do and don't

No long sentences, no exceptions

No long sentences. No exceptions.

I know the classics get away with it. Epic fantasy sometimes gets away with it. But when was the last time you read a paragraph-long sentence without skimming or losing track of the subject?

Ahead of me, the road is slick and shining from the latest shower, sparkling in my headlights so that it’s hard to see if I’m still keeping at a safe distance and reminding me starkly of the last time I was out tailing a client — the time when Senator Jimmy Rens caught me following too close and pressed charges, ruining my career and landing me here, tailing a mobster through the dark on the riskiest assignment of my life.

(1 sentence, 79 words)

Long sentences lose my attention: I have to reread to keep all the clauses, verbs, and objects straight. I often skim.

You’re welcome to have a unique voice and writing style. But in the query and sample pages, I don’t want to see a sentence carrying on line after line. You have a couple pages to persuade me you can write, and long sentences don’t convince me you know the value of a word.

If you want a guideline, 35 words is a healthy limit for queries. Writing styles will vary. If you find a sentence as long as the one above, it’s time to edit.

Ahead of me, the road is slick and shining from the latest shower. It sparkles in my headlights, making it hard to see if I’m still keeping at a safe distance. I’m reminded starkly of the last time I was out tailing a client. Senator Jimmy Rens caught me following too close, pressed charges, and ruined my career. That’s how I landed here, tailing a mobster through the dark on the riskiest assignment of my life.

(5 sentences, 15 words average)

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