If you’ve read my article on writing a killer query letter, along with the countless other great resources available on the internet, you should be well on your way to having a very solid, although generic letter to work with. Now, if you want to take it to the next level, you might consider personalising each query you send to suit the agent reading it. It’s not essential and you won’t be automatically rejected for not doing this, but it seems that relatively few people take the time to personalise so it’s definitely going to set you apart from the crowd.
Aside from setting yourself apart from the mountain of generic “dear sir” letters, there are a few other benefits to personalising. The first is simply that it sends the message, “I have not blind copied everyone in the agent listings”. Not that you shouldn’t apply to more than one agent – it’s expected by most that you will send submissions to a handful of carefully selected agencies at once, or you might just be hitting retirement before you find representation. But you don’t want to give the impression that you are throwing around queries like confetti. There must be a reason why you have chosen to contact this particular agent and you need to turn that reason into something tangible on paper.
Another benefit is that a personalised sentence or two will give the agent a hook that they can identify with. It’s all very well to give your novel a punchy premise, and to introduce yourself as a person so stuffed with talent that you’re nearly bursting, but why should this individual care? That’s the question you should answer.
And finally, it does give a nice boost to an agents ego to know you have researched them a little. Not that you should know what colour toothbrush they use – that would be going a little too far, but if the interviews and bios they write are being read, it will often give them a little glow of pride.
The most powerful type of personalisation, in my opinion, begins with “We met/spoke…”. If you have already had some positive contact with an agent at something like a writers’ event, it means you have begun to establish a relationship with them. Build on it. And they will likely be quite pleased that you remembered them too.
Sadly, most people will rarely have the opportunity to use a hook like this. But even if this is your first time contacting the agent, you can usually still find some way to personalise. Start by googling them. Most agents have bios and sometimes even interviews which should give you an insight into what gets them excited. Once you find something like this, be on the lookout for a comment which resonates with what you do. Perhaps they mention “I think an online presence is essential for authors” and you happen to run a modestly successful creative writing blog. Well, now your personalisation can be “I notice from the materials online that you are interested in authors with an online presence. I share this focus as I feel that digital media is becoming ever more essential for new authors and, as such, I am writing a blog at pilesofpages.com, where I share my writing experiences. It presently reaches 1,000 followers”. And there you have it. A simple hook to let the agent know that you are on the same wavelength.
Your personalisation could come in almost countless forms; a shared interest in an author/genre/setting, an admiration for a certain aspect of their agency, a similar biographical background. Find the thing that connects you.
What if I can’t find anything?
Sometimes, no matter how much you admire the agent, you just can’t find a connection strong enough to mention. Or, more likely, there just aren’t enough materials available for you to pin-point the connection.
Some authors swear that in this situation, you should just throw anything that you can find in for the sake of personalisation. Such a letter would begin. “You were at the writers’ conference in London last week. My novel Tales of a Grouchy Shopkeeper…”. Perhaps this method works for some, but my personal opinion is that you shouldn’t force personalisation if you can’t find a way to do it smoothly. As I mentioned, you won’t be automatically rejected without it, and just as long as you put “Dear name” rather than “Dear Sir” at the start of their letter, they should get the hint that you at least gave your choice a little thought.
I hope you enjoyed this post. If you did, please click like and follow and look out for my next article, which will give you a few more ways to beat writer’s block.