How to Trim Your Query to 250 Words (or Fewer): Advice from Agent Janet Reid

Agent Janet Reid of New Leaf Literary (formerly FinePrint Literary Management), aka the Query Shark, gave this information at a query workshop for the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group.


This guest post is by Donna Gambale and
Frankie Diane Mallis, critique partners
who blog at
when they’re not writing young adult
novels. (Donna, author of “Magnetic Kama
Sutra,” also previously guest blogged here)



Your ability to write a query that does your novel justice can make or break your chances of landing an agent. Reid recommends spending two months perfecting this 250-word marvel.

Your query encompasses three sections:
1. 100 words answering the question “What is the book about?”
2. A brief summary of your writing credits, if you have them.
3. Miscellaneous information on how you found the agent or why you chose him/her.


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Section One:
1. Back story.
2. World building.
3. Character roll call.
4. Telling.
5. A synopsis.

Section Two:
1. Academia – classes, teachers, degrees, dissertations.
2. Conferences you’ve attended.
3. Self-published novels, or traditionally published novels with poor sales.
4. Personal information.

Section Three:
1. Begging, flattery.
2. Arrogance or self-deprecation.
3. Offer of an exclusive.
4. Your marketing plan.
5. Quotes from rejection letters, paid editors, critique groups, your mom.


Section One:
1. Title, genre, word count.
2. The essentials of your novel. (Every time you think you know, ask yourself “So what? And then?” until you’re left with your main character, conflict, and consequences.)

Section Two:
1. Published short stories or novels.
2. Published magazine or newspaper articles.

Section Three:
1. Why you chose this agent.
2. A connection you have from a conference/workshop.

Start from the bare bones and build from there. Infuse each section with your book’s personality. Consider every word. Don’t forget your contact information. And close with “Thank you for your time and consideration.” Now get trimming!

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0 thoughts on “How to Trim Your Query to 250 Words (or Fewer): Advice from Agent Janet Reid

  1. Just a Brit

    What a big hypothetical or rather hyprocritical mish mash of the perfect query letter but I don’t reckon it works. Nay, it really doesn’t not in the world of the agent who knows it all! To become an agent is to be sensitive to the needs of the writer, to understand the world in which they plunge in and to know the lingo/language they speak in. When an agent sends you a rude email, it begs the question of where she is really coming from. Don’t feel bad when an agent rejects you – I have seen their language fraught with grammer errors, bad sentence construction, bad choice of words etc etc. etc. Just find the one who works with you and find a good one too, not someone who sits hyped up there and looks down at you from a crown that is not quite there at all!

  2. Marco Dante

    The word infuse seems to contradict the advice for sections 1, 2 & 3. Also, if you close with a simple, Thank you, that trims another four words and saves you even more valuable time. It is one thing to request that authors research agents and target each one individually, to know what they represent and how they like to receive submissions, but then to expect writers to know and address each and every one of each and every agents detailed list of likes and dislikes (if they can even find them in a blog or a website or a book) in a letter that’s going to be read by an intern is absurd. You want us to respect your time, what about ours. And yes, I know I have broken all of the (your) rules here. Sorry. Thank you for your time and consideration. Marco
    PS: Please pardon what may appear to be bitterness on my part. I know that you are only trying to offer some helpful advice. I know that you are inundated with submissions. But try to see it from the writer’s perspective. Sit in the audience instead of on a panel at a future writer’s conference and witness the barrage of negativity that agents heap on us when they start sharing war stories of misspelled names, cookie-cutter e-mails, and their complete and utter dismissal of anything that doesn’t grab them in the first paragraph. You know, some of us really do try to get it right and follow all of the (your) rules. The problem is, there are just too many of them.

  3. Mike Chen

    The "no marketing ideas" thing confuses me. I’ve read that agents like that you’ve already given marketing and platform some thought, as it gives them a first step in figuring out who this book is targeted for.



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