Thanks to everyone I met at the East of Eden Writer’s Conference! I had a great time in scenic Salinas.
Also, don’t forget that Anne & May are giving away 14 signed copies of THE MIRACLE GIRLS this week, so stop by their blog to enter.
Not sure what’s in the proverbial waters, but I’ve been hearing from people lately that they are specifically choosing not to personalize a query letter because they don’t like kissing up to agents.
Trust me, I know the query process is difficult to navigate and is frustrating, and the power imbalance between agent and querying author is not always a fun thing to deal with (at least, that is, until the tables are turned and you have multiple offers of representation and agents are groveling at your feet).
Perhaps the stress of the query process leads people to feel more sensitive to slights, real or perceived. Totally understand that. But anyone deliberately not personalizing is shooting their query in the foot, and then stomping on it and telling the query it was actually left in a bundle by the stork and its real parents are trolls from another planet.
Personalizing is not kissing up. Witness:
“I read your blog.” Kiss-up-o-meter: 2/10. The judges note that the phrase does not imply any value judgment, and author could very well feel that the blog is a steaming pile of excrement. But at least it shows the agent that the author is doing their research.
“I noticed that you represented [insert author agent represents].” Kiss-up-o-meter: 1/10. Judges note that the author simply is demonstrating professionalism and research and may not even like said books.
For some reason I think there’s an idea percolating out there that we agents want people to kiss our rings and tell us how great we are before we’ll even look twice at a query. This is SO SO SO SO not the case. I’m as creeped out by excessive/inappropriate praise as the next agent, particularly when the praise has nothing to do with my job. However, personalizing is not kissing up. It’s being professional. And if you’re deliberately choosing not to take that path… well, you’re sacrificing professionalism for excessive pride. Not a great exchange!
Now, I also should mention that if you are giving vague personalization (like “I see you represent X genre” or “I found you on Agent Query”), this doesn’t really count as personalization because it could very easily be said about every agent you’re querying. Be specific when you’re personalizing.
For the record, I would never reject a query just because it was not personalized. But if you CAN personalize a query, don’t shoot your query in the foot, stomp on it and tell it the query it was actually left in a bundle by the stork and its real parents are trolls from another planet by choosing not to. Personalize.
Adam Heine says
Emily: I’m totally with you. I swear I do my best in keeping up with what everybody wants, but the only thing that consistently matters is the story. I’m starting to think that it’s better to drop everything that some-agents-like-and-some-don’t. Just to be safe.
The synopses are the worst, though. Everyone will say whether or not they want a synopsis, but most don’t say how long or what kind they want. I’ve seen 1-page, 2-pages, 3-pages, or no more than 10-pages; “whatever is required to convey the story” and “I just want to know how it ends”; “I don’t care how badly it’s written as long as it summarizes the story” and “your synopsis should be as interesting and exciting as the novel itself”.
I’ve condensed mine to 1 page, relatively interesting (but not as much as the novel), and succinct-but-showing-the-end. Is it enough? It depends who I talk to.
Nathan Bransford says
Yeah, I definitely see that there’s a difference of opinion on this one. I will say that I have heard more agents say they prefer personalized queries than agents that don’t, but it’s one of those things where you just never know.
I wish we all had one set of rules, but that’s that’s not the case.
Mystery Robin says
Yes, see, that’s me. I sometimes want to tell the agent how much I love the books they represent, because I do query agents of authors whose books I love, but then I feel like I’m kissing up and they’ll be disgusted – even if it’s true!! Oh the trials of querying…
OK, you gave us examples of a one and two on the Kiss-up-o-meter, but what would a nine or ten look like?
Should the comments say something specific about the authors/books you represented? In _____ I liked the character development, story arc, surprise ending….
Thanks Nathan the smart, handsome, clever…
Shannon Ryan says
Why not generic and kiss ass.
To whom it may concern:
I need you in my life. You complete me. You represent all that I hold dear.
Jude Hardin says
How do you feel about referrals? I know some agents give them a lot of weight, others not so much.
Thanks for the candor, which may prove useful in finding a means out of the nadir slush.
So, you’re particularly interested in young adult fiction… now MY eyes just perked up!
Any additional tips?
I just received my first rejection email and am puzzled by the choice of words.
“We’re sorry this project doesn’t seem right for us – a matter of chemistry really.”
Really, I was only surprised by the language – is it their chemistry with me or the pages I submitted?
Hoping for some insight.
Thanks so much.
dan,marye et al…
I can do that 9 or 10 kiss-up query
I’d like to show you my space monkey memoir. That knock on your door? That’s the monkey I sent. And look at your window.
That’s me waving.
I’m the one with uzi and Rambo sweat band.
It wasn’t that hard to climb up your balcony.
Looking forward to hearing from you…
So… if I signed my query with the name Chumplet, that would be going a little too far, right?
Seriously, I think personalizing a query would be a great thing, especially if the writer has built casual relationships with agents through their blogs.
I found one site that suggests something similar to this:
"This novel will appeal to readers of (insert names of two authors this agency handles here)."
The subtle implication is that you've researched who they handle and know your potential market.
Do you think this would be an effective addition?
A second question, if you will?
The guidelines of the first agent I plan to approach, include a list of works published to date,(though they do mention that they will consider unpublished writers). As I have nothing published yet, I debated how to approach this. In the draft version of my query I had included the following line, "Understanding that, as an unpublished writer, I’m presuming upon your kindness and valuable time; I can only thank you for the opportunity to do so. I look forward to your response."
I've been told by several people to remove the reference to being unpublished.
What is your take?
Your name comes up often on the FB group that posted this link, btw. I've learned a great deal since I began reading your blog. Any advice is appreciated. Thank you
Please disregard the last comment. I found the answers in another of your blogs. 🙂