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Query Length Requirements

In my many years as a blogger, the questions about queries have never ended. They seem to come in waves, but they keep coming. One of the latest trends in questions asks what the requirements are for the length of the query.

On my post about what a query says about the author, a reader asks:

This is helpful, but as someone just beginning the query process, I wonder how long a query letter should be? Obviously, if you don’t get past the first paragraph, it doesn’t matter, but lets suppose I spell your name correctly, know what your looking for, and have told you why my book is perfect for you – how much space should I devote to fleshing out the plot somewhat, mentioning markets and my bio?

One page. Your query should be one Word document page. That’s about 250 double-spaced words and the same length as a cover letter because, in some ways, your query letter is your cover letter.

To break it down further you will have a one-paragraph introduction–title, word count, genre and something personal if you have something personal to add. You will have one to three paragraphs for the blurb. This is the most important piece of your query. It is your book’s cover copy and is the information that will entice agents, editors and eventually readers. Then you have space for a one-paragraph bio. Tell me a little about yourself. Who are you? What do you do? How do you make life fun?

That’s it. A 250-word sales pitch to get someone to read the rest. It’s what published authors get for their books, what job searchers get for their resumes and what we ask of authors when they query.

Category: Blog

9 comments

  1. I always kept you, the agent, in mind when writing it. I would picture myself with blurry eyes at the end of the day. I had five more queries to go and I had to get through them. Maybe, I would say to myself, there’s that one diamond in the rough that is waiting for me.

    Once I had that mind set I would keep it short. I would tell the story without a lot of wordiness but most all…..keep the damn thing short.

  2. I always kept you, the agent, in mind when writing it. I would picture myself with blurry eyes at the end of the day. I had five more queries to go and I had to get through them. Maybe, I would say to myself, there’s that one diamond in the rough that is waiting for me.
    Once I had that mind set I would keep it short. I would tell the story without a lot of wordiness but most all…..keep the damn thing short.

  3. I wonder if some of the confusion comes about because of the requirements of publishers? If you were to try and sub directly to those open to submissions, every publisher has a different requirement. I know in Australia, Escape (an arm of Harlequin) require a 100 word query!

  4. What about if you have pertinent info about the book you’re trying to obtain representation for that will add 100 – 200 words? For instance the book is the second in a series but you’re unhappy with the publisher of the first book (have turned down their offer for the second) and knowing publishers are reluctant to publish mid-series, you are willing to make sacrifices? If I don’t let the agent know this up front, it’ll seem like I’m trying to hide something from them, so I expand the word count of the query instead.

    1. PC, there are a few things you need to make sure of first, like making sure you know what rights you have if you haven’t already – are you allowed to publish in the world of your second book with another publisher?

      Taking a second in series novel when the first has already been published is a really hard sell I believe (Jessica, is that true?). Especially if the first novel rights are still with the other publisher. If you have another novel I’d try and query that, then when you have an agent tell them about your other series and your sequel ms.

      Otherwise, I wouldn’t try and explain in the query. It is too hard to do it in a few words. Let the query stand as per usual, then if you are asked to send the full provide disclosure then. You’ll have a chance to give more information. I don’t think you’ll get any bites if you put it in your query.

      1. Yes, I know it’s okay for me to seek representation for the second book elsewhere. This puts me in a tough spot. In the query, I say I’m willing to market the book I’m querying as the first, because the actual first isn’t in the stage of development for it to be officially named a series. I haven’t given the publisher a name for the series or anything and the contract a signed said nothing about it being the first of a series.
        Also, how am I not setting myself up for disappointment and a bad rep if I don’t tell them right away that the book is the second in a series? It doesn’t HAVE to be the second.

  5. Is it okay if the query is slightly over 250 words? Will it automatically be rejected if so? I’m at 345 words and just wondering if it was too much? All of the information is relevant to the story.

    1. Rebecca, that’s a lot of words more (around 40% more). I’d try and tighten what you have. Give it to someone else for a critique. What you think is relevant you’ll probably find isn’t. All you need to have is:
      • Who is the main character?
      • What do they want?
      • Why can’t they have it?
      • What do they have to sacrifice to get it?

      Nothing else matter for the query.

  6. It’s actually a cool and useful piece of information. I am glad that you shared this helpful information with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

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