Stormy Seas of Ill-conceived Querying with Laura Zats Part 1

The Kiss of Death: Personalization Edition

There are a million different sites online dedicated to helping unagented authors find that special (bookish) someone.

Pretty much every one of them will tell you to personalize the query, as it shows that you have done your research, and you’re really interested in working with that specific agent and whatnot.

This is good advice.

Lots of authors will write their query and send it out, saying “Hey, I personalized! I’m going to get lots of extra attention from Xyz Agent!”

Lots of these authors are wrong.

That’s because, with all good advice, there is the RIGHT way to follow it, and the WRONG way.

Most authors personalize their queries in the following ways:

Red Sofa Literary Agency and yourself have a proven record of professionalism and results, so I’m confident my interest would be in good hands.

(Surprisingly, I won’t be referring to the bad grammar here, but it certainly doesn’t help.)

I found you on the Writer’s Digest agent spotlight and saw you are looking for sci-fi.

These are bad. Bad bad bad with a side of ugh.

These “personalizations” don’t communicate anything. The first option says that you wrote a (sort of) flattering query and then plugged my name and agency in in the hopes of giving me warm fuzzies.

The section option told me where the Google took you. You’re a writer, emailing a query. I know you can Google. I ALSO know I was on WD (or any of the other blogs you might have found me). Telling me where you heard about me doesn’t convince me that you like my style, philosophy, or list.
Agent confession: if I’m feeling “meh” on the story, a section of the query like the ones below will make me request the book, because the author knows what’s up, and that’s a joy to work with. It also quadruples the chance of me sending a personal rejection vs a form rejection, if a rejection is to be sent. If I am super into the idea, chances are I’ll read this one out-of-order, and respond quicker, because if this author is good, I need to snap them up ASAP!

So, without further ado, here are two examples of how to actually personalize a query:

I was drawn to you and Red Sofa Literary for various reasons (beyond just Doctor Who). I particularly appreciated that you demand your clients pass the Mako Mori and Bechdel tests. I grew up borrowing books out of my older sister’s bookcase. Ursula Le Guin, Andre Norton, Madeleine L’Engle, Anne McCaffrey, whatever she had. Books that frankly often didn’t pass the Bechdel test, because their heroines were loners or outcasts, but which I think gave me a better grounding in what sci-fi should be like than those of the “Golden Age” of science fiction. And what I want my five-year old daughter reading in a few years. I was also happy to see you were looking for “lighter sci-fi with a kick-ass female lead.”

I really enjoyed your article “Sex Scenes and Consent.” As a romance reader and writer, I honestly never thought of the “no means no” exchange in the context of the romance genre. I found your perspective thought-provoking and fascinating, which is why I want you to represent my book. I need an agent willing to go out on a limb for my work and think outside the box, and I think you are capable of both .


Of course, these are long examples (a simple sentence would suffice), but are you impressed? I’m impressed



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  1. Wendy Qualls (@wendyqualls) on November 11, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    Honest question, then: what’s an author to do when querying the 95% of agents he/she *hasn’t* followed obsessively on Facebook/Twitter/blogs? I hardly think I’m unusual in having a handful of agents I’d say “I would totally love to work with this person for lots of non-writing-related reasons!!!”, but also realizing that the numbers are against me. I have yet to find the perfect way to say to the other 95% “I know we’re not soulmates and I really don’t care about all that hockey stuff you keep Tweeting about, but I respect your professional history and I’d love to benefit from your experience.”

  2. cheisserer on November 11, 2014 at 6:07 pm