Much like creating a resume, there is a specific formula you should stick to when writing a query letter to win over literary agents. You need a gripping introduction, a hook, you need to set the stakes, you need a “meta” paragraph, then a summary. But how long should your query letter be?
What is the optimum length for your query letter?
Simple: one page or less, single-spaced. Okay, sounds simple enough (and very much like a resume!), but considering most literary agents ask for email queries, how can you easily tell in an email? Is there a more specific science?
Yes. The most accepted queries fall between 200 and 400 words, maximum five paragraphs. There is a sweet spot between 250 and 350 words, with anything under or over pushing it. Again, think of it in terms of an email – reading much over 350 words isn’t much fun. It’s a scan and sell: a marketing device to get your salient points across.
Sadly, most queries tend to run over, with some running way over. A good way to avoid this is to cut the synopsis. This is not what a query letter is for. Get straight to the point. There’s a method for a reason: follow this method, and don’t try to be funny or clever. Craft every word with care, and ensure what you are saying is presented in a logical, impactful order.
Word count rules
You can also follow the 30 / 200 / 30 / 100 rule that I employed when I wrote my query letter (and successfully secured multiple offers):
- No more than 30 words saying why you’re querying the agent, for example: “I’m querying you because you said on your manuscript wish list you’re looking for a middle grade book about tap-dancing ghosts. Here’s a middle grade book about tap-dancing ghosts.”
- No more than 200 words on your main pitch/hook
- No more than 30 words on your meta paragraph, including your novel’s name, word count, and comps (comparative titles)
- No more than 100 words on your short bio and outro
Okay, so this is 360 words, but you can trim the fat to get it under 350. Talking of 350 words, that’s roughly how long this article is! See? Not much. But enough to get your point across.
There’s a wealth of information out there on exactly what goes in a query letter. Make sure you are including the key points, while keeping it short and sweet.