I've noticed this comes up at a few of the writing forums I visit. People want to know why it's important to personalize a query and how a person does it without coming across as a butt kisser or sounding phony.
High up on every Agent's hate list is the 'Splatter Query.' This is where the writer finds a list of agents on the net somewhere and sends out a form query to ALL OF THEM, hoping for a request. This is also known as the SHOTGUN approach to querying.
Four words: DON'T DO THIS...EVER.
Why? Because it's disrespectful to the agents you query, other writers who did target this agent, waiting to have their query considered...and it's disrespectful to yourself. Not only do you waste everyone's time with a mis-query, think about this: how many hours/days/weeks/years did you slave over your manuscript? And now you're willing to hand it over to any old agent to try and sell? That's crazy talk, right there.
Personalizing a query tells the Agent you researched them specifically as a match for your manuscript. It's respectful to them and to your novel. You want to find the right advocate so your MS will have the best chance at placement. Taking a bit of time to research is nothing when considering how long it took to perfect your book.
Stickers, glitter, gifts, fancy fonts & formatting, colored stationary, drawn-on hearts, nicknames, declarations to name child after agent/get a tattoo of the agent's face/etc in exchange for representation. No, no...just no. This damages the name 'writer' all over the world and screams RUN AWAY to the Agent.
Think about what attracted you to the agent in the first place. What did you find out about them as you researched? Mention a compelling reason why you admire them and want them repping you. (And don't forget to always adress the agent by name when querying, never 'Dear Agent'.)
It's simple....Do your RESEARCH
Agents are often at conferences, book fairs, retreats and work shops, allowing for countless opportunities to shmooze and get to know them a bit better. If you don't see them on the circuit, most agents are fabulous about keeping a web presence. Blogs, articles, discussion boards, websites, twitter, Facebook...all of these are chock full of advice, information and personal tidbits that help you get to know who they are. This makes it very easy for you to find something genuine to personalize your letter with.
--Did they speak at a conference? Did you learn something from it? Say briefly where you saw them and how they helped! If you met them personally, mention it.
--When you researched their clients, did one of their novels/writing style make you believe your book would be a good fit, too? If so, mention this. (BUT if you didn't read the book, in the name of zombies, don't lie and say you did!)
--Did you read an article by them on a specific topic and it broadened your knowledge? Thank them for it!
--Do you follow their blog where they share tips and news about the biz? Let the agent know you appreciate the time they give to writers!
--Are you up to date on their successes? Congratulate them!
Agents do a lot for all writers, not just their clients. They are very generous with their time, mentoring through blogs, conference talks, workshops and even Twitter. A genuine 'thank you' for all they do to help us learn and grow as writers is never amiss in a query letter, provided it's professional and concise. Personalization doesn't need to be big or splashy, just honest!
If you need more info on RESEARCHING AGENTS, please check out Julie Hedlund's post--it's chock full of great advice and links to help you on your way. :)