Taking Your Query From Good to Great: Part 4-Personalization and Bios

Hey folks. If you haven’t read the other part of this series yet, you can do so here.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

I was asked about how to personalize a query for an agent and what to do with your bio if you have no publishing credits. Let’s go with personalization first, shall we?

There are a few different schools of thought on this.

Janet Reid’s

Laura Zats (From an interview with Michelle Hauck here.):

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?

This depends. I like query letters to be personalized, because this tells me that I’m being queried because a writer actually thinks I’d be a good fit for their book, and not because they just found me on a search engine and included me in a huge mail blast. That being said, I care much more about  the MS than what your cat’s name is (that is what Twitter is for).

 

I personally fall more on the side of Janet Reid. I don’t think you should ever feel required to personalize. Trust me, haring a few interests in common isn’t going to up your request rate or anything like that. I started out trying to personalize all my queries for my first book, and it wasted so much time, was usually such a huge stretch, and in the end, I actually had a higher request rate from my unpersonalized queries.

However, there is an appropriate time to personalize. And that’s when you need to get the agent’s attention to show them you are aware of the market, their tastes, and that you have something they want. You won’t be able to do this for every agent.

For example, don’t try to personalize your query by quoting their about me page on the website and saying something like, “I am querying you because you are accepting Middle Grade fiction.” Well, duh. “Or, I am querying you because you represent fantasy.” Again, duh. They’re going to figure that out from the query.

Here’s the kind of things you do need to personalize with.

  • If you attended a conference they were at.
  • If your book matches something they asked for on Mauscript Wish List (if this is the case, make sure you quote what they said and maybe even give the date they said it if it was on Twitter.)
  • If a book they represented could be a comp title for your book.
  • If an editor they have sold to recently puts out a request on manuscript wish list that matches your book.

That’s all I can really think of. Really, it has to come down to the manuscript and the manuscript alone. When I personalized this way, I got a great response.

In fact, here is the personalization I used when I queried my agent.

I’m querying you because you represented Suzanne LaFleur’s beautiful and touching novel, LOVE, AUBREY. I’m hoping you are still interested in quiet, mixed-format middle-grade contemporary stories. THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC is a written in a mixture of letters and prose. It is a heartfelt MG contemporary in the vein of THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. meets LOVE, AUBREY, and complete at 35,000 words.

See how specific it is? You represent this book (praise) here is why my book is similar. And look, it’s a comp title!

This is the kind of personalization that pays off. Specific personalization that shows you know the market, are paying attention, and can show why your book fits the list.

 

Now how about Bios?

When I first started writing, I was lucky enough to get a few small publishing credits with magazines and e-PB companies at the beginning before querying my novels. But I remember sending out those first things and wondering what they heck to put in my bio.

First of all, if you have zero publishing credits, DON’T PANIC. This is super, super common. Agents understand. In this case, feel free to mention writing organization that you are a part of. (SCBWI, RWA, etc.) A one sentence bio saying that is just fine. If you aren’t a member of those, maybe think about becoming one. If that isn’t an option, maybe you can mention a writing blog you contribute to. If you don’t do that either, then you have two options.

Don’t include a bio. I personally did this a few times and I don’t think it’s a big deal. Just thank the agent for their time and let the writing speak for itself.

Give a brief (and I mean VERY BRIEF. Like 2 sentences, max) bio that just lists where you live and your job and kids or something. Likewise, if you have professional experience that really does lend itself to the topic, you should mention that here.

 

Alright, I think that’s it for the night!

 

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