Personalising Queries

So I’ve been hounding my CP’s lately about personalising queries. I spend a fair amount of time researching agents to see if they are a good fit for my MS. Sometimes, I find agent interviews that help me understand what they are after and can mention these at the start of my query. But often, when I look at successful queries online, they get straight to the point.

And then when I do find a compelling reason, like they are after a strong female protagonist, I worry that I’m sounding too arrogant. Oh, really, Lorelle? Well we will be the judge of that…So should we be limiting our opening sentence to include books they currently represent? But even then, we have to be careful that we aren’t insinuating that ours will compare.

So there is a fine line between gaining the edge and falling over it, and I’d love to know what writers think about personalising a slush-pile query.

Do you have success without it? Do you find you have a template that is successful and adaptable to most agents for that first sentence?

I don’t have a problem diving straight in, but you do hear that agents are wary of a query that looks like it has been sent to 50 agents at once.

Of course, I use the agent’s name in the salutation, but is that, as well as meeting submission guidelines with sample pages etc, enough? Or in this day and age of quick and accessible communication, is brevity beauty rather than beast?

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13 thoughts on “Personalising Queries

  1. Hi, Lorelle,
    I really share your concern about seeming to say that I write as well as my “comparables.” I used Louise Erdrich for the content comparison, but I hope I didn’t imply I write as well as she does. I truly think I don’t.
    It’s been my understanding that we should start with the hook. I’ve sent out five queries that start with the hook, then include my research info about the agent in a paragraph about midway of the query, after the synopsis and before my bio information. Since I won’t know for months whether that worked, I’ll have to hope!
    Best,
    Virginia

    • Wow! You’ve started! You know it might be scary, but it’s a good feeling to be moving somewhere, right? I think your suggestion is great, and one of my CP’s does this as well. I hope everything is going well. I’ll have to pop over and say hi πŸ™‚ Argh the compariables. Although I’m yet to hit any ‘partial request success,’ I have found comfort in saying: Fans of authors X and Y may enjoy the XX elements and XX tone of ‘Your Book.’
      Or: ‘Your Book,’ combines the XX elements of ‘this book’ with the YY elements of ‘another book.’
      πŸ™‚

      • Hi,
        Hope your project is moving forward! I’ve nominated you for an award, The Dragon’s Loyalty Award. If you want to participate, check out the directions at justcanthelpwriting.wordpress.com. I’ll have them posted by Saturday!

  2. Reblogged this on writersback and commented:
    I’ve heard so many varied ideas on sending ones MS to agents; the one that sticks with me was looking to see what books they list on their bios. Everyone is different. Like anything; if you connect with someone and they like your writing, they may ask for your whole MS. Awesome post, Lorelle.

    • Thanks for the reblog Kat πŸ™‚ That’s a good idea. It’s difficult to pin down what they are after. And if they do mention their tastes, some recent publishing successes, then this is a great way to find that conncetion. Some say, anything that shows you are not mass querying should be enough to help stand out from the slush. I think my original sentence was too wordy….Often though, I can’t make that comparison and I go hunting for interviews πŸ™‚ You’ve made an interesting point about establishing connections. That’s what it comes down to: if they understand my writing, my vision, then they understand me – and that will probably mean we will connect!

      • I totally agree with you that making that connection is so important. It is all such a process and I think if we tell a good story we will make that connection. Cheers, Kat. ❀

  3. Lorelle, my guess is you’re absolutely right. Brevity is the key. It’s not only beautiful but, to a hard-pressed agent, *readable* (and that matters more than anything else). Good luck!

    • Thanks, Marcus πŸ™‚ I’m on version 3 of my query blurb and I’m starting version 3 of my MS beginning this week…It’s only been 7 weeks, so I’m still motivated enough to keep going – although it’s hard to know whether my stumble is genre, query or MS related; I’ll assume all 3. I’m going to bring my inciting incident forward to page 2 instead of 10 and hope that this makes it ‘readable.’ πŸ™‚

  4. Hello Lorelle, ‘they’ do say those first three pages are important, so jumping in before page 10 sounds a good idea. All the best. I’m at a stalemate with my writing, thinking I might ditch mine and start over. I admire you for completing yours.

    • Thanks, Christine! I’m struggling with a writing slump myself at the moment. Every batch of rejections leads to more revisions…Nature of the beast, I guess. I’m sure that you will feel compelled to write again ine day. I’m in the ‘don’t force it’ camp. People tell me to start a new project, but only 8 weeks into querying, I’m not ready to let go. One request, just one, and I’ll be able to get stuck into a new book. I’ll never forget that you introduced me to First Five Pages and kept me on track πŸ™‚

      • It takes months, sometimes, to hear back from people. Give it time. I’m not even going on that merry-go-round. I’m going to self-publish. I’m back at mine, doing triage -having transferred all the scene notes to index cards to plot it out properly this time. Once I’ve examined each scene, I’ll write my new ending (whatever that is) and only then will I go back and rewrite the old stuff. My voice has changed so much since starting 4 years ago. I’m glad you found The First Five Pages useful. Good luck.

  5. Sometimes you will find agents will specifically comment about their preferences for personalised queries – especially on Twitter. And sometimes the agency submission guidelines webpage give a hint. But I guess if all research fails to provide an answer on a particular agent then it is up to you to follow your gut πŸ˜€ Do what you feel best reflects who you are as a writer.

    • You’re right: if a hunt for a connection yields little, than maybe I am best of getting my work upfront and getting on with it – or I should question whether they are the right agent for my work. But maybe there will be something in my words that strikes them as compelling…I might add the personalisation further down in the query, after the blurb. After all, it may not sway them to request, but it might save me from an auto reject!

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