So if you're a new follower from the A to Z Challenge, wowsers! Welcome! But, chances are you don't know what that Got Goals Blog Hop thing is all about. Well, it's a tight community of bloggers (but we'd love to add to the list!) who have made some crazy goals at the beginning of the year and are now blogging about our progress. My crazy goal was to get rejected 24 times this year.
I've been keeping track of my crazy goal with a bingo sheet from SubitClub. This month, I marked off another box, but I haven’t been submitting in a while because I’m working on my really cool picture book manuscript, that I’m super excited about, but it’s totally not ready to query with. And speaking of querying…
How Much Personalization in a Query?
I was going to write an opinion piece about whether you should or shouldn’t personalize your query, but then I realized something:
I have no credibility.
I’m not a published author, an editor, an agent or a writing coach. Basically, I’m just a writer with opinions. So instead, I’m going to make a few connections from people who ARE all of those things and let you make the decision.
Conventional wisdom says that if you want to get your query to the top of the slushpile, then you should NEVER address it, “Dear Editor” or “To Whom it May Concern”. I know this is a common perception, because I’ve seen it in more than one Facebook group where kidlit writers like to hang out. They are all in closed groups, though, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say I’ve seen it. Maybe you’ve seen it too, in which case I don’t have to prove it.
Now, I agree never to address “To Whom it May Concern” because frankly, it won’t concern anybody. But what about addressing to “Dear Editor” when you don’t have a specific name? let’s investigate...
Mary Kole, a former agent for Andrea Brown Agency, and author of Writing Irresistible Kidlit, has a great argument for why personalizing your query can be a waste of time. “Long story short: Just like with citing comparative titles, if you’re not going to do it well, don’t do it at all.”
Janet Reid, another reputable agent, concurs. She has written more than one blog post on the subject, but it boils down to this: “The good news for writers is that an agent isn't going to reject your work if you haven't included some personalizing detail or reason for querying. Write well- that's all that matters."
Even Miss Snark has been known to opine about personalization in queries: “Honest to dog, you do not need this… You don’t."
Jane Friedman, on the other hand, suggests that personalization can be good if you tread lightly. “It’s hard to find an agent or editor who doesn’t like it when you demonstrate knowledge of their clients or list. It’s ideal if you can reference such work in relation to your own, or express enthusiasm for it in some way that might connect it to the work you’re pitching. But it’s not mandatory.” In another blog post, she explains that this is not a deal breaker, but can definitely get you put on the right shortlist. “You will not be rejected if you don’t personalize your query. Still, it can set you apart from the large majority of writers querying—if it’s done meaningfully, and that’s the point.”
Carly Watters also thinks personalization can be a good thing and offers 10 template statements you can use. “It’s easier than you think to show that personal touch.”
Taking all this advice together, it seems that tailoring your entire query to each and every agent or editor you submit to is not really that important.
But this kind of personalization isn't about how you address your query, it's about the query itself.
All the above agents seem to agree on this point: address your query to that agent or editor specifically. And be sure to spell their name right!
So, end of discussion, right?
Find a specific name and address your query accordingly (and double-check the spelling).
Hey, not so fast...
Elusive Name Game
Many publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts don’t give you a clue to the editors names on their website. If you think this can't be true, check out some of the publishers' websites. In fact, I've found it near impossible to find an editor's name on some of these. And that's on purpose, apparently.
Harold Underdown explains how addressing to a specific editor can actually delay your chances of being read. Your goal is to get above the slushpile, right? Not be buried for an extra 3 or 4 weeks! But that’s what might happen if you address your query to an editor that doesn’t know you, according to Harold Underdown.
Well, that's confusing.
But those were all opinions from agents and former agents. What do the editors think?
I have asked an editor from both Savas Beatie and Chronicle Books this question: Would a query be automatically rejected for addressing it, “Dear Editor”?
Both editors said no. They both said that it didn’t matter whether you addressed it to specific editor because chances were that the person you addressed it to may not actually be the person who reads it. Publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts often share the load between them (hence the guidelines often have a standard “Submissions” address rather than naming a specific editor), either in the same room or from a shared inbox.
Note that this is usually NOT the case for agents, which may have some intern readers but still expect you to address your query to a specific agent. In other words, it’s possible – even likely – that if you address your query, “Dear Agent” you could end up in the auto-reject pile. But addressing it to "Dear Editor" seems to be OK.
Think about It
It makes sense that agents would be more picky about seeing their name than editors would – if you think about the reason for querying each in the first place.
Whether you are querying an agent or an editor, the ultimate goal is the same - to publish that manuscript. An editor will take a manuscript that they love and try to convince a team of book creatives that this book should be published. To an extent an agent does this, too. However, an agent will likely be wanting to work with you for multiple projects. That agent wants to know from the very beginning that you have chosen them specifically to query, even if you don’t personalize beyond spelling their name right.
On the other hand, the editor is only planning on working with you for one project, and it might not even be the same person throughout the process of getting published. So writers aren’t rejected for starting their query letters with “Dear Editor” in the same way they are rejected for starting a query "Dear Agent". But writers are rejected for submitting a manuscript that editors or agents think they personally can’t get published.
THE BIG EXCEPTION!
Here’s one of the many perks to joining SCBWI and other organizations, taking online classes, going to writing conferences, subscribing to writing memberships, and any of those other opportunities you grab along your writing journey… above the slushpile tickets! Sometimes editors, who are leading workshops or giving speeches, offer attendees or subscribers a “ticket” (usually a code word or phrase) that floats your manuscript above the rest of the slushpile. This is how you can get a name and I highly recommend you address your query to that specific editor. But, PLEASE spell the editor’s name right!
Personalization can work, but it can also hurt. So quit stressing over it and concentrate on writing well. And if you have a good reason to personalize, use it!
(And also spell those names right!)
Back to My Update
Do you have a crazy goal? Want support from other bloggers? Join the Got Goals Blog Hop! We post the last Friday of the month.
I write about, with, for, and around kids all day. (Well, maybe I do the dishes too. Sometimes.)