Sunday, March 26, 2023




Regarding the acceptable word count of a query letter, the body of this letter is 250. I had other short versions (<200 words) but continued receiving form rejections from agents. I added more content to this letter to provide better story detail. Still, my concern is that the letter needs to be shorter, more enjoyable, or both. I don't know which.


Word count is a flexible target. You can go over the 250 target without worrying about some sort of auto-pass. Some queries need more words.  If you're over 400, that's when to sharpen your scissors. Anything under 250 runs the risk of not getting enough story on the page. 


BUT, word count isn't the issue with your query.

The issue is you don't have the story on the page.


Getting the story on the page means that after reading the query I should be able to tell you:

1. Who the main character is

2. What they want

3. What's getting in the way of getting what they want.

4. What's at stake if they don't get it. 

And I should be able to do this without needing to take notes. Remember, agents are NOT reading your query as though it's a text book. They're reading to get an idea of the story and your writing style.

A lot of detail, or too much abstraction stymies them.

Avoid that.


Dear Query Shark,


Meet Dr. Niklos Krylov, inventor of the Save-Transmit Machine (STM). With it, the world is forever changed... for the worse.


The excitement of the STM's debut 

What was STM designed to do? If there's excitement, your reader is led to believe it was something good.


quickly turns to horror when the machine unleashes identical hydrogen bombs in cities across the Earth. The event, known as the Trinity Attack, drives the world to anarchy. Nik, overcome with guilt and shame, retreats into hiding.


My hope is that Nik did not invent the STM machine in order to unleash hydrogen bombs.

What did he invent it for?


In other words, what did Nik want to do that was thwarted by the godawful results of his experiment?


But his concealment is short-lived. A slave-mining operation captures Nik and forces him to dig for the radioactive fuel that powers the STM.


Slave mining implies that the operation is mining for slaves.

I'm pretty sure that's not what you mean here.


What you mean is a mining operation that uses slaves to dig.  Revise this for clarity.



When a fellow prisoner's life is at risk, Nik's expertise as the STM's inventor is exposed. His captors issue a brutal ultimatum: reveal his identity or die in silence.


Ok, but why? What do the captors want that revealing his identity will get for them?




Nik surrenders to their whips, but a group of freedom fighters rescues him before he becomes another pawn in the STM-powered apocalypse.


What STM-powered apocalypse? You've told us that the world dissolved into anarchy when the STM unleashed hydrogen bombs. Is the machine still functioning? What is it doing? Who's got their foot on the metaphorical gas pedal?



With their help, Nik sets out on a journey of survival through the ruins of civilization and into the reaches of space. When he uncovers the origin of the Trinity Attack, Nik is shocked to learn a horrible secret. The STM was used to alter the human condition. 


Alter the human condition? That's too abstract to be useful. Specifics are very useful in a query.


Faced with moral and ethical dilemmas, Nik tries to right the wrongs of his past and end the destruction caused by the STM.


He can't end the destruction if it's already happened. He can either fix the destruction, or stop the destruction from continuing. 


So, who's the antagonist here?

Is it the STM machine, or the person who's operating it?



Comps go here

You should include 2-3 books that your intended readers will have read and liked. Comps need to be recent (pubbed no earlier than 2019); on your shelf (in this case SF); and pubbed by a trade house large or small (but not self-pubbed.) 

Bio goes here

It's useful to include a couple lines about you. It warms up the query. If you don't have any pub credits don't worry. Your bio is about you, not your work. Where you live; dogs/cats/dragons and other pets. That kind of thing.


Eschaton, an 87,000-word science-fiction thriller, explores the consequences of technological advancements gone wrong. It would be my debut novel,


One of the main requirements of a thriller is a ticking clock. That's not evident in your query. If it's NOT in the book, this isn't a thriller. That's ok. Just don't call it one if it isn't. 

and I would be grateful for the opportunity to bring this work to publication with you. 


 You are not a supplicant even if it feels that way sometimes.

You are providing an agent with the opportunity to sell your work and make some money. Be grateful when she does that. Right now just thank her for her time and consideration as you do next.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


It sounds like your story is: A machine goes haywire. Chaos ensues.

That's the concept for a gazillion movies, most of them based on books.

In other words, something that we've all seen a lot of.

Agents are looking for fresh and new.

That does NOT mean you can't have a machine going haywire and chaos ensues.

What it means is that you need your fresh take on this. You need distinctive characters that we're engaged with and care about. You want to tell us a story in a way that makes us see things in a new light. You have to elevate the category, not just add to it.


In other words, you gotta tell me what makes your book better and different.

And that's not by saying "my book is better and different."

You have to show it in the story you're enticing me to read.

So your revision is twofold: get the story on the page, and frame it in such a way that it feels fresh and new.

This is NOT an easy task. It's not a matter of changing up a few words here and there.

Good revising requires deep thinking.