should hope that every agent you contact loves books, is an advocate for children’s literature, has sold some projects, comes from a reputable agency, etc. That’s not personalization, that’s a waste-of-time sentence.

And, as I wrote earlier, in my query formatting post, you can put the personalization nugget either at the beginning of your query or below the “meat.”

Struggling with your pitch or submission strategy? I offer a lot services as a freelance editor, including helping you pitch, strategize, and plan your submission.

10 Replies to “Query Letter Personalization: How to Do It Right”

  1. Thanks Mary for your continuous stream of advice !! I regularly check your website and have referred to it on my site as well.

    Now for this topic, I was wondering: Is a phrase such as ‘I’m submitting my manuscript to you because you are the agent of author x, who I absolutely love’ also too generic ? I always thought this was light enough (especially for picture books where you don’t want to be writing a full essay on why you are querying them specifically) but yet shows you’re not mass querying.

  2. Melissa K says:

    I recently queried a new agent, someone who just left an editing career and is now trying to build a client list. She had a good resume but no blog and no client books to check out. In my query, I quoted something she’d said in an online interview about liking MG humor, which was what I was sending. It felt pretty thin–but I was quoting her exact words, so it wasn’t quite as half-assed as “I know you love books.”

    What do you think? Is that a situation when it would be better not to personalize at all?

    Also: “almost psychotic levels of online presence”? Are you doing okay?

    Thanks, Mary!

  3. I really appreciate your straightforward advice. Thanks again for taking the time to maintain such a helpful blog. I hope it doesn’t push you over the edge. 🙂

  4. I’ve struggled at times to personalise a query, when I haven’t been able to find anything that didn’t sound overly forced (‘I read that you once visited England… That’s where I’m from. Crazy coincidence, eh?!’). It reminds me of when a boy meets a girl and he’s desperate to make a connection so grasps at straws. It’s occasionally cute, but mostly a big turn off.

  5. I love it when writers query us with real, genuine praise for one of our clients’ books. That’s the best kind of personalization, and makes us much more likely to request at least a partial: we already know you have good taste!

  6. Thank you for this post and thank you also for answering my question about query formatting, Mary! It seems like you know exactly what all of us needs. I hope you like the way I personalized the query I sent you. I tried my best. 🙂

  7. Adele Richards says:

    Dear Agent X,

    I’m writing to you on a keyboard, with words, because I know you can read.

    I heard you breathe in and breathe out. This is good because I’m looking for an agent that’s not currently dead.

    I bet you even wear socks. HEY, WHADDYAKNOW?! I wear socks too.

    This is a match made in heaven.

  8. Fabio Bueno says:

    Thanks for the advice, Mary! I just hope my genuine admiration for some agents won’t be interpreted as flattery… : )

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