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3 Ways to Personalize Your Query Letter:

Updated: 1 day ago

Insights from Author Ash Bishop

A query letter is a literary agent’s first impression of a new author. Think of it as a kind of cold-call. Cold-calls are incredibly challenging due to the need to quickly establish interest and credibility; and given the overwhelming number of submissions agents receive, personalizing your query letter is crucial in making your work stand out, enhancing the odds of representation, and ultimately leading to publication opportunities.


In this post, we delve into a conversation with author Ash Bishop to uncover his insights into creating standout query letters. With two, captivating novels, the science-fiction, Intergalactic Exterminators, Inc., and the mystery, The Horoscope Writer, under his belt; Ash has recently been recognized for winning the Audie award for Intergalactic Exterminators, Inc. in the science fiction category as the best audiobook of 2023. Notably, Ash's publication journey commenced with the acquisition of his first literary agent through the query letter process. Let's delve into his effective strategies.


Photo of author Ash Bishop


Harnessing the Power of Personalization


Drawing parallels between querying literary agents and the world of dating, Ash Bishop underscores the necessity of standing out in a market with limited opportunities. He aptly notes,

It's a lot like dating. … You've got to do something to distinguish yourself. If you were at a bar walking around going, ‘Do you want to go out with me?’ … It wouldn't work.

Authors are tasked with identifying agents that are a strong match for their work and effectively conveying this compatibility. Ash emphasizes the significance of understanding agents' interests and styles and recognizing that agents independently assess compatibility based on their preferences and interpretation of the author's work.

Three Strategies for Effective Personalization

1. Explore Agent's Online Presence


Bishop advises against employing an approach that entails sending numerous generic query letters at once. Instead, he advocates for personalizing your approach, thereby demonstrating your genuine interest in a specific agent. This can be achieved by exploring agents' official websites, online profiles, interviews, and social media platforms. Scrutinize client lists, recent deals, and insights shared about their preferences. Valuable resources include agents’ Twitter profiles, the hashtag #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List), and Manuscript Wish List. Additionally, some literary agents maintain personal websites in addition to their agency profiles.


During his agent research phase, Ash focused on finding common ground with agents. Reflecting on the agent he secured through the query process, he shares, “I think she was part of a number of writing groups. This was actually a mystery novel back then. And she was part of a number of mystery groups. In fact, I think she ran one or two of them down in Florida, and I appealed to that sentiment. The trick—and again it's not exactly a trick—you're just forming networking relationships. The problem is you've just got this crazy supply and demand imbalance—so maybe trick is the right word. What you want to do is just let them know that you care about them, personally. You've targeted them, personally.” Ash invested time and effort into understanding his literary agent's interests, an investment that ultimately paid off.


2. Read Books by Represented Authors


Understanding an agent's taste and preferences is pivotal. Ash emphasizes the impact of reading books represented by agents. He notes that personalization begins with identifying works you appreciate from their roster. He says,

But the first step of that is definitely the personalized query letter—identifying the works you've liked that they’ve represented and how your style is similar to those. Therefore they might like yours as well.

Literary agents often list these books on their agency profiles or personal websites. Additionally, it's possible to identify an author's literary agent by searching for the author's website and accessing their “Contact” page.


3. Seek Recommendations


Ash's journey underscores the value of networking. He says, “My first agent I found just completely via personalized queries. My second agent was through networking. I met a local author in San Diego named Jesse Kellerman. We hit it off really well. He is a really nice guy, and he recommended my book to his agent. She didn't want it because it was in a style that she wasn't comfortable with. It was a young adult sci-fi, which wasn't something she represented. Jesse [Kellerman] is a mystery novelist. But she handed it to another agent in her office. And that agent is the one that liked it and took me on.”


Connecting with fellow authors or writing groups can yield insights and recommendations for agents. Attend conferences, workshops, or local writing clubs to expand your connections. Even indirect contacts can provide valuable information to personalize your query letter effectively.


Ash’s Advice to Aspiring Authors


Ash's journey offers a wealth of insights for authors starting their query letter process. His ultimate piece of advice encapsulates the essence of writing—passion. He advises, "If you love writing, that's the payoff. I love writing. So even when my agent said, ‘Do this again. Start with the first chapter … and do the whole thing again,’ there was a moment where I was like, dang. But at the same time I was like, awesome. I get to dive back into this world. … And that's all such a joy to me that nothing else matters. The lack of success, the time, the uncomfortable amount of social media engagement, none of that matters because I fundamentally love the main thing, which is writing.”


Conclusion


Personalizing your query letter is an art that requires research, effort, and a genuine connection. By taking the personalized approach, you're not only increasing your chances of getting noticed but also forging meaningful relationships with literary agents, just as Ash Bishop has.

Are you an author looking for more ways to personalize your query letter? Check out Big Book Analytics to make your query letter personalization easy.





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