All “personalized” really means is that you took the time to write a letter specifically for that agent. It’s not a form letter addressed to Dear Agent. You don’t have to know personal details about them or have any prior connection or anything. You’re saying “I cared enough about this to find out something about you and chose you for a reason, not just because you were a name on a list that included the word agent.”
The best advice I can give here, is to research the agent you’re querying and see what they say about it. I think just about every agent blog I’ve read has addressed this at some point, and a quick search for “personalized queries” should bring it up. Janet Reid says start with the hook, while the gals at BookEnds like an intro before getting to the hook.
Beyond that, write what feels right to you. You want to be genuine in what you say because this is you you’re selling. If it feels dumb to say “I saw you on Query Tracker” then don’t say it. And tastes on that vary. Some agents are fine with this (they say it at least shows you did some research) and others agree that it’s dumb (why tell them what they already know?)
One thing I did before I started querying was to pick several books from each agent on my list and read them. That way, I’d at least be able to say “I loved Book X.” (If I did of course. Don’t lie on a query). But most agents have a blog, and if you read that, you can say you’re a fan. If you like their tweets, mention that if it feels right. If you picked them for a reason, let them know. If you picked them because Writers Beware gave them a thumbs up, just be professional and skip the “this is why I choose you” bit.
The hook is what matters most in a query. If they love your idea, how you open and close won’t matter (unless you do something really offensive, and if you’re reading blogs for advice you’re not going to do that). Some folks prefer a little introduction, others don’t. Some like title and word count at the top, other like it at the bottom. Do what feels right to you.
For those curious, I like a short intro about the book and why I chose them, then the hook, then the bio stuff at the bottom. Here’s what I did for The Shifter (submitted as The Pain Merchants) though ironically, I ended up pitching to my agent in person so she never saw this opening until after she signed me. But it’s representative of what I did on all my queries.
I’m a daily reader of your blog and I eagerly await every new book by Linnea Sinclair and Ally Carter, so you were tops on my list when I started looking at agents for my 60,000-word YA fantasy, The Pain Merchants. I think its sassy and resourceful heroine would feel right at home at Gallagher Academy, and her plans work about as well as Jenny O’Connell’s heroine in Plan B.
Whatever format you choose, be honest, be yourself, and be professional. If you don’t have anything to say beyond the basics, that’s totally okay.
Are you pro-intro paragraph or con? Do you like your word count info at the top or the bottom?