Depending on the literary agent, they can get anywhere between 50 to 100+ queries per week. With that many queries, on top of their current clients’ work to read and contracts to negotiate, can you imagine how much time they have for each query letter? Maybe thirty seconds, a minute at most.
So how do you stand out in the query slush pile? One of the best ways: personalize your query letter. Show the agent you did your research and you are querying them for a specific reason.
How do you personalize a query letter?
Step One: Research the Agent
Publishers Marketplace, Literary Rambles, Writer’s Digest, Twitter, Google, all these are great resources to research literary agents. Find interviews and make sure they represent your genre(you’d be shocked how often people query agents that do not represent their genre, guess what that gets you? An automatic rejection).
In most interviews, agents talk about what they want to see in their slush pile.
See if they represent any of your favorite authors or popular authors in the marketplace and genre you are writing.
Make sure they like personalized query letters. This is rare, but sometimes you’ll find interviews where agents say they would rather just get to the query letter than have personalization. But trust me—most agents like to see personalization. It shows you’ve done your research.
A lot of queriers don’t do their research. By proving you have, you’re already a step ahead of your competition.
Step Two: Identify What Makes Them The Right Agent For You
By now you’ve read a few interviews, checked out their clients, and probably can figure out at least one reason why you are querying them—even if they don’t have interviews out there, you have to know why you’re querying them, right?
It could be something as easy as their “about us” page on says they are interested in fantasy YA, and you wrote a fantasy YA novel.
Step Three: Write the Personalization
Put the personalization on the top of the query, since the agent is going to be glancing over the query—you want them to see it right away. Proof that you’ve done your research. A connection that shows them yes, this will be a good query for me to actually pay attention to and read through.
I know that sounds cruel, but the truth of the matter is that agents are extremely busy and well trained. They can usually do a quick 10-30 second glance over a query letter to know if it’s something they are interested or not.
Interview Personalization Template:
“I read in your XXX interview that you are interested in dark, gritty contemporary YA. As such, I thought you might be interested in my 75,000 word YA novel, TITLE.”
(XXX of course should be replaced with wherever you read the interview. For example, “in your Writer’s Digest interview”.)
Client Personalization Template:
“I am querying you because I greatly admire your client XXX. Since he/she writes dark, gritty contemporary YA, I thought you might be interested in my 75,000 word YA novel, TITLE.”
Profile Personalization Template:
“I read on your blog/profile/agency website that you are interested in fantasy YA. As such, I thought you might be interested in my 80,000 word YA novel, TITLE.”
There are, of course, other ways to personalize a query, but these are the most common. Personalization will help you set yourself apart from your competition.
If you’re in the querying trenches, good luck!