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Some writers spend more time writing and revising their query letters than they did penning their novel. From all the agent-represented writers I’ve met over the years, it took the majority of them 70 versions of their query before they created The One. (That’s average! Remember, Lyn Hawks sent 150.)

As part of my self-induced summer reading I’m in the middle of Writing & Selling Your Memoir by literary agent Paula Balzer. (Yes, I finished all the other books and only have The Great Gatsby left on my list…and summer has not even officially started yet!) I was happy to see Balzer confirm an answer in her book to a debate that often comes up in writing groups: Should you include the word count in your query letter? This will start off my list of tips for writing query letters…

  1. Do not include the word count in your query letter. According to books and interviews with agents that I’ve reviewed, they don’t want to know. Your query letter is your chance to get their attention. If your story is intriguing they will want to read it regardless of the length. Including the word count could hurt you. Too long? Expensive to print. Too short? It might be a novella, which is harder for an agent to sell to a publisher. (Too too short? I want to create a new category called the novellita.)
  2. Do not indent each paragraph or apply special formats. 100% of the agents I’ve spoken with and researched do not want oddly formatted letters. They are receiving HUNDREDS of queries each day. Make their jobs easy for them and give them what they want: A three or four-paragraph, single-page query letter with no indentations or fancy fonts. Don’t think you’re setting yourself apart from the pile of other queries because each paragraph has a few more spaces in front of it. If querying were only testing your grasp of document formatting skills…

Having the right query doesn’t mean you have a ticket to publication. Your novel will speak for itself. If your query “worked” – that means it got the agent’s attention. On the first Monday of every month I host a Query Clinic in Raleigh. We discuss what not to do and what to include, I bring copies of successful queries, and we critique each other’s letters. Join Triangle Writers if you’re in the Raleigh area, or keep an eye out for virtual critiques here.