How long should your query letter be?

This is a question I think a lot of people have. I’ve been asked a lot and I have a hard time answering because I don’t count the number of words in the queries I read. I don’t even have a good sense of how much room it should take up on the screen because that varies widely based on font and such. I just know that some queries feel too long, some too short, and some just right.

Recently, though, I took a class where we were learning statistics. For my end of semester projects, I analyzed sample of 140 query letters (34 which resulted in requests and 106 which received form rejections from our agency).

I found that the average word count for the successful query letters was 357 and the average word count for unsuccessful letters was 407. The results were different enough to suspect that the differences are statistically significant.*

Furthermore, the standard variation for the rejected letters was much higher than for the successful letters. In simple terms, this means that the successful letters were very consistent in their length. All but two were within 75 words of the average. On the other hand, the rejected letters varied drastically in length. A couple were over a 1,000 words long, while several were barely 100 words.

What this all goes to show is that there is a fairly standard word length for queries. Based on my studies, I would suggest trying to keep your queries between 275 and 375 words in length.

 

 

*The p-value was actually .06, which is slightly above the .05 standard for significance. However, it’s close enough that I’m comfortable assuming the data is significant.

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Word Counts

“MANUSCRIPT TITLE is complete at 76,000 words…”

You’re all used to seeing that word count in query letters. But let’s just talkĀ about it a little.

For those of you who are unsure, yes you can round your word count. I say round it to the nearest thousand. In fact, it’s a little weird to me if the word count isn’t rounded at all.

I mean, I’d never say, “Wow, your book is 57,322 words long. Good thing, because if it was 57,323 I wouldn’t read it.” Also I never compare the word count of the actual manuscript to what the query letter says (“What do you mean this manuscript has 64,342 words? The query letter says it only has 64,340 words. How dare they!”)

Basically, the word count is just to give the reader a general feel for how long the book is. Honestly, I don’t even notice it unless it’s abnormally high or low. If it’s too long, I worry that there are too many unnecessary details slowing up the plot. If it’s too short, I worry that the author has hurried through the manuscript and that it will be confusing.

Just what range is normal depends on the age group and genre. For example, 35,000 is reasonable for MG, but would probably be short for a YA novel. Likewise, I’m not surprised to see fantasy novels be longer than contemporary.

So check what range is normal for your age group and genre. If your novel seems to fit, just round the number and don’t worry about it. There are more important parts of the query for you to focus on.