The Length of a Query Letter

A reader asks:

Curious, does this mean if a writer needed a few extra words to get to the hook (over the accepted 250 words) for their query it would be okay? Or can an agent do it because of that pre-existing relationship you’ve built with editors?

This question comes in response to my post on the Anatomy of a Book Deal–The Pitch

I can honestly say I’ve never looked at the word count of a query, although I stand by the idea that the query should be one page and the blurb should be roughly two paragraphs (maybe three). It should be that way for all of us. When BookEnds works on a pitch for one of our agents we are always streamlining and tightening. That being said, there will be times when we exceed one page, although not by much we hope.

This isn’t just because it’s a rule, streamlining your book to one page keeps it tight and interesting. Think of book cover copy. When you review cover copy at a bookstore you don’t want to read pages of information, you want a short quick hit that entices you to read more. That’s your query. An overly long blurb hints to editors and agents that your book might be overly long (and need tightening).

Agents can often do anything we want because we have a report with the editors we submit to and while I don’t think you need to stick strictly to 250 words, my advice is to stick as close to it as possible.

 

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4 comments

  1. Thanks for this. I really had not thought of agents sending out queries on behalf of clients. I thought it was more like email exchanges and possible phone discussions. Wondering if you ever use the exact same query the client sent you.

    1. An agent’s relationship with an editor is email exchanges and phone discussions, but we still need that pitch. As much as we would love to be able to say, “hey buy this book” we still need to tell them what the book is about. Sometimes it also gives us valuable insight into who might be the right editor.

  2. Hrm. There is so much conflicting advice for query letters. What about going the other way and being very short? Does that stand out in a negative way?

    My most recent query was 129 words and 6 paragraphs. I had two sets of experts and a panel of published writers tell me that it was broken, but feedback from my QLH and QueryShark said that it worked very well. In the end I had a decent request rate, but that could have been the pages rather than the query, or luck, or other factors.

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