Wednesday, August 3, 2011

And You Thought You Were Done With Standardized Tests

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.

taksLogo

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.

52 comments :

Karen said...

SO true!! So incredibly subjective. Standardized testing is also for the birds BTW! ;)

LynNerd said...

You're spot on. I completely agree with you on this. *Breaking #2 pencil in half* Snap! Nice post.

Patricia Lynne said...

I think you hit the nail on the head. Makes me glad I'm not sending queries out to agents since I'm self pubbing (still writing queries cuz I think the practice makes good blurbs.) Why can't all the agents get together and come up w/ a standard for submissions? Make it easier on the writers.

Chelsey said...

I was better than this at standardized tests....

JEFritz said...

Wow...they really ARE the standardized tests of the writing world. You can break the rules if you dare, but you're going to pay for it.

SP Sipal said...

Excellent analogy, Angela. I had to grade some standardized writing tests this year, which I took training for. The instructors tried so hard to make it seem like the grading matrix was complete objective, but no matter how many points they assigned to exactly each grammatical or style infraction, when it actually came down to me assigning a score, it was absolutely based on my perception of those points and the essay.

And when our queries hit an editor's or agent's desk, it's all about how their perception that day fits with what we seem to be selling.

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