Author Bob Hostetler

Should I Personalize My Query?

I’m frequently surprised by the things other industry professionals say. That could mean I’m still (and always) learning. Or it could be an indication that such people are much smarter than I am. Nah, that can’t be it.

I was recently a tad nonplussed to see a fellow literary agent state that the personalization of a query or cover letter or email was a waste of a writer’s time.

I must respectfully disagree.

Beyond the simple courtesy of a correct salutation (“Dear Bob” is always better than “Dear Agent” or “Dear Someone-Else’s-Name”), taking an extra minute or more to make a personal reference of some kind increases the chances of a good first impression. And, as I often say, we have only one chance to make a good first impression.  

So, when someone says something like, “You may not remember but we met at the Lake Chaubunagungamaug Writers Conference last year,” it has a positive effect. It may not clinch a sale, but it prompts me to be a little more attentive and responsive than I might otherwise be—maybe even helpful. Or, when someone writes, “I’m a regular reader of your blog posts” or “I’ve already profited from the excellent advice in your recent blog post ‘Sending Donuts to Agents,’” it warms the cockles of my heart. And, when those cockles are warmed, that warmth sometimes flows out in my responses to submissions.

I do this myself as an agent. Before I submit a client’s new proposal to editors, I routinely ask that client to apprise me if they know or have any past connection with any of those editors. If they do, I’ll mention that information in the submission process. It never hurts and often helps—and I look for every opportunity to make the review and acquisition process easier and more pleasant.

All of this reflects one of my personal and professional convictions, which I repeat often: Christian publishing, like all of life, is about interpersonal relationships: making them, maintaining them, protecting them, repairing them, and improving them.

I realize, of course, that personalization isn’t always possible. “Life comes at you fast,” as the ad campaign says, and a personalized pitch to multiple agents or editors takes time and effort. But when it’s possible to make a personal connection of some kind, it can indicate a likable personality and an attention to detail, both of which are recommendations—if not for the current project, then for a working relationship in the future. And such a recommendation is rare enough and valuable enough to tip the scales, ever so slightly, perhaps, in the writer’s favor.

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