Personalizing a query letter

How important is personalizing a query-letter? I.e., beyond obvious stuff like name of agent and address and writing to someone who you think would be right for your work, (I think it's obvious too, but you'd be surprised how many people get it wrong wrong and really wrongo) is it critical to actually lead off with some non-content material that tries to establish a connection with THAT particular agent. I wrote what I think is a compelling, streamlined query letter that starts (I fear) to look like a cumbersome query-letter if I beef up the first paragraph with a bunch of material about that particular agent.

You always stress a "just the facts, please" in your own writings, which leads me to believe that you might answer this by saying "get to the cool content and cut the rest of the crap." But surely there's plenty of agents out there who might be less favorably disposed towarda seemingly more generic letter even if it was a little bit longer?

If you have actual substantive content that is personal, ok.
Things like "we met at the Poodle Parade on 5th avenue and you invited me to send a query for my novel about the travails of poodle parlors".

Things like "Grandmother Snark wears Army Boots...and I know cause she buys them at my store" are funny, true, and not quite up to stalking level.

Things like "I like how you squeeze the avocados at Zabars and you shouldn't buy so much mango ice cream"...not so smooth.

Honest to dog, you do not need this. I know you think it will help, and it might distinguish you from the pack, but for every one of you who has this kind of connection, 10,000 of you are now going to obsess that you need one.

you don't.
What do you need?
Shall we say it all together now?




Kimber Li said...

From reading individual agents' blogs I've gathered that they hate being made to feel like just one of a bazillion being queried. Therefore, I always learn all I can about each agent from the little info given on AgentQuery, Publishers' Marketplace, or their blogs. Then, I mention something short and simple in the opening paragraph. Take Jenny Rappaport over at LitSoup, for example. After reading her blog's archives, I noticed that she has an interest in science. So, I wrote something like, "My story is science fiction and I noticed from reading your blog that you have a genuine interest in science." The way I see it, doing this is like learning a little something about each of your guests at your party so they don't leave thinking they were only invited for the gift they brought. Besides, the more you know about an agent, the less likely you'll query one who doesn't represent books like yours.

Anonymous said...

Kimber is so right.

I think it's very important to let the agent know you did your homework. This does not mean telling her: "I found your listing on agentquery.com." It means saying: "Knowing that you represent Author X and Author Z, I thought you might be interested in my romantic suspense novel." Or: "I read your article on Backspace where you expressed interest in romantic suspense."

Anonymous said...

I agree with both kimber and first anon. I found representation quickly, but all of my partial requests came from agents that I researched and made a brief personal comment to in my query. It doesn't substitute for good writing, but it might make them not want to say no quite so much.

There is nothing wrong with letting someone know that you are approaching them because you think they are especially good at what they do--if you can back it up with proof that you don't say that to all the agents (I read your interview with X).