Okay, so now that we have a list of tools so you can build your list out, how are you going to keep up with all of that? There are online tools that do this for you, like query tracker, but I am really particular about what information I want and how I want it. So I don’t use those tools.
Instead, I use a spreadsheet. If you’re only able to subscribe for Publisher’s Weekly for a month, then I would spend a good bit of time building out your spreadsheet to get as many agents that you might want to query (we’re talking 50+—all in, queried 84 people the first time I signed with an agent). But go ahead and get your first round of queries ready and send them out first (so you don’t get too overwhelmed and give up). Then, add the rest in.
Rather than explain what to put in this spreadsheet, I’ve made a spreadsheet that you can copy in Google docs here.
How to personalize your query letter
If you clicked through to the spreadsheet, you probably saw I have a column dedicated to personalization. At the end of the day, what matters the most in your query letter is if you’ve made the agent want to read your book, but a little personalization doesn’t hurt (and can actually help quite a bit, especially if you’re not fully confident in your query). Personalization tells an agent you’ve done your research so much so that you have a specific reason you’ve chosen to send this book to them.
An agent’s manuscript wishlist should be your go-to source for personalizing a query. This can be what they list on their website (which for some agents may be as simple as, I saw that you represent SFF, and for others may be as complex as, I saw that you’re interested in speculative fiction that subverts time travel tropes) or what you find on MSWL.com—as well as their past sales or other authors.
I like to include this information at the very top of my query letter in my introduction. This is an excerpt from what I’m currently using while querying (tweaked slightly since I do mention leaving my agent and seeking new representation in my actual query):
My name is Liz Parker and I’m seeking representation for my GENRE novel, NOVEL NAME. I saw that you’re interested in witchy genre benders, which makes me think my work might be a fit for your list. My latest project is a genre bending tale of magic and ancestry.
I like to create a word document with my query letters in it. I use one big word document and add all my new pitches at the top as I query. This helps me look back at past queries and how I worded things in case I found multiple agents who are interested in the same thing.