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3 Reasons Query Letter Personalization Matters

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

Picture a field filled with uniform stacks of hay. Your task? Locate a hidden golden needle. You have fifteen minutes. Go! You push quickly through the stack, looking for something, anything that glitters. Sound difficult? This is exactly what a literary agent must do while sorting through queries.

So, how do you make your query letter sparkle? There are many potential ways to do this, but possibly one of the most important is personalizing the query to the specific literary agent.

1. Stands Out from the Crowd

Just like looking for a golden needle in a pile of golden hay, literary agents are searching not only for a good story, but for an author they can have a long-term working relationship with. They receive dozens, if not hundreds, of query letters each week. Personalizing your letter can make yours stand out from the deluge of generic letters they receive. It signals to the agent that you've taken the time to specifically research them and their agency, ensuring that your work aligns with what they're looking for.

It also shows the agent that you are serious about your craft and career. Agents want to work with authors who are professional, committed, and knowledgeable about the industry. By personalizing your letter and referencing specific books they've represented or mentioning a workshop where they spoke, you're showing that you see the potential for a genuine partnership.

2. Avoids Wasted Time

Just like the example of having only fifteen minutes to find the golden needle, literary agents don’t have a lot of time to read query letters. Remember, current clients on their roster take top priority; and it’s a full-time job networking, offering editorial guidance, doing market research, and negotiating and managing book deals. The time spent in reading query letters is often during an agent’s down-time, so letters that are focused on the specific genres and types of literature that they focus on are more likely to gain attention. This saves both you and the agent time.

3. Increases Your Chances of a Response

While there's no guarantee, a personalized letter can increase the odds of getting a response, even if it's a polite decline. You’ve shown that you value the agent's time and expertise. By addressing them by name, referencing their past work, or noting a particular reason you believe they'd be a good fit for your manuscript, you're acknowledging their role and importance in the literary world. Agents are people too. Your effort conveys that you view them as more than just gatekeepers—it's a crucial first step toward establishing a meaningful connection.


Visualize your query letter as that elusive golden needle within a sea of hay. To make it gleam, personalization is your secret weapon. You’ll have a better chance of making your query letter stand out of the crowd, and who knows, maybe even get the opportunity to get that big book of yours published!

Wondering exactly how to personalize your query letter? Check out 3 Ways to Personalize Your Query Letter: Insights from Author Ash Bishop.

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