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Querying Agents

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Personalising Your Query Letters

 

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One of the most important, yet often overlooked, elements of a query letter is the part where you show your work. Where you show the agent you're querying that you're not spamming the entire publishing universe with a generic letter in the hopes that someone bites, but that you are researching agents and sending out those letters with intention.

If you're at this stage in your publishing career, you no doubt have heard this before: personalization matters. But why? And how do you do it? What are the biggest mistakes to avoid and the most important things to focus on? It's not hard, but it does take some effort. Learn how before you miss your chance!

Rachel Stout is a former literary agent with Dystel, Goderich and Bourret, where she honed her skills as both an editor and a query letter expert. She now works with writers on getting their manuscripts and proposals into fighting shape as well as honing query letters and submission lists for authors with their eyes on scoring an agent and a traditional publishing deal.

facebook.com/wearereedsy • Wednesday 9 January 2019 • 12 pm LA • 3 pm New York • 8 pm London

 

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I get anywhere from 400 to 500 submissions a month. Most of them don't even attempt or pretend to follow my guidelines. This isn't just about compliance, but also about giving me the information I need to make an intelligent analysis of the project.

One of my pet peeves is when I see the greeting "Dear Agent:." This makes me wonder if they just sent off the same message to multiple agents at a time. I can almost guarantee that if you do this, you're probably out of compliance for many of them, because they each have their individual requirements.

About twice a month, I get a "Dear Agent" email with all of the addresses showing in the clear. (That is, they didn't even bother to make blind copies to disguise their methodology.) Sometimes when I count the addresses, they add up to a 200 to 300 at a time. Yes, really.

I can promise you that you will never find 200 agents in the USA that handle any single genre. These writers wasted everyone's time, including their own.
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I find that the personalization part takes a lot of time. Finding out their pet canary name is usually not too hard thanks to Twitter,  but hiring the PI to find out their favorite type of latte at Starbucks gets expensive. Fortunately most of the NY agents frequent the same three coffee shops, so I restrict my efforts there.

 

Paul

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, paulchernoch said:

I find that the personalization part takes a lot of time


Sure does. But it's not just about nomenclature, it's about following instructions. Some agents want a one-page query; some want sample chapters; some want a proposal; some use an online form. If you send out a single canned pitch to everyone, you'll probably get it wrong for most.

In the famous words of Dale Carnegie, the most beautiful sound that anyone can hear, is the sound of their own name. It's the natural beginning of every relationship, every letter, every conversation. Esp if you want that person to do something for you.

 

1 hour ago, paulchernoch said:

hiring the PI to find out their favorite type of latte at Starbucks


Based on the following, it appears that Magnum served you well.
 

1 hour ago, paulchernoch said:

most of the NY agents frequent the same three coffee shops


Yup, NY has lot of agents. But you'll need to find the subset that handle your genre AND gets you and your writing AND is open to new clients, AND is impressed by the sales on your self-pub AND is willing to coach you from your present position AND (whatever else they require). You could exhaust that pool, quicker than you might think. 

Edited by Steven Hutson

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4 hours ago, Steven Hutson said:


Yup, NY has lot of agents. But you'll need to find the subset that handle your genre AND gets you and your writing AND is open to new clients, AND is impressed by the sales on your self-pub AND is willing to coach you from your present position AND (whatever else they require). You could exhaust that pool, quicker than you might think. 

No, that pool of agents always seems to exhaust me before I can exhaust them. Levity aside, I read the posted requirements scrupulously and spend about two weeks per query (of evenings, not full days - I have a day job). I never use the same synopsis twice, assuming if it did not work on one agent, I had better try a different one on the next.

 

Paul

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On 1/7/2019 at 1:41 PM, Steven Hutson said:


I can promise you that you will never find 200 agents in the USA that handle any single genre. These writers wasted everyone's time, including their own.
.

Will you ever forgive me???

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Mr. Hutson, thanks for posting your advice. I haven't reached that point yet, but when I do I won't use "dear agent" 

It is interesting, I get a great deal of emails, if they don't use my name, they end up in the spam bucket and out they go. The ones I get a kick out is the ones addressed to my email address. 

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