Submissions 101 – Personalizing Your Query Letter

Personalizing your query letter can be hard. Do you have to?

Well, I’ve seen agents who are pretty adamant that they want to know why you’re sending your manuscript to them. They want more of a reason than “I am a writer and you are an agent so I’m sending you my manuscript” or “You represent illustrators and I am one!” Nope, they want specifics.

I’ll be the first to agree with you. PERSONALIZING YOUR LETTER CAN BE FREAKING HARD. They want me to spend time figuring out some specific little thing to say to them to butter them up so it will make them feel good about my manuscript? I don’t have time for this. Writing already took forever and now this?! (All that time working on query letters can make a person a little grouchy.)

Yup, that’s just how it goes. The fact is, unless you get a request (Pitch events are a great way to try to get one), make personal connections, or get known in the industry you are some unknown person sending someone a letter out of the blue. It’s your job to interest the person you’re querying. It’s not their job to be interested because you sent it. That’s just the way it goes. Agents and editors have a lot of queries to get through and that little something extra ala personalization can make your query stand out. Why? It shows that you’re serious about the business of publishing; that you know your stuff and did your research. And hey, who doesn’t like to know that someone is paying attention to them?

So, how to personalize… that is the 64 million dollar question. Here are some ideas:

  • If you saw the person you are querying looking for something specific and you are sending that, tell them. Of course, try to do it in a not repeating their words back to them way. How does your work fit into what they are looking for? Show them.
  • Conferences can be a great connector. If you saw the person at a conference you just might have lots to say. Choose something that shows why you think the manuscript you are sending may be a good fit for them.
  • The online world is a another great way to make connections. If you have interacted with someone online or appreciated something they’ve said and have something genuine to say about it, tell them. If you don’t have something specific you can even say something as simple as, “I’ve learned a lot about publishing by following you on Twitter.”
  • Comparable titles are a good way of personalizing your letter if your manuscript might compliment one on their list. (See our Submissions 101 post: Finding Comparable Books.)

Now, do you have to personalize your letter? Nope. Sometimes you just can’t figure out anything of quality to say. You don’t want to repeat the submission guidelines back to the person you’re querying or something boring like that. If you’ve tried hard and have got nothing it’s okay to skip it. Don’t beat yourself up over it. If your hook is great are they really going to care that you didn’t tell them why you chose to query them? I don’t think so. But if you have done your research chances are you’re going to find a good way to personalize that letter!

The key is to be genuine. If it it feels cheesy and forced it probably is. If you’re not sure get a second opinion. You’ve always welcome to post your query, or even a line from it, in our Sub It Club Submission support group to get a feel for how others view it.

Of course, don’t be stalky. There’s a line you don’t want to cross. Research agents’ wants and likes. They way they work. Yes, you may come across some personal information but be normal when personalizing your query. Saying something like: I see that you have red hair. I have red hair too. We gingers gotta stick together! is creepy. (Sorry, I may have been watching too much Pitch Perfect lately). You want the person you’re querying to consider your submission, not their safety.


What other good ways have you found to personalize your query letter? Share them with us in the comments!

7 thoughts on “Submissions 101 – Personalizing Your Query Letter

Add yours

  1. Thanks for the great post, Heather! #MSWL (Manuscript Wishlist) is a great way to personalize a query. Agents use #MSWL to tweet about types of manuscripts they are seeking. (it is a fun hashtag to follow, including to generate story ideas. Just remember, that #MSWL meant for agents to tweet, not writers—although replying to an agent’s tweet with a relevant question seems fair game. It’s up to the agents as to whether or not they will respond, though.) If you find a relevant tweet, use #MSWL in the subject line of the email as well as in the query (E.g.: “Based on your #MSWL tweet that you are seeking ‘funny YA,’ I submit my lighthearted YA contemporary, BEST BOOK EVER . . .”). Some agents who are otherwise closed to queries may accept a query specific to their #MSWL tweets (they usually say in the tweet). As always, check specific agent and agency submission guidelines. Best wishes to all! Good subbing! See for more information:


  2. Totally #MSWL ! It’s *the* thing on Twitter. Priceless – if your ms is a match.
    Thank you for this post, Heather! I’m struggling with the personalising.
    I open a file for each agent on my list and whenever I find something they said (on Twitter, in interviews, on their blogs or on the agency website) that is relevant to my ms or that I connect with in some other way, I copy it into the file, and the day I’m personalising my query letter, I go through the file and see what I can use.


  3. Hi, Heather! I’ve learned through many years of querying numerous projects that it’s worth my time to personalize every letter. Many agents will toss unpersonalized queries. Why? Because the agent (unlike the editor) usually signs a writer and/or illustrator, not just one manuscript. So it’s important to begin building a professional relationship with the agent by learning about the agent.

    I click through the agent’s client list. Do they publish books I want to read or have read? Do I really love the work of one client? If the answer is yes, I use titles and client names in my query. If the answer is no, this agent is not the right fit for me.


  4. Great post. It does take time and don’t we as writers hate a generic rejection. The difference is we are specifically targeting our ms submission, whereas they have hundreds and thousands of stories to go through. Mentioning something specific (even their name) let’s them know you’ve done some research.


  5. Thank you, Heather, for this post! I also think that doing a research before querying is important.
    About illustrators – do you think they should seek for agencies which represent illustrators with a similar style? Or is it acceptable to offer quite a different style than they currently have?


    1. It seems to me that an agent would want to have illustrators who do many different styles in their stable of artists. Of course it would be acceptable. Show them what you’ve got!


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