Query size -- let's have this out.

Submission protocol, query etiquette, and strategies that work
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Remus Shepherd
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Query size -- let's have this out.

Post by Remus Shepherd » February 21st, 2010, 10:05 am

Let's have this out. I need a resolution to this.

When going over my query in these forums and elsewhere, I was encouraged to pad it with more and more information until it turned into a dense mini-synopsis of the entire plot. No problem, I thought, I can do that. I still kept it tight -- the final story blurb is 211 words long. On top of that I need just one short paragraph for my personal bio. The entire query, from 'Dear (agent)' to my signature, is 294 words lone.

I just finished final edits on the query and went to format it into a letter. In 12 point font, it stretches into the second page.

I *know* that is not right. I have never seen any market -- no agent, no publisher, no where -- that says that a two-page query is okay. I've even seen agents state outright that they circular bin any query that isn't on a single page. The longest query in Nathan's examples of great queries has a blurb that's only 84 words long.

Where the hell are people getting the idea that queries should be 350 words long?

I have a crushing suspicion that the feedback forums here are giving bad advice. We need to resolve this before more authors are pointed in the wrong direction and screw up their chances.

How long should a query -- especially the story blurb portion -- be?

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Holly
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Re: Query size -- let's have this out.

Post by Holly » February 21st, 2010, 11:03 am

It should be long enough or short enough to fit on one page. Every story is different.

You can save several lines if you put your contact info in one line across the top of the page. Name, address, phone(s), email, and blog can all go up there.

"I have a crushing suspicion that the feedback forums here are giving bad advice. We need to resolve this before more authors are pointed in the wrong direction and screw up their chances." Most of the posters are unpublished writers helping as best they can. Like everything else in life, in the end you have to row your own boat.

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Re: Query size -- let's have this out.

Post by Yoshima » February 21st, 2010, 12:21 pm

If your query is less than 300 words, it should fit on a page. Mine got up to 390 at one point and it still had room to spare at the bottom (12 pt, single-spaced like a business letter should be, with one line between paragraphs). I'm thinking, like Holly, that your contact info is spread out or your closing has too many spaces or whatever. Or maybe you double-spaced it. I don't know. But on Nathan's blog in the FAQ somewhere, he states that the "sweet spot" of a query (blurb included) is 250-350 words. Yours is 294. So what's the problem? If you get advice on here you're unsure about, check Nathan's FAQ. Or visit the Ask Nathan thread. I think it's a stretch to say people here are "giving bad advice." All we're doing is giving our thoughts on whether or not a pitch is effective to us as readers. Keep in mind that the people here on the forums are readers, aka the audience you're ultimately going to have to reach via a blurb on the back cover (even if you don't write the final blurb, the concepts are still the same, and that's part of what we're judging here).

As for the blurb alone, I think that depends on the book. A longer book generally needs a longer blurb to make sense. As always in writing, there is no cut-and-dry answer. Do what you feel is right for your book, Remus. Good luck to you!

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maybegenius
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Re: Query size -- let's have this out.

Post by maybegenius » February 21st, 2010, 1:10 pm

I agree that it's ultimately up to you to decide what you personally feel is right for you and your query. It is important to remember that most of the posters here are unpublished and to take all advice with a grain of salt, but we all (I hope) want to see one another succeed and are willing to help where we can. I think most of us are giving advice based off of the various agent and editor resources we read, and most of those say 1.) a query is generally 250-350 words and 2.) they want to know what happens in your story, period. They don't want vague, or 90% author/10% story, or to finish the query and have no idea whether they'd be reading a manuscript about a dancing penguin or a serial killer.

If you're uncomfortable with your query being as long as it is, then do what you think is best for it. It should certainly be concise and contained on one page. Several agents (Janet Reid, Nathan, Kristin Nelson, kt literary, etc.) all post samples of queries that caught their eye if anyone needs it from the horse's mouth, as it were.
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Remus Shepherd
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Re: Query size -- let's have this out.

Post by Remus Shepherd » February 21st, 2010, 1:26 pm

Yoshima wrote:I think it's a stretch to say people here are "giving bad advice." All we're doing is giving our thoughts on whether or not a pitch is effective to us as readers.
You're right, and I'm sorry if that came across as harsh.
But on Nathan's blog in the FAQ somewhere, he states that the "sweet spot" of a query (blurb included) is 250-350 words. Yours is 294. So what's the problem?
I think you've pointed to the problem. The FAQ states that the sweet spot of an entire query is up to 350 words...but in the Feedback section people are advising that the story blurb alone should be that length. People are confused and encouraging others to inflate queries to the point where they are no longer effective.

I guess there's nothing to be done about that except to hang a sign on the forum that states that the people there are amateurs and the advice you get is worth what you've paid for it. Taking out the reference to them as 'experts' in the Feedback forum guidelines would be a good first step.
If you get advice on here you're unsure about, check Nathan's FAQ. Or visit the Ask Nathan thread.
Yes, yes, yes. Everyone on these forums has read the FAQs and the Essentials. The dispute is over what they mean, and Nathan doesn't chime to help about that. Even if he did, his is only the opinion of one agent...and some people would still get it wrong.

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Nathan Bransford
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Re: Query size -- let's have this out.

Post by Nathan Bransford » March 1st, 2010, 6:43 pm

My opinion is that the total length of the query, including introduction, personalization, etc. should be 250-350 words. Not just the description of the work.

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Re: Query size -- let's have this out.

Post by kristi » March 1st, 2010, 7:16 pm

My total query is 250 words long. Although I haven't started the query process yet, I did submit it to two different agent contests this week and got requests for 2 partials in the last 2 days. So I'd say my query is working -- I just hope the book is as good as the query!

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Re: Query size -- let's have this out.

Post by Nick » March 1st, 2010, 7:44 pm

Nathan Bransford wrote:My opinion is that the total length of the query, including introduction, personalization, etc. should be 250-350 words. Not just the description of the work.
I was about to say that's not very long at all, but then I took a look at my WIP and 406 words ate up 1/2 the page single spaced size 12 Times New Roman, with an indent on the second paragraph and paragraphs being pressed together rather than having gaps between them, so really I guess it's not that short at all. And really, the query I've been padding out every now and again as I work on my WIP is only about half the page, so I guess I'm at 400-ish on it?

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Re: Query size -- let's have this out.

Post by BlancheKing » March 2nd, 2010, 6:00 am

mine are actually under 250, around 220-240 usually. I read somewhere that long quips about the book actually make the story sound worse... but that's just a personal preference
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