(This was first published back in 2009. Now that I'm querying again, and thus aware of what's going on out there, I'm struck by the fact that in six years, things are still the same. Wow, or not. As for me? Still following the rules.)
I'm a pretty law-abiding citizen. If you overlook my occasional indifference to speed limits on long stretches of open highway, you could really call me squeaky. I really don't understand disregard for the law, especially when the law simply codifies common sense and protects the vulnerable.
It drives me nuts seeing parents at my kids' school jaywalking their kids across the fairly busy street. (Worse in the rain. Trust me, don't get me started there.) I realize the parents are watching cars, waiting for tolerant drivers to stop in the flow of traffic to let them cross, rendering the practice more or less safe, but it still irks me. There are crosswalks at either end of the school, and sure, it would add two minutes to the twice-daily routine--but at what cost are they buying those 240 seconds? As I see it, those parents are teaching their kids that their time is more important than other people's; that the rules don't matter; and that taking a shortcut is okay if you don't get caught.
There are times to break the rules. I get that. Civil disobedience has its place; our country wouldn't exist without it. But I don't agree that a busy street with frazzled drivers, a situation in which a moment's inattention can transform those saved two minutes into a lifetime of regret, is the place to introduce the concept to a seven-year-old. Not that I think these parents consider they're teaching those kids anything. They're simply focused on getting them to school on time. Even so, the thing about breaking rules is that you have to know the rule and have followed it before it's meaningful to break it. (Or safe, for that matter--and in the case of the Founding Fathers, at least worth the considerable risk.)
For writers on the cusp, it's not time to break the rules, either. I'm equally amused and amazed reading accounts of queries stuffed with glitter, or packaged with trinkets, or accompanied by not-funny joke death threats. I'll admit that when I first learned about the system, my mind flickered to what pretty paper on which I'd print my queries. Luckily for me, information is plentiful to anyone who exerts themselves even mildly, and I'm pleased to report I never sent out a query on anything but plain white bond, SASE included.
The query system isn't perfect. We all know that. Laws aren't perfect. But both work pretty well almost all of the time, and if you follow both, chances are your sparkling manuscript will find representation, and you'll remain ticket-free (and un-maimed). Querying is not the time to flaunt the rules. That's not what gets noticed. Shining within the guidelines is the way to catch an agent's attention. And since your manuscript has one shot with that agent, play it safe. Play it smart. Cross your T's, dot your I's, stay inside the crosswalk. Allow your project to provide the glamour.
And teach your kids to follow the rules instead of how to get around them. They'll figure that out on their own when they're teenagers.