Writing a Query–Even a Short One

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Nov 28 2018

There is so much advice out there on queries, some of it conflicting. The first thing I will tell you about queries is that it’s all about the blurb. After that, just be yourself. My second bit of advice is spend some time with the Shark, the Query Shark. She won’t steer you wrong.

In response to my blog on the length of a query letter reader asks:

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.

What I will say first is, stop over-thinking. I sometimes worry that authors get themselves so caught up in the minutia of perfection that they never get the query out. Maybe, just maybe, you are avoiding the query by getting caught up in the minutia, but I’ll leave the psych analysis for another day.

I don’t care how long your query is. I do care that it’s a professionally written letter with a strong blurb. While each agent will sometimes say different things, there is something we all agree on. We want a title, genre, word count, author name, and a strong blurb. Everything and I mean everything, hinges on this blurb. If you don’t know what a blurb is read this blog post on The Art of the Query. After that, read the cover copy. Scour your bookshelves and read the copy of all the books you love and all the books you feel are comparable to yours. Analyze them and then write your own blurb because that’s what a blurb is. It’s cover copy.

By the way, if you had a decent request rate it was your query. The pages are only bonus material. Congratulations!

3 responses to “Writing a Query–Even a Short One”

  1. Avatar NICOLE PARTON says:

    Your posts excite and inspire me! And yes, Query Shark Janet Reid is terrific.

    To myself: If you had a ZERO request rate it was your query.

    Also to myself: It’s the blurb, stupid!

    – Nicole

  2. Avatar AJ Blythe says:

    With the query letter being the gateway to getting pages read, it’s very hard not to get caught up in micro-analysing your query.

  3. Avatar Lennon says:

    Ooh, I love Query Shark. This is what I gleaned from reading 300+ queries from that place: first sentence has to be exciting (not the 2nd paragraph), keep it focused (who is main character, what do they want, what’s keeping them from that), and shorter is often better.

    Shorter = better obviously isn’t always true but I think it generally means you are getting to the ‘good stuff’ quicker. Plus anyone with short attention spans is still focusing by the end – that’s my problem, but I think it would also translate to a query reader who is very busy and perhaps skimming.

    Thanks for the post!