What is the best length for a query letter? How do you know if yours is too long or too short?
Back when I was a literary agent, I ran a word count on every query I received for a week.
If the author included sample pages in the body of the e-mail I did not count those. If the author said “please see my synopsis” in lieu of writing an actual query, I counted the synopsis. When the author included a bio or other material after their signature I included that, since that’s the type of thing that should go in the body of a query.
I received 180 queries that week, which was actually a light week for me because it was a holiday weekend.
Query word counts
Here’s the breakdown by number of words:
The shortest query I received was about 50 words, the longest was 2,200+.
The best length for a query
Why are 200-300 and 300-400 in bold? Well, after reviewing the queries I concluded that there is a sweet spot in query word count between 250 and 350 words. Anything shorter than 250 usually (but not always) seems too short and anything longer than 350 usually (but not always) seems too long.
As you can see from the stats, this means that about half of all queries are the right length while half are either too short or too long…. with a good chunk that are WAY too long.
Keep in mind that this chart doesn’t really convey just how long many of these queries look on the page. Everything I’ve written in this post up to THIS POINT is about 350 words. And it’s a lot of words!
There were 33 queries that were 400-500 words, which means that they were anywhere from 50-150 words past the “sweet spot.” Sometimes there can be a compelling reason for going this long, such as if you need to explain some extenuating situation in addition to the query. But not usually.
And then there were even queries that were way longer than that!
Of these 180 queries, I requested to see four partial manuscripts. One was in the 200-300 range, two were in the 300-400 range, and one was 400-500, but had a very good reason for being that long.
Keep those queries at a reasonable length! 250-350 words is the way to go.
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Art: Franz Marc beim Holzschneiden by Wilhelm Marc