Q: Every time I start to write a magazine query letter, I seem to write an entire synopsis of a work. How do I know where to stop? — Adora Mitchell Bayles
A: This is an extremely common question. Most writers (myself included) can babble on about their brilliant ideas (which we all have many) and just don't know where to stop, particularly in query letters. But there are a few rules you can follow to keep it brief and to the point.
Query letters should be no more than one page. Typically, shorter is better. You'll need room for your qualifications and your details (how many words you believe the piece will be, how long it'll take you to finish, where the editor can find your clips, etc.). This leaves, at most, one-half page for your intro (lead) and brief synopsis.
Both the intro and synopsis should be no more than 3-4 sentences each. That's all an editor really needs to know whether or not the idea is a fit for his publication. If you can't slice it down to that, you don't have a strong focus to your piece and need to hone your idea.
Because of email, editors receive queries at an unprecedented rate and have little time to rummage through them. To give yourself the best chance at catching their attention and getting a fair shake, follow the rules above. It shows that you're a professional and have done your homework.
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.