I started the query process again this week (after a few months off buried in intensive revisions, thanks to being selected for Brenda Drake's Pitch Wars contest!). As always, I was torn on whether to personalize my queries or just jump right into the manuscript pitch. If you search for advice on the subject, you'll find conflicting opinions. What to do?
One of the biggest proponents of skipping the personalization and getting right to the point is the Query Shark herself, Ms. Janet Reid. She likens querying to calling around to find a plumber—would you tell them all the reasons you're calling them, rather than someone else?
You might also find people making the argument that agents get hundreds (some even thousands) of queries a week. To have the best chance of hooking them, don't you want to lead with your best material? Hopefully, that's your manuscript pitch, not reminding them what their own website or Twitter posts say they want.
On the flip side, querying can be very impersonal. Agents hate it when authors address queries to "Dear Agent" instead of using their name like a person. So maybe it makes sense to humanize yourself right off the bat by proving that you chose them for a reason. In addition, adding reasons why you're querying that agent with that particular project—as long as your reasons are good ones—shows you have some knowledge of the publishing industry and your genre and themes, or similarities between your novel and others. Former agent and author Nathan Bransford admits that he used personalization as a way to flag queries that deserved a closer look.
In the end, I decided to personalize my queries going forward—but only when I have something that legitimately makes me think that agent is a good fit for my manuscript. If the agent doesn't have much online about their tastes, clients, or wishlist, I won't try to make something up. It's easy to tell when people are reaching—and a clumsy personalization seems like it would be worse than none at all.
Do you personalize your queries?