Today I like: Squirrels
Not so much: Query letters
Fist let me apologize to readers who may be hoping for another installment of wild suburban holiday party-hopping or ruminations on Cinderella. I promise to return to that fun stuff as soon as I get this off my chest. This post is for the writers out there…
Query letters. Let’s face it. All writers dislike them. They’re like post-Halloween diets, painful but necessary. Writers spend months on them. You think you have it right, you send it out…only to tweak your hook two days later. Ugh, would dream agent have preferred the new version? Would it have made her (him) scream, “Yes, yes, yes! Send me your manuscript and meet me in Manhattan for lunch on Friday! I’m paying!”
Doubtful, but still, we obsess. At the pinnacle of my query writing hysteria I became fixated on word count. I joined a very nice online community of well-meaning, query-critiquing writers. They followed a simple mantra: Query must be concise, concise, concise! 250 words…or at most 252. I’d slice a word here, re-write a phrase there, and rejoice in each chop. At its shortest my query came in at 280 words, but it was…boring. I briefly considered hurling my laptop and several B&N trips worth of books on queries out the window.
Take a deep breath, gracefully exit online query fest. How long, exactly, is the ideal query? I did some admittedly very unscientific research. There are lots successful queries out there in cyber space. Some agents (like Kristin Nelson and Jessica Faust) post client queries on their blogs. Writer’s Digest’s GuidetoLiteraryAgents.com has a great recurring series called, ahem, “Sucessful Queries.” Agents post queries that attracted their attention and landed representation for the writer. I also perused my books on agents and queries. I tracked down approximately sixty positively received YA and adult fiction queries (all genres).
So what’s the verdict?
Total queries: 59
I noticed a few trends. The fantasy and literary fiction queries ran a bit longer, the YA ones a bit shorter. Agents who posted the shortest queries clearly noted their preference for “short and sweet.”
After some similar tracking, agent Nathan Bransford had this to say about query word count: “…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.”
Yeah! More than half of the sucessful queries I looked at fall into this 250-350 category. I feel vindicated. My grad school stats professors would be so proud.
So anyway, what does this all mean? Well, not much…but it does satisfy my curiosity, and proves that while there is a general range that seems to garner more positive reactions, queries have to work for both your book and the agent you’re querying. I will now happily send out a query of (approximately) 324 words, but hey, who’s counting?