I often make this comparison out loud, but I never have blogged about it. Query letters are standardized tests for writers.
I’m from Texas y’all—and even though I’ve lived from sea to shining sea there are some things you never forget.
Do you remember standardized tests for writing? Follow the same drab five paragraph format or lest you be FAILED. You must include these EXACT things in each paragraph or lest you be FAILED TWICE. You had a page and a half in which to do this, girlie hand writing be damned. Artistic flare? I don’t even think so.
That’s how I feel about query letters. I feel like no matter how good your content is, you’re sunk if you don’t follow their rules. Only for the standardized test people are forced to teach you how to take it, for query letters it’s more of a crap shoot, because not every agent is dealing with the same set of rules.
Sure, there are some things you absolutely must do—but how? Execution is everything, and when not everyone is looking for the same important bits and you are forced to shove complex story lines and many many words into only a handful of paragraphs you have to use a combination of generalized plot points and exciting pieces.
And yes, there are some experts out there that can teach you how to play the game. What to say and when, and that may improve your odds.But these kings and queens of the query letter often disagree about the best way to do things, or what exactly is the query crux.
Don’t forget your #2 pencil.