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How Long is Too Long — Query Talk

I wonder how often we talk about length in publishing. How long can our query be? How long is too long for women’s fiction? What’s the word count in mystery?

Word count does matter, not just because of reader expectations, but because when things get to be too long they often feel too long. Also, with queries, frankly I don’t want to read pages. I just want to know what your book is about and whether I should read it.

Both questions inspiring this post came through my blog post on query length requirements.

Is Two Pages Too Much?

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.

You say you are slightly over when truthfully you are 50% over. That’s like telling me your book is 150,000 words when it should be 100,000. That’s a lot of extra words.

A query should be limited to about five paragraphs and two to three of those are your opening, closing, and biographical information. To get a feel for what I mean search this blog for how I pitched posts where we post the actual pitches we’ve made for books we sold.

In most of those cases our blurb was short and sweet. Just a few short paragraphs to grab a reader’s attention. And like most readers, agents have short attention spans. We want to know quickly and succinctly whether or not a book is for us.

Too-long blurbs are an indication that the author doesn’t have a clear hook or vision for the book. It concerns me that potentially the book is also unfocused and wordy.

Remember, blurbs are your back cover copy. Most of that is just two to three paragraphs. Short and sweet and attention-grabbing.

Auxillary Information

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.

You should let an agent know this upfront, whether you’ve been published before and where, and your vision for a series or stand alone. But that shouldn’t take an entire page (a page is about 250 words). You should be able to do that in one sentence.

The first book in this series was previously published by Faust Books. I’ve turned down their offer for the second and am hoping to find a new home for it.

Done.

If you’re concerned (rightfully) that an agent won’t want to take on something mid-series than I would suggest you start writing and pitching something not related to the series.

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3 comments

  1. I think the problem with people wanting more words is they can’t focus their story on the important elements. What that means is either a) there are problems with their ms, particularly their internal GMC, or b) they don’t understand there are only 4 things they need to include in the blurb:
    • Who is the main character(s)?
    • What do they want?
    • Why can’t they have it?
    • What do they have to sacrifice to get it?
    Everything else needs to be left out.

  2. Excellent, comprehensive advice. Thank you!

    I wonder if you could address non-fiction queries, as best practice often suggests these include info about target audience, comp titles, as well as additional bio information that may be relevant to the title being pitched.

    Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

  3. Ooops. I had a query critique a year or so ago and they liked it, so I’ve been using it since I started querying in January. Apparently, it’s way too long… almost 400 words. Yikes!

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