Personalize Your Query Letter

Today I’m focusing on personalizing the query letter. In part one we looked at the subject line. We already know that we need to tell them about the submission but you also need to give the editor/agent a reason to read on. One way is to reassure them that we picked them out of thousands. To make this as clear as possible answer:

  • Why did you chose them?
  • What on the submission page motivated you to submit your work? Read an article on another website? You follow their blog and something they posted got you thinking they were perfect for you. partnership-526411_1280How did you meet their guidelines?
  • What target audience do both of you share? Who would they sell this too? Who will read it? How did you tweak your work to meet your audience?
  • Were they looking for a genre? What about your work stands out in this genre? Why is it different than everything that is out there already?
  • Was it critique and polished?

I admit I’ve only had a few shorts published and may not know all the answers. In fact, I’m pretty sure I don’t. But I will share my first paragraph of my first acceptance if you’d like to take a look.

Here it is:

Time Piece is a Romantic Suspense aimed at the Young Adult audience and is approximately 5800 words. During its creation, my work was critiqued by my circle mates at Scribophile. Because of their feedback, I feel that this work meets your high standard, and will be a good fit for the One More Day Anthology.

The anthology that this was written for had some pretty clear guidelines. I made sure that I mentioned that the piece I submitted followed the guidelines and that eyes-705422it had been critiqued. I didn’t have much else going for me at the time. Looking at it now, I’m cringing over the grammar. Their response was rewrite and resubmit which included a full page of feedback. I did a dorky dance and got to work.

The next one to three paragraphs is the book/story blurb. I’m sure there are tons of suggestion on the internet on this and pitching, log lines, and tag lines. Here’s a few links I’ve found to try on for size: Infinity Publishing, CreateSpace, and Writing 4 Success. Be sure to get some feedback on your blurb before including it in your letter.

Next post it will be what to include in the author bio.

Writers: Anything you do specifically to let the agent/editor know that your work is perfect for them? What have I forgotten?

Book Bloggers: When you’re accepting a book for review, what do you need to know? Genre? Heat level? Target audience?

Gleaned from:


37 responses to “Personalize Your Query Letter

  1. Great advice, Anna! The critique though I heard is better not to mention because it’s a given that the ms should be polished and already beta-read…

    • I added it because I didn’t have any credits and wanted to prove I’d done my best to prepare the ms. Now that I have credits I only add it if its hinted at in the guidelines.

      I’m such a suck up. πŸ™‚

  2. Who you are similar to, that the agent reps. Though, be careful with this: ‘in the style of’ is good, but ‘the next’ is not!

  3. Great advice here!

  4. It is certainly important to customize each query for the particular agent or submission. I’ve seen in a lot of agent interviews that they automatically throw out queries with the wrong name or other glaring problem. Also, the main reason agents give for rejection is that they don’t rep that genre. Doing your research will save you time and heartache in the end.

  5. Great tips! Personalizing a query letter is something that will make you stand out. It’ll capture the editor’s/agent’s attention, and they like to know why you’re submitting to them. They appreciate not just being another item on a list you’re checking off.

  6. These are some great tips! Writing query letters is harder than writing the book itself. That goes for synopses, too.

  7. Great advise. Standing out from the slush pile is hard, but if writers follow these guidelines it will give them an advantage. =)

  8. Good info here. I like your example of getting right to the point of fulfilling their guidelines. Don’t get wordy. You really shouldn’t say all your friends liked it or even your mom! AND be sure to check punctuation and spelling. Errors will turn off any editor, agent, publisher very quickly.

  9. Great advice! I try to mention what I found out about their interest, to show I did a bit of homework. =)

  10. Great advice. I’d also like to add something I read somewhere: how if your story is a series, to mention it as a stand alone book with series potential. I think it’s because of the chance the 1st book doesn’t sell as well then the other books in the series won’t be considered for publication. But if it does do well, then you have number of books to follow with.

  11. I customize my queries when looking for reviewers for clients, so to me it makes sense.

  12. Great advice! I have to customize my pitches to magazines to articles and it reminds me of when I was querying agents. You don’t do that anymore once you have an agent…but you get to enjoy a whole new level of stress!


  13. As a blogger I need to know the genre and also I love to read a small blurb
    but actually I love covers so if your cover is good I’ll probably say yes!
    Ruty @Reading…Dreaming

  14. I’ll be bookmarking those sites you mentioned. Arg! There’s so much to learn about writing.

  15. jenniferbielman

    Awesome advice. thanks for sharing.

  16. Terrific advice, Anna. You’ve hit all the major points. I’m awful at queries and horrible at pitches. I’ve accepted this about myself, but that doesn’t keep me from trying to do better. Sigh.

    VR Barkowski

  17. I just recently took (yet another) query course, and one agent said that personalizing queries does nothing for him–he just wants you to get right to the point, which is summarizing the book.

    I’ve had several agents say that if you’re going to personalize, you have to do it well. Don’t mention you saw them on PM or Writer’s Market, for instance, because that’s a given. But if they represent a somewhat successful author you love, it does no harm to mention that you love the author’s work and think yours might also interest the agent because of x,y, and z.

    What I keep hearing is that a standard opening is best unless you have a really good idea for personalization that truly is personal.

    Great post!

  18. Pingback: Query Letters — Bio and Closing | Elements of Writing

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