Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Query Stats by Word Count

Hope everyone had a lovely Labor Day weekend! Back by popular demand......... query stats!! Although this time I did things a little differently.

In the past I've compiled query stats by genre, but those ratios never really changed all that much, so... I kind of got bored of compiling them. Solution: new categories!

I often receive the question: what is the ideal length for a query? Well, now I know. Or at least I have a ballpark.

But first....

Between last Tuesday morning and the time of this post I ran a Word count on every query I received. I (basically) counted everything between "Dear Nathan" and "Sincerely, Author." If the author included sample pages in the body of the e-mail I did not count those. If the author said "please see my synopsis" in lieu of writing an actual query, I counted the synopsis. If the author included a bio or other material after their signature I included that, since that's the type of thing that should go in the body of a query.

I received 180 queries in the last week, which seems a tad lighter than average (probably because of the holiday weekend). Here's the breakdown by number of words.

1-100: 4
100-200: 20
200-300: 46
300-400: 48
400-500: 33
500-600: 14
600-700: 4
700-800: 2
800-900: 1
900-1,000: 1
1,000+: 7

The shortest query I received was about 50 words, the longest was 2,200+.

Why are 200-300 and 300-400 in bold? Well, after doing this for a week I basically decided that 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.

As you can see from the stats, this means that about half of all queries are the right length while half are either too short or too long.... with a good chunk that are WAY too long.

Keep in mind that this chart doesn't really convey just how long many of these queries look on the page. Everything I've written in this post up to THIS POINT is about 360 words. And it's a lot of words! There were 33 queries that were 400-500 words, which means that they were anywhere from 50-150 words past the "sweet spot." 150 words is a lot. Sometimes there can be a compelling reason for going this long, such as if you need to explain some extenuating situation in addition to the query. But not usually.

And then there were even queries that were way longer than that!

Of these 180 queries, I requested 4. 1 was in the 200-300 range, 2 were in the 300-400 range, and one was 400-500, but had a very good reason for being that long.

Keep those queries at a reasonable length!! I'll soon have a post on things to leave out of a query, which will hopefully help with the editing process.






49 comments:

Anonymous said...

2,200 words? That must have left, ah... an impression.

Natalie said...

Very interesting. Such a useful post, too. Definitely something to keep in mind for that next query attempt.

ezc_19 said...

Hey Nathan,

Just wanted to say good post, it really is helpful when we see these types of stats.

I've been reading your blog for about a month now, first time I commented though, and I just want to say it has helped me more than anything else on the internet in regards to starting my first novel.

Thanks again.

ezc_19

jeanoram said...

Thank you for doing this Nathan. There are so many 'rules of thumb' when it comes to queries that it can make a new writer a bit shaky. I've got a word count goal now--thanks again.

Jean

WendyCinNYC said...

Thanks--I'm writing my query *right now* and I'll aim for that sweet spot.

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

it's taken me 3 weeks to work on my query and i am still revising it. i just checked my word count, 392 words, not bad, i guess...

ashley said...

Interesting! Thanks, Nathan.

Can't wait to see the post about things to leave out of a query. I'm sure it will be extremely helpful!!

Gina Black said...

Thanks Nathan! This is very helpful as I make the finishing touches on my query. So far I'm at 344 words. I'm going to consider the final six very carefully. ;)

Kristin Laughtin said...

Ahh, I am reassured! I have written a couple of practice queries and they all seem to fall naturally within that length. I figure anything longer would just be stuff I should talk about with the agent once they show interest.

David said...

2,200 words isn't a query. It's a short story!

nomadshan said...

Ooo, thanks for the info! There definitely seems to be an optimal range.

ORION said...

This was really great. I was at the Maui Conference and talked to writers about queries- This would have been good info to have.
Did you do this on the word count of novels queried too?
(Hey I met Kristin Nelson and she was way cool)

Kylie said...

2,200 words? Isn't that about eight pages??? I honestly can't imagine what would go in all that space. I hope that was the "please see my synopsis."

Shannon said...

Thank You! I love the query stats posts!

Ryan Field said...

"I'll soon have a post on things to leave out of a query"

This sounds interesting.

Joanne said...

Would like to see the desired word count on different manuscript genres. It seems the word count has been lessening in many published books of late.

Kat Harris said...

See my synopsis? See my synopsis?

Isn't that cheating?

Dan said...

Nathan,

I can write a "things to NOT leave out of a query post for you" with three words:

King's court-side seats.

As for those additional 1,800 words I need to edit out of my query, I'm guessing I can remove my space monkey's life story and explanation for his lack of writing credentials...

M Clement Hall said...

To put a page perspective on this, I counted the words in a letter I had written.
Excluding my address, the salutation and the signature, single space, double space between paragraphs, standard margins, the page was nicely fulled with 338 words.
I join all other contributors in thanks to Nathan for his continuing and invaluable Instructional Course.

J.P. Kurzitza said...

Great insight.

Just curious, what genres made up the 4 you requested?

Thanks Nathan.

Janet said...

Always nice to see an agent post with a fresh take on a tired old trope. I would be interested in reading further.

;o)

Elyssa Papa said...

Oh, I like the new query stats. It gives me a better visual of where I fell in (luckily in the bold). Would definitely love to see what not to include in a query. I think my query is good but watch me be horribly, horribly wrong.

Travis Erwin said...

Interesting, thanks for compiling and sharing this.

Anonymous said...

But which ones did you like? Average is just...average. Your two favourites may have been 50 words, or 1024. A big kiss to you and your orange t-shirt.

Heidi said...

Good golly miss molly! 2,200 words??? How long was their manuscript? Did you read the entire thing or just toss it?

I love this variation on query stats. I'd love to see them broken down in other ways, as well, just out of curiosity.

Madison said...

Mr. Bransford, you could NOT have posted this at a better time. I am working on my query letter to a particular agent and it's over 500 words, which makes it EXACTLY one computer page. Now I know I needs to downsize my synopsis, but hopefully that won't be too much a problem.

And over 2,000 words for a query?!? That's insane! They might as well have sent you the whole mss. which means it would STILL have been rejected. Oh well. I guess some people just don't want to do the homework.

Anonymous said...

Nathan,

This is awesome information. I was the person that asked about the idea word length for a query (mine are usually about 450 which I think is a bit long) and this really helps. Thanks for taking the time to compile the information!

I'm surprised over some of those super long queries. I'm sure this will help some of those cut their word count down.

Thanks! Amy

Marva said...

This included the credits paragraph? Well, I guess I shouldn't have published so much prior to subbing novels. No, I didn't list every single thing.

Still, I'm in at 389, so I'm in the ballpark of okay.

Anonymous said...

Amateur hour.

Where's all the writers at?

Madeleine said...

Dear Mr. Bransford,
I've just stumbled on your site and am so delighted. It's all orderly and so relevant.
I've just completed a nine-month Master Memoir program with Samantha Dunn at UCLA and have been so focused on finishing and editing, and editing, and editing that a lot of this slipped out of my consciousness.
The dreaded and exciting query and what to send.
So grateful for this and I have carefully read through all of your posts and the comments.
I'm not ready to "sweet-spot" query you as you, sigh, want a finished product. Wouldn't it be sweet ...
I did use so much of what you talked about to send a proper and sweet query to the agent (UCLA honorarium) that had agreed to read and respond to the eight of us in the program.
The only possible thing I could add to the plethora of relevance here is not to wholly trust Word. Alas. Word corrected the spelling of Louisa to Louis (Lous May Alcott - oh mortification) and I am shamed to say I missed it. I'd unwittingly depended on that red mark that meant error.
Thanks so much.
Madeleine
Oh and the greatest influences on me ever were Mary Rakow (The Memory Room) and Margaret Mitchell (Gone With The Wind). The first for its dreamy intelligence and haunting prose, and the building of dread and Margaret Mitchell for some of the greatest one liners ever, anachronistic or not.

Starrie said...

Unrelated to the post, really:

A funny thing happened to me on my way home from work today. I got on the bus and ended up beside a man who was holding what I thought might've been a Kindle. I'd never seen a Kindle in real-life before, so I worked up the courage to ask if that was what it was. The guy looked up to answer me and I thought, "Hell, he looks like Nathan Bransford!", but I kept that to myself. Then he mentioned that he was in the publishing business and confirmed that he was a literary agent. And I, thinking "So, are you like, Nathan Bransford?" was really stalker-ish, decided to let the conversation die there.

I really wanted to ask, though.

cynthia howle said...

Thanks. This is most helpful for those of us writing queries to magazine editors as well. Great blog topic.

Nathan Bransford said...

starrie-

Ha! Yeah, that was me. A very exciting day on the 10 Townsend.

AstonWest said...

Was there a correlation between the size of the query and the size of the manuscript, or not so much?

coloradokid said...

The query I was planning to send tomorrow is a little on the long side. I'll cut in half by just using every other word. When you get one that refers to JUSTICE A LIGHT you'll know I paid attention to your blog! You can fill in the missing words with your imagination and probably be right on.

clindsay said...

Nathan -

Better the 10 Townsend that the 22 Fillmore. Just sayin'.

:-P

austexgrl said...

ohhh now I get it..you just do not publish any blogs/posts that do not agree with you, Nathan. Very American!

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

I opened my 'query letter' file with trepidation and peered at the little word counter on the bottom....

493 words! Oh no. I am verbose and overly wordy and perhaps I even unintentionally obfuscate. But the query looks so neat and trim on the screen! Clearly I am also somewhat delusional about my own ability to write.

Then I scrolled down.

HUZZAH! Half of the document is taken up by a query letter posted on this very blog as an example of a Good Query Letter, which I copied for close study.

After deleting it, I once again checked the word counter.

265!

For once in my life, I'm proud to be average. :D

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

WRT the query letter from this blog: by 'copied' I means 'cut-and-pasted' - not 'plagiarized.'

Julie Weathers said...

Hmmm, this was interesting. Mine has been sliced and diced to 250 words and I STILL had people telling me to cut it further.

Thank you.

violinhunter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
violinhunter said...

Everyone seems to want to write! Thanks for the advice.

Anonymous said...

good post

Anonymous said...

good comment

Dreamers Dream said...

wow this helped me alot.
im on the stage of writing my queries and it's very quite stressing.

Your entire is so helpful.

:D

- Hailey

Dreamers Dream said...

entire blog * oops

Ruth said...

Woohoo! I had read this post before but just re-read it today... I'd been worried that my query letter was too short at 264 words (counting the words after "Dear [agent]" and before "Sincerely,"), so this definitely makes me feel better. :) Thanks, Nathan!

Geoffrey Arthur said...

425.

Again. HALF as long.

Siiiggghhhh.....

word counter said...

how he did that 2200 words !!

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