Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, September 29, 2006

Special Topics in Calamitous Query Letters

Special Topics in Calamitous Query Letters

Viking's edition of Tolstoy's WAR AND PEACE is 1,424 pages. Vikram Seth's A SUITABLE BOY checks in at 1,488 pages. Heck, the book that I'm reading right now, Marisha Pessl's SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS, is 514 pages (including the final exam at the end of the book).

Some great works of literature have been very, very long. Expansive. Epic. Bigger than a breadbox. This does not mean that you should write a long query letter.

Maybe it's the Fall air that is making people wax poetic about life, the universe and everything (certainly the fall air is making me a more frequent blogger), but I've been getting some really, really long query letters lately. People sit down and write long, luxrious odes about their works, detailing every plot twist, the habits of each character (major and minor), and the deeper psychological meaning that is revealed by their narrative. Don't make this mistake!

The purpose of a query letter isn't to tell an agent about every single plot twist in the entire book. It's not to describe the main character's motivations (apparent and hidden) or their complete life story. A query letter only has one purpose: To make an agent want to read more.

The best way to pique an agent's interest is to be as succinct as possible. Confession: I may like long books, but I'm a lazy query letter reader. I am much more likely to give my full attention to a short letter than a long one. A short letter shows respect for my time and a deference to my abysmally short query-attention span. But most importantly, a short letter is much more likely to be interesting, because the author has agonized over every word and every sentence to make sure they convey as much as possible.

Final Exam (#2 pencils only): What is the essence of this blog post?

Answer: Even if your book is 1,500 pages long, your query letter does not have to be.


Carrie Filetti said...

This is so true! I thought I had a great query letter. It was a little long but I figured it had to be in order to explain my story. I sent it out only to be hammered with rejections. I was humbled and reworked it, cutting it in half. I sent it out again and within a week, I was offered representation.

Matthew MacNish said...

I came here from a Facebook status, and now I feel like I'm in a timewarp. What was I doing in 2006? No idea.

Jory said...

Maybe we should practice Twitter-style queries. Or Facebook status updates. 150 characters might be impossible but 600 characters could be an acceptable challenge.

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