It’s a Relationship

Last month I wrote a post on the Top Ten Query Mistakes. The first two points were all about personalizing your query to the agents. They were:

#1. Not making me special, and

#2. Not caring who I am.

Now if you didn’t know me, those might seem like kind of narcisistic statements, and believe me, I did receive some flak for them. But I hope most people who read my blog know that I have a sense of humor, I don’t take all of this so deadly seriously, and I say things like “Not making me feel special” with a big grin. It’s kind of a joke, you know? Just a silly way to make my point.

But the point remains that there is value in personalizing your query. It’s not a must, just a suggestion.

I realize you’re trying to get an agent, and it behooves you to query as many agents as possible. I get that—and I encourage it. But once you actually have an agent, it’s a business relationship that is hopefully going to be long and will at times be intense. My clients are not just numbers or words-on-a-page to me. They’re people. They’re people with whom I spend a lot of my time—whether on the phone, or in email, or working intensely on their books or proposals, or working intensely on their contracts… etc.

The people I choose to represent have to be people I think I can successfully have a long-term business relationship with. So from the very beginning, right from the first query, it helps to see that someone has already done a little research and thinks I might be a good fit. I don’t choose just “any old writers” to be my clients, and I hope you wouldn’t be looking for just “any old agent” to sell your stuff. So that’s why it makes sense to know who you’re querying, and at the very least, to write me a letter that addresses me by name (even if that’s the only thing you know about me.)

But that’s just me, and other people have their own ways of doing business. For some agents, the project is all that matters and they probably don’t care about the relationship so much. Many authors may also feel this way.

I just wanted to explain that, as much as I’m looking for great projects to represent, it’s the people I interact with. So I like it when we all treat one another like people.

What do you think? Is there value in personalizing your queries? Or do you think we ask too much?

Late-breaking addendum: Please, folks, understand that “personalizing” the query doesn’t need to go beyond addressing the agent by name, and making sure ahead of time that they do accept queries for the genre in which you write. It’s not that hard!

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  3. Mario on March 9, 2012 at 1:07 PM

    Getting their name right is a minimum requirement for a query. After that, it’s all business. The nicest agent will drop you if you can’t produce anything marketable for them. Nothing personal. They have to make a living.

  4. Nishant on March 15, 2010 at 5:04 AM

    >People make all the difference in the world – when I go to work, when I go out to a party, or when I write. We all want to work with people we like.
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  5. gael lynch on March 11, 2010 at 9:15 PM

    >Rachelle, This topic sure sparked quite the conversation! To me, the personalization is the easy part, it's squeezing the whole manuscript into two perfectly crafted paragraphs that paralyzes me.
    Thanks for your post!

  6. Bernard S. Jansen on March 11, 2010 at 12:08 AM

    >Imagine if all rejection notes were simply, "Dear Writer, Your work does not meet our publication requirements." Instead, most people in the publishing business put effort into treating writers as people. Some of the most gratifying comments I've had about my work have been in rejection notes; I kid you not. It's not hard to return the favour and treat "them" like people too.

  7. Anonymous on March 10, 2010 at 11:58 PM

    >Catherine, you can't stereotype writers any more than anyone else. Most of us are just normal people who like to write–it's the crazy industry that makes us neuerotic!

  8. Catherine on March 10, 2010 at 7:21 PM

    >I sometimes wonder how agents feel about the writers they work with. We are such a flighty folk with a quiver full of neurosis. I wonder how much importance you place on having a good business relationship vs. having a brilliant writer? Sometimes the most brilliant of us are the most difficult to work with, but discovering that hidden talent must be a thrill and worth the risk.

  9. Laurie on March 10, 2010 at 10:08 AM

    >I'm surprised you got flack for those first two rules, but then I got the big wink. I thought they were excellent advice because writers should know exactly who they are querying to make sure it's a good fit. Otherwise it just wastes everyone's time.

    When I start querying agents, I hope to find one that I will be able to develop a good working relationship. As a journalist who works with many different editors, I've observed that there are certain ones who are a joy to work with and others are just a means to a paycheck. I assume the agent relationship is similar and I'd much prefer it to be a relationship with someone I enjoy working with.

  10. Stephanie Shott on March 10, 2010 at 8:51 AM

    >The great thing about sending a query to you (and I plan on doing just that :-)) is that your transparency on your blog makes me feel as though I do know you to some extent. Someone who's professional opinion I respect and trust.

    I understand that agents all come wrapped in different personality packages, but I'm more inclined to seek out those who intend to have a relationship with their clients, rather than a distant business deal that makes communication awkward, at best.

  11. mkcbunny on March 9, 2010 at 11:59 PM

    >I don't see what's so difficult or hard-to-grasp about the basics of personalization: name and appropriate query. But I think that one of the points of concern for writers is that the term "personalization" suggests something more involved than the basics.

    I know I screwed up some of my first queries by trying to over-personalize and perhaps seeming like a novice. I really wish I'd waited on some of those, but live and learn. So my approach is not to say anything specific beyond the basics unless I've read a book they've repped or read their blog (or interviews).

    To me, the way "personalization" is defined here is a no-brainer. Job-search letters are far more difficult, as each one has to be tailored to a different job. With an agent query, you are, in essence, applying for the same job at different places. So although you can add levels of personalization where appropriate, the bones of the letter are the same.

  12. Rachelle on March 9, 2010 at 11:53 PM

    >Prue Batten: Some agents find that kind of distance to be difficult, especially when it comes to things that need to be shipped, and dealing with international money transfers, etc. There are also all kinds of tax issues that have to be dealt with, and some agents find them to be more headache than they're worth.

    I have a client who lives in South America and we sold his book to a publisher in London, so we have quite a few international issues to deal with. There is a lot more paperwork.

    You'll just have to find an agent who will take you on, regardless of location. Geography is only one of many hurdles, right?

  13. Marla Taviano on March 9, 2010 at 11:31 PM

    >I love it when you talk about how much you love your clients. 🙂

    One thing I really appreciate about you is the way you can deliver disheartening news in an encouraging way. Thanks for believing in me.

  14. Prue Batten on March 9, 2010 at 11:16 PM

    >Rachelle, I am really interested in what you say about your working relationship with a writer and I would like to pose a question.
    A couple of years ago, one of my ms's was being sent around agents by a scout. One in particular, showed interest. Eventually, she knocked me back on the grounds that I libve to far away and it would be too difficult to do business. She was a London-based agent and I live in Tasmania, Australia.
    Would you consider such distance a barrier in the potential relationship with a client?
    Do I have to move?!!!!!!!

  15. Nicole on March 9, 2010 at 10:46 PM

    >People are people and so want to be treated as such. I like it 🙂

  16. nightwriter on March 9, 2010 at 8:28 PM

    >So true! I've noticed that the ONLY agents who've asked for my ms. are the ones whose queries I personalized. Naturally I spend more time crafting queries to agents I'm most interested in–maybe it shows, and it does pay off. It's no guarantee either, but it helps.

  17. Dana Bryant on March 9, 2010 at 7:18 PM

    >I love that you keep this whole process personal. Really, come on, we spends months writing our hearts out and we can't take a moment to addess the agent with respect. I believe it says a lot about the person. I love that you talk about these things, Rachelle.

  18. Mira on March 9, 2010 at 6:24 PM

    >Anon 3:21 – Oh, I never intended to say that writers weren't adorable and gorgeous, too! 🙂

    But agenting requires awesome people skills. My point is that agents use those skills with editors, so they can use those skills with clients who will make them money, too. So, why get all into who the client is, and whether they are easy to get along with? Just pick the ones with the best writing and finesse them, if necessary.

  19. Anonymous on March 9, 2010 at 5:43 PM

    >Well… that's quiet interessting but actually i have a hard time understanding it… I'm wondering what others have to say….

  20. Anonymous on March 9, 2010 at 5:21 PM

    >Hey Mira–not all writers are ugly hermits! In fact, I think many are quite good-looking and charming–LOL

    Nona, you're absolutely right! Writers are expected to jump through hoops but even if we do, there's no guarantee agents will even bother to reply, much less read our queries. Writers are creative types, we're not door mats! Double-standard, anyone?

    Love the Twitter comment–if you read their Tweets, I'd say most complain about how BUSY they are, but they're not too busy to talk about their lunch plans or fave TV shows. Rachelle, you're one of the few who provide helpful comments.

    But my question is: If these agents are SO busy, why don't they just temporarily close to submissions and catch up?

  21. WhisperingWriter on March 9, 2010 at 4:39 PM

    >I always personalize my query letters as I know I wouldn't appreciate a letter that went, "Dear You" or "HEY AGENT!"

  22. Mira on March 9, 2010 at 3:54 PM

    >I like sdg's suggestion. A standard query form. That's a great idea!

    As for personalizing, well, I've commented on this before, and I don't want to start boring you. 🙂

    So quickly, to outrun the boredom, I feel very strongly that it's:

    Manuscript: 1
    Query content: Never
    Personality of the author: Never

    Unless the author is clinically insane. Even then, if they wrote a best seller, I'd refer them to treatment and wait until they got out.

    Agents are by definition charming, charismatic, articulate and, most likely, good looking. They are more than skilled enough to handle any client who is marketable, and develop a good relationship with them, and in the process, make buckets of money.

    Okay, I'm done. 🙂

  23. Doreen McGettigan on March 9, 2010 at 3:53 PM

    >So insightful and helpful..even the comments..thank you!

  24. M Clement Hall on March 9, 2010 at 3:31 PM

    >I've had another thought on this issue. Yes, you wish to be addressed by your name, but which name? It seems that younger persons in the service industry have been told to address the clients by their given (Christian) name regardless of whether they know them or their relative ages. On the other hand I've seen quite young agents (usually men) state they expect an honorific to be used in the form of address (Mr. Ms) and reject all others.
    Are you Rachelle?
    Are you Ms Gardner?
    Does it matter to you?
    Your blog on "what do you write?" was so much more user friendly!

  25. T. Anne on March 9, 2010 at 2:30 PM

    >Not only is there a value in personalizing queries, but as an author you should know who you might potentially be getting involved with.

    Great comments here.

  26. Amy on March 9, 2010 at 1:30 PM

    >Many serious jobs require you to include a query letter, personalized to the business you're applying to.

    And from what I've heard, an agent is someone you're going to respect and rely on in a more personal manner than your HR department.

    So besides the fact I've been reading this blog and other industry blogs for years, I'm going to say that yes, personalizing your query is a show of respect that you know who your agent is, and if you did your homework, you likely enjoy some of the books they publish as well.

  27. carolynyalin on March 9, 2010 at 1:24 PM

    >I think personalizing makes sense, and it shows an effort was made.

  28. Jason on March 9, 2010 at 1:18 PM

    >I totally agree with everything you said. It only makes sense to personalize a Query letter.

    The agent\author relationship is really weird. YOU are the ones who are providing a service, yet WE are the ones who have to advertise ourselves to receive said service rather than you advertising for the chance to provide it. You don't really see those dynamics often…I can't think of a single other example off the top of my head.

    So if agents like personalized letters and you want an agent you should personalize your correspondence accordingly.

  29. Inspirational Sayings on March 9, 2010 at 12:54 PM

    >Funny to me that some agree that they should personalize – but they spell your name wrong in their post. LOL

  30. Jana Dean on March 9, 2010 at 12:41 PM

    >Ruh roh, I disagree with your response Rachelle, to Jessica regarding being a means to an end–(even though you were quite amenable to the prospect).


    You are a person who brings highly specialized skills and abilities to the table.

    We query-ists seek that expertise.

    To best determine potential alignment, we interact. To improve the odds of success, we absolutely must remember that the holder of the expertise is a fellow human,and treat them with kindness and respect.

    "Means to an end" sounds like a software program, and I hate the thought of us all speaking to each other in pure 1's and 0's –with apologies to Timothy Fish and his half-decent database … and to the writers of "The Matrix."


  31. Rachelle on March 9, 2010 at 12:40 PM

    >David Jarrett: there is no way an author can know exactly what an agent is looking for at any given moment. To some extent, you just have to take your chances. But most agents say what they're definitely NOT looking for. I don't look at fantasy or sci-fi, for example. So don't send it.

    Other than what my website specifies I don't want, I'll look at just about anything. It may not be what I need at the moment (maybe I picked up a project just like yours yesterday) but that doesn't mean anybody did anything wrong, it just means I'll say "no thanks."

    We can't update our websites on a weekly basis, and it doesn't serve anyone's interest for us to be too specific in defining what we're looking for. Most of us want to see what's out there, so we give general guidelines.

    I'm sorry that it doesn't "compute" for you that some agents respresent both Christian fiction as well as various genres of secular fiction. Personally, I'm beginning to do just that. My non-work reading interests range far beyond that specifically labeled "Christian" so why shouldn't I represent it, too?

  32. Nonna Mouse on March 9, 2010 at 12:35 PM

    >Lisa Jordan said…

    "I think we all want to be made to feel special. Agents don't address query responses to "to whom it may concern" or "Dear Writer." They use our names, so I believe the same courtesy should be given to them."

    Lisa, you're obviously a lucky querier if you get personalized responses. More than three quarters of my query replies have either been addressed "Dear Author" or have no salutation whatsoever. And that doesn't take into consideration the agents who can't even spare ten seconds to send a form rejection. I'd rather get a form rejection with "Dear Author" attached than no response whatsoever.

    Agents go on and on about being human beings and just wanting a little respect, yet so few accord querying authors that same respect. Their time is too valuable and precious to waste on personalizing rejections or even sending rejections at all, yet many have no problem spending all day chatting on Twitter. They believe that their leaving off of social niceties is justified because they don't have the time, but Heaven help an author who doesn't follow their guidelines to the letter.

  33. David Jarrett on March 9, 2010 at 12:30 PM

    >Rachelle —
    I agree with you completely, but with a couple caveats. Any author writing a query letter to an agent should have done his or her homework and learned the agent's name and genre preferences before querying. However, it would help all of us if the agents would narrow their genre preferences to those in which they are truly interested.

    I have asked you this question before: "What is Christian fiction? What is and is not acceptable to an agent who represents it?" I have never gotten a real answer. It would appear to me that an agent who represents Christian fiction would necessarily not want to see violence, erotic scenes and other such themes in books, and yet many agents who say they represent this genre also say they represent thrillers, urban fantasy, etc. It doesn't seem to compute to me.

    Secondly, many of the form rejections I have received refer to me as "Dear author", rather than to me personally. Do you not feel that we authors are entitled to the same respect as agents, at least to the point of addressing us by our names?


    David Jarrett

  34. Jessica on March 9, 2010 at 12:26 PM

    >I like Sandie's comment. *grin*

    But yeah, if we're being honest and practical, then I, the writer, am a means to an end too. It's nice to think though that a professional relationship, while not having to become friendship- personal, could also be more than a means to an end.

    Someone said agents don't send out Dear Writer rejections, but I've had several of those. *sigh* And all of my queries have been researched.

    Oh yeah, thanks for clarifying that personalized can just mean name and what you rep. I've stressed a little in the past with what to write to agents I don't know. Usually end up with, "saw that you rep such and such on your website". LOL

    Love reading everyone's comments!!

  35. Anonymous on March 9, 2010 at 12:13 PM

    >Everyone wants to feel special. So I do appreciate agents who mention me or my book by name, even if it is a "form" rejection.
    Otherwise you wonder if they even read your query or your requested pages or ms. Better than nothing.

    But the agents who take the time to give you feedback are worth their weight in gold. A few comments from agents helped me pinpoint flaws so I could revise and polish my ms. What a gift!

  36. Author Sandra D. Bricker on March 9, 2010 at 12:11 PM

    >Rachelle Gardner! I can't believe you tried to convince these people that you have a sense of humor! Shame on you.

    Seriously, in the time that I've gotten to know you and we signed that contract, one thing has become very clear: You are far more than a means to an end for me as a writer. I don't really know how you do it, but you've succeeded in making me believe I can't function without you as my agent. Now THAT is the sign of an awesome agent. 🙂

    And yes. You're funny. Fine. I'll admit it.

  37. Shannon Dittemore on March 9, 2010 at 12:07 PM

    >I agree with you. I want desperately to be treated like a person and not just an email address lobbing annoyances into agent's boxes. In return, I hope to convey respect for the agent's time and consideration–both of which are not easy to come by.

    I also believe that research will pay off. When I first started querying, it was a little like buckshot–shoot and hope it lands somewhere important. This wasn't out of disrespect, but ignorance. The more I learn, the more I realize that my first attempt, while time consuming, was nothing more than a ditch effort. I'm sure the agents queried felt my insecurity as well.

    So, I'm learning and researching. I'm retooling. I'm narrowing down the list and aiming more precisely and with better understanding.

    Cross your fingers, people!

  38. kentsageek on March 9, 2010 at 11:55 AM

    >Most certainly. However the more time, research and personalization put in the query letter, the keener the sting when that form rejection arrives in the inbox.

  39. Arabella on March 9, 2010 at 11:27 AM

    >p.s. By personal, I mean that I tried to make it sound like a book she would like to read–something similar, yet entirely different from what she currently represents. I didn't mention her dog, children, or favorite flavor of ice cream.

  40. Rachelle on March 9, 2010 at 11:26 AM

    >Timothy, you're exactly right. Wish more people would realize this.

  41. Arabella on March 9, 2010 at 11:22 AM

    >It takes a lot of time and effort to personalize, so it's daunting. So far, I've sent off 6 queries, and the first 5 were only half-heartedly personal. With the 6th, I wrote a completely new query for the agent I had in mind, crafted it just for her. The first 5 got me form rejections. The 6th got me a request for a full. It was obviously time well-spent.

  42. Timothy Fish on March 9, 2010 at 11:18 AM


    If all you’re looking for is for the letter to have your name and be for a manuscript that fits within your chosen genres, that’s not so bad. With a halfway decent database, I could send out a few hundred “personalized” query letters in a matter of minutes.

  43. Kristi on March 9, 2010 at 10:59 AM

    >I have a hard time personalizing query letters. Mostly I feel like I have nothing personal to say.

    "I read your blog" lumps me in with ten thousand other would-be clients, and feels pretty un-personal to me. Is it really worth mentioning that?

    "I have researched you and you represent my genre" reads to me like "I'm not a complete idiot and I'm not spamming you". In other words, it goes without saying. So I don't.

    "My friend Jane Doe is a client of yours" reads a bit like a referral, which is a no-no if its not an actual referral. I have queried the agents of two of my crit partners, and haven't mentioned the connection. While these particular crit partners recommended their agents, they didn't feel comfortable enough with their own careers and author-agent relationships yet to actually refer someone. Maybe I'm missing out here on a personal connection, but I don't feel like free-loading on someone else's coattails.

    While there are agents with whom I wouldn't mind including a little personal chatter about a recent blog post, I'm reluctant to do that. Feels stalker-ish. Or too presumptuous. (Can you tell I'm not an extrovert?)

    So, if I haven't met an agent in person, I usually don't say anything at all beyond the query letter.

  44. E. Elle on March 9, 2010 at 10:43 AM

    >I don't think it's asking too much at all. I mean, when you're sending a cover letter to a potential employer you don't address it "To Whom It May Concern" – you find out the hiring manager's name. I actually think it's more professional to show you've gone that extra mile; it's a small way to show your dedication and, as you suggested, indicates a desire for a business relationship rather than "just business."

  45. Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist on March 9, 2010 at 10:42 AM

    >The agent/author relationship is just like any other big thing in life – job, marriage, house – it needs to be symbiotic. It is very difficult to dig oneself out of a rough beginning and both parties need to be looking for the right fit. Not everything will be rainbows and butterflies but you do want that gut feeling that you just click.

  46. M Clement Hall on March 9, 2010 at 10:40 AM

    >I personally have some difficulty with the concept of "personalising." If the writer was lucky enough to have met the agent and discussed her work, she could mention that, but such occasions must be a small proportion of submissions. Glowing statements about the wonderful work the agent does and her contributions to the welfare of mankind might not ring true. So I'm pleased to read that all Rachelle wants is her name spelt correctly and something to show the applicant knows the work(s) she has represented. That seems totally reasonable, and does not require her to take anyone on as a friend. It is first and foremost a business arrangement, which should not preclude it from being a pleasant one.

  47. Steena Holmes on March 9, 2010 at 10:24 AM

    >Why do you think I brought chocolate to the conference? LOL 😉

  48. Anonymous on March 9, 2010 at 10:09 AM

    >And as a matter of fact, I will overlook one or two spelling errors–as long as they're succinct! 🙂

  49. Anonymous on March 9, 2010 at 10:08 AM

    >Writing as a query reader, yes, personally addressing me is the first thing I notice. The second thing is whether or not you know how to write–and I assess that by how you use paragraphs.

    If you're winsome, clever, sucinct and have a great idea, I'll keep reading. But if you bore me in the first paragraph or you don't have more than one or two paragraphs . . . that's probably the end of it.

    And I don't respond unless I'm interested in your query because I have 30 other queries every single day that I have to read and process.

    Thanks for spotlighting the job from the other side, Rachelle. And best wishes to the rest of you.

  50. Talli Roland on March 9, 2010 at 10:02 AM

    >Personalising queries makes sense to me. If you're looking for a person to represent you in your career, then doing your homework and establishing a relationship straight away is a no-brainer. It's time consuming but surely worthwhile in the end.

  51. Rachelle on March 9, 2010 at 9:58 AM

    >Fawn Neun — You bring up a great point about the hours spent researching agents and trying to determine each of their interests. As a matter of fact, I do that too, when I'm researching editors for a new project. Yes, I have relationships with lots of editors, but I often take on projects that are outside my pre-existing editor relationships, so I'm constantly researching. Like you said, I can easily spend hours on Publishers Marketplace, looking up which editors bought which books. I personalize all correspondence, and I'll often call the editor also. But guess what. Sometimes despite all the effort, I'll get a pass letter. Sometimes the same day. Sometimes within an hour of submitting.

    I could easily get all angry that hours of research resulted in a quick rejection. And yes, I'm human, and I get frustrated. But it's momentary. It's the business we're in. I learn from it and move on. I can't see that it should be any different for writers.

    And like I said in the comment above, personalizing doesn't mean you have to know the name of my dog and where I grew up and what I want for Christmas. It just helps if you know two things: my name, and whether I represent what you write. That's it.

  52. Kristen Torres-Toro on March 9, 2010 at 9:36 AM

    >It definitely makes sense to me! I'm glad that professional doesn't necessarily mean "cold".

  53. CKHB on March 9, 2010 at 9:36 AM

    >I know people have criticized this analogy of mine before, but it's like a cover letter for a job: you don't write DEAR EMPLOYER. You do a small bit of research and address your materials to a specific person.

  54. Matilda McCloud on March 9, 2010 at 9:27 AM

    >I try to personalize my queries, but sometimes I don't really know how to do it, and sometimes even what seems like what might be great personalization ("we worked together blah blah blah at such and such publisher") doesn't work.

    So I err on the side of being professional. If I can't think of any legitimate or logical way to personalize the query, I don't. I'm not sure how some agents think we can personalize all the queries. Yes, we could read their clients' books (but only a few are listed in their profiles), and we could dig on the Internet for information (I do try; I read interviews etc), but sometimes there isn't a whole lot of info. that can be worked into a query.

    I wish agents weren't so big on query personalization (blogging agents excepted because we can always say we enjoy reading their blogs!). They need to remember that we are sending query letters to dozens of agents in hopes of being represented by one.

  55. Beth on March 9, 2010 at 9:06 AM

    >I think writers sometimes view either agents or publishers as not really human. (Don't laugh. I'd say they are deitized, but I don't think it's a real word.) The best thing anyone can do is understand that agents are just normal people who happen to be in business to sell books to publishers. Shop around and form a good working relationship. It will benefit everyone involved.

  56. Fawn Neun on March 9, 2010 at 9:04 AM

    >I don't think it's too much to ask, but do keep in mind that when an author does make an effort to personalize a query letter – an awful lot of effort – such as looking up and perusing the agents previous deals and noting where the queried ms. will fit in, trying to find agents who would find your ms. interesting based on their own expressed interests, writing a query that makes specific note of why this agent was chosen – to spend literally hours doing that, and becoming excited about working with a particular agent after getting to know them – and then to get the same flat form letter from that agent that they send everyone else… that's actually kind of hurtful. Okay, it's a business, I get that. But maybe agents shouldn't ask more from us in the personalization of a query than they're willing to give in the rejection. Know what I'm sayin'? I've gotten personalized declines from agents in response to personalized queries. It takes the sting out of it. So, if you're asking for writers to be interested in you as a person, it never hurts to return the courtesy. Especially considering who they might query when their next project is ready, which may be to your taste.

    (And not speaking of you, personally, Rachelle, as I don't write your genre and have never queried you, but to agents in general.

  57. lynnrush on March 9, 2010 at 8:47 AM

    >I think personalization is important. Yeah, don't go overboard, but still, it is a potential relationship…and hopefully long term!

    Nice post!

  58. magolla on March 9, 2010 at 8:44 AM

    >Personalization is a MUST in my books. Sometimes an agency want a query directed into a generic query file, BUT I still personalize it to the agent I feel is the best fit. The problem arises when the agency doesn't post their agent's names, making it a "BIG SECRET".

  59. Rachelle on March 9, 2010 at 8:36 AM

    >Jessica (5:28 am) — Let's be honest, as an agent, I AM simply a means to an end for a writer. We all know that. But it's okay, I love what I do. 🙂

  60. Scott on March 9, 2010 at 8:36 AM

    >I posted a conversation between my mother and myself on my blog recently. In part of the conversation my mother asked me a question and I responded "Yes, ma'am". One of my blogging friends found it really cute that I say 'ma'am' to my mother. Well, it was how I was brought up and old habits die hard. The point: personalization is the key. So, when querying, I'm going to address the query to Mr./Ms. – Agent Last Name. I'm not going to go 'Yo, Rachelle'. A modicum of respect goes a long way . . . even when querying agent after agent in hopes of finding the one that's the best fit for me, and them. 'Dear Agent of Choice' just seems cold and distant. I want the agent to know that I did my homework and that I care enough to personalize my query even though said agent knows that he/she is probably not the only one getting said query.

  61. Rachelle on March 9, 2010 at 8:36 AM

    >Timothy and everyone else — Personalizing doesn't need to go beyond knowing my name and knowing whether I represent what you write. That's enough to make a difference.

  62. Sharon A. Lavy on March 9, 2010 at 8:32 AM

    >I find it strange that anyone who wants a business relationship is not willing to learn social skills. Perhaps some are not capable, but then they will not easily find someone to help them along the way.

    And perhaps some resent that we do need others to help us along the way. Perhaps some resent that all can not recognize their diamond in the rough not realizing that we have to do the work of polishing and uncovering as much as we are capable of.

    This is part of our education as writers. And if we can't find an agent we are not finished doing our part. It is too easy to blame others.

  63. KINDRED HEART WRITERS on March 9, 2010 at 8:31 AM

    >I used to work in the district office for a Member of the Florida House. During legislative session, we were especially slammed with correspondence. In prioritizing who received replies, the generic "Dear Representative" letters were at the bottom of the stack. And, unless the writer lived in our district, usually went straight to the circular file.

    It takes little time and effort to personalize an agent query. It definitely demonstrates professionalism.


  64. sdg on March 9, 2010 at 8:13 AM

    >I think that there is a sort of mystique that hovers over the writer/agent relationship and this mystique is most often fostered by agents.

    Of course a writer should do everything is his or her power to learn about the agent, what the agent represents, what they want to see and how they want to see it—that only makes sense. But, from the writer’s perspective, he is offering the agent a business deal. The agent’s perspective should be: do I think I can sell this thing?

    I have a wonderful agent (one of the hardest working agents in the business) who is doing a great job for me. But I can’t tell you how many queries I sent to agents that never even received an acknowledgement that what I sent was received, much less a straight-up yes or no about representation. I guarantee you that this is not the way things are done in business.

    Obviously, I’m painting with a broad brush. I don’t know you and what I’ve written may not and probably does not apply to you. But it does apply to some agents. Sometimes I think it’s only the writers that find somewhere within themselves the determination to keep going, the capability to amend their query or proposal one more time to meet some seemingly arbitrary requirement imposed by an agent or agency—and then risk silence—that eventually get representation.

    The AAR should produce a standard form for queries and proposals (both fiction and non-fiction) and all agents and agencies should use it, whether AAR members or not. The writer could then plug in the appropriate parts at the appropriate places and send it off. This is a strictly business way of doing things. If the agent is interested, maybe he or she could do something novel like talk on the phone to the writer to see if they click, personally. Then the decision could be made about representation.

    Agents often complain about the number of queries they field each day. But agent representation is almost mandatory nowadays and most conscientious writers work hard trying to gain representation. A response or a response within the promised time is only common decency. If agents are too busy to do that, they should get some help.

  65. Timothy Fish on March 9, 2010 at 8:03 AM

    >If the author has some kind of preexisting relationship with the agent, I can see value some value in personalizing a query letter—“I met you at the Homeboys Writers’ Conference,” or “I’ve been sitting across the street watching your house for four weeks”—but in most cases I see little value past getting the name right, though that really shouldn’t matter either.

    I see it like this: I’m the same person, no matter which agent I query. My writing is the same, no matter which agent I query. When I send out a query, I don’t know if I want to work with the agent or not; that’s why it is called a query. The most I can say is that the agent hasn’t offended me, yet. By sending a query, I am essentially asking one thing, “What can you do for me?” The fact that I happen to know the agent’s dog’s name isn’t likely to change the answer to that question. So, no, I don’t see much value in personalizing a query letter.

  66. Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe on March 9, 2010 at 8:01 AM

    >I think it's a good idea. We need to trust, understand and get to know each other if we're going to work together.

  67. Richard Mabry on March 9, 2010 at 7:52 AM

    >Just as most of us pay very little attention to mail addressed to "occupant," agents would seem to have very little interest in potential clients who apparently don't care enough to personalize their queries. Your points are sound, and not at all unreasonable.
    As always, thanks for sharing.

  68. David F. Weisman on March 9, 2010 at 7:51 AM

    >Personalizing a query may indicate that the writer will do better in the long hard slog of working with agents and publicists and what not. It certainly indicates the writer is working hard not only at what they feel they should have to do, but what they actually have to do.

  69. Jessica on March 9, 2010 at 7:28 AM

    >It's not too much to ask when you're so public, but for queries where I know nothing about the agent because they have no blog or web page, it gets tricky.
    Still, I think a query can be personalized if there's enough research done. Even if you just mention a book you liked that the agent repped (if you read it).
    Good post. I don't think anyone likes being treated like a means to an end.

  70. Krista Phillips on March 9, 2010 at 7:28 AM

    >Obviously, I use the agents name in a query. That's just plain business etiquette. Beyond that though, I tend to be more professional in a query, and I think that makes them SOUND more generic than they are maybe? I don't know.

    I DO think there is value in having a personalized query though. it shows the person took time to care, and that they don't want just any agent, they want YOU.

  71. Amy Sue Nathan on March 9, 2010 at 7:23 AM

    >I've read a lot of queries where the author isn't just personalizing, he or she is brown-nosing. I think there's a fine line. The queries that gush are as ridiculous as the ones that are incorrect or presumptuous. I've read some letters and been embarrassed for the author who seems to be begging or just throwing out compliments. I think professionalism starts with the query letter.

  72. Lisa Jordan on March 9, 2010 at 7:20 AM

    >I think we all want to be made to feel special. Agents don't address query responses to "to whom it may concern" or "Dear Writer." They use our names, so I believe the same courtesy should be given to them.

    Plus, it's like you said–a relationship. An agent helps a writer map out a career and I couldn't put that kind of trust in any old agent. Research is important. I prefer meeting with agents I'm targeting at workshops. I read their blogs, if they have them, and talk to some of their present clients. That way, I get a feel for them so when I query, I know this is an agent I would like to represent me.

  73. Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought on March 9, 2010 at 7:19 AM

    >It's posts like this why I keep coming back here.

    Wholeheartedly agree on this one.
    ~ Wendy

  74. Melissa on March 9, 2010 at 7:17 AM

    >Before I query an agent, I find all the information about her (or him) that I can, as well as any interviews she's done so that I can use that information in my letter. It helps to say *why* I think that agent might be someone who should represent my work. Agents usually give clues as to what they like to see in queries, too. For example, one agent I queried said she prefers to get right down to business. My query to her was direct and short in length, and she's the one who requested a partial (although she ultimately passed on it, but still!).

  75. Laura Pauling on March 9, 2010 at 7:11 AM

    >I definitely think there's value in researching agents and personalizing a query. The more I research, the more I find out who might be a good fit for me and my work. Atleast I can try for those agents first. 🙂 And if I've done the research, might as well let them know.

  76. Sue on March 9, 2010 at 6:56 AM

    >I agree with what you've written. Otherwise chemistry between the writer and the agent wouldn't mean anything and the relationship would work fine between two people who don't "mesh".

    And that is just not true. That being said, I'd be whoever they'd want me to be 🙂

  77. The Alliterative Allomorph on March 9, 2010 at 6:32 AM

    >Do you actually receive queries that do not address you by your name? Really? I'm flabbergasted! You'd think that would be the first thing one would try to find out. It is, after all, in the first line of the query. Wow. I didn't think there would realistically be anybody out there who would neglect such a thing. Isn't it just common sense?

  78. Aimee LS on March 9, 2010 at 3:43 AM

    >I absolutely think personalising a query is a must. It's also not hard to do. In any business relationship the people involved need to feel like they're meeting on the same ground. If you cant take half an hour to research someone, what kind of business partner will you make?

    Conversely, because agents are the 'sought after' partner, I do think there's a responsibility to ensure you aren't undervaluing the contribution of the writer. (By 'you', I mean 'they' – you personally don't appear to do that Rachelle).

    Thanks again for more insight.

    PS – I sniggered at the 'make me feel special'. I didn't think it was narcissistic.

  79. Sir Emeth Mimetes on March 9, 2010 at 3:40 AM

    >Any sort of communication that you want to elicit a pleasing and helpful response should take the other person's needs into high consideration. Period.

    If you ignore their desires and reasons for being there, you are setting yourself up for the same treatment. It is the basic Golden Rule.

    Here is an article that showcases some inspiring resumes with the premise that they need to stick out and be different.

    Taking an interest in the agent is a very obvious and simple way to get their attention, in my opinion. 🙂

  80. Anonymous on March 9, 2010 at 3:25 AM

    >What about the agents who–despite our best efforts–ignore our queries? Not only did I personalize a query to a certain agent, I mentioned it was a referral from another agent–which was true. After two months–nada.

    Wish there was a way we could avoid those agents who waste our time. Luckily I've had enough requests to know it's their problem and lack of etiquette, not mine!

  81. Ronda Laveen on March 9, 2010 at 3:03 AM

    >I am old, but not that old. I was raised by parent's who believed that knowing a person's name and the correct spelling of their name, was a sign of respect. Regardless of the degree of the relationship, personalization is not too much to ask. Quite the contrary.

  82. Kim Kasch on March 9, 2010 at 2:39 AM

    >People make all the difference in the world – when I go to work, when I go out to a party, or when I write. We all want to work with people we like.

  83. Rachel Walsh on March 9, 2010 at 2:34 AM

    >Personalising just makes sense to me. It shows the writer has researched you, the agent, and has decided that there's a strong chance you may be a good fit for them and their book; that you'd make a good team. IMO, failing to find out what you can about an agent before querying – and failing to think about whether that agent is right for you – is taking a very casual approach to forming what should be a very important relationship.

  84. myimaginaryblog on March 9, 2010 at 2:31 AM

    >I think getting an agent's name right is the least an author can do, Rachael.