Monday, May 2, 2011

Should You Send That Query? What We Can Learn From The Marshmallow Test.

I know many of you are writers who plan to query or are querying, so this one is for you. However, today's topic applies to just about every area of our lives, so ... I guess this is actually for everyone, but we'll use the road to publication as an example.

Let's say you write a novel. You think it's a good novel. You read over it a few times, and you're amazed this riveting combination of drama and suspense and romance and intrigue could have flown from your fingers. Your mom reads it, and she agrees! She thinks you're the next ________________(insert the name her favorite published author here). Your heart beats faster. Your thoughts whirl with possibilities. You could really do this--you could share your work with the world and make it as a writer. With dreams of making the NYT Best Seller List dancing in your head, you do a little research on how to get published.

What you decide to do next and the implications of that decision can be nicely summed up with the following video.

Let me set this up for you.

You = Kid
Experiment = Query Process
Marshmallow = YOU TELL ME AFTER WATCHING THIS:




On Wednesday, I'll talk more about this experiment, what it tells us about impulse control, and what it could mean for querying writers (and everyone else).

Please stop by Laura's blog to check out her ever-intriguing Mental Health Monday post, and go to Lydia's blog to read her always-awesome Medical Monday post.

Now tell me--what does the marshmallow represent?

28 comments:

  1. That was the cutest thing ever! Love that little blond boy! The marshmallow is your manuscript. Oh, how hard it is to wait ... but if you can resist the impulse, you may, with the passing of time, turn it into something twice as good. :)

    (Also loved the little girl who didn't even wait until the experimenter left the room.)

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  2. That was hilarious. And so, so apt <3

    I love how the girls were all, "Screw this! Omnomnom." while the boys went, "I will PERSEVERE. Um. How long am I supposed to persevere for? OH CRAP. Can I... smell it? Yeah. I'm just going to smell it. And maybe pick off a little bit. And maybe... Wait, I was persevering!"

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  3. Meh. It's not a valid comparison in real world conditions; the variables are too controlled in the test case.

    In a strange/possibly intimidating room, when told to sit still, an extreme juvenile, with nothing else to do and nowhere else to direct their attention will through boredom/hunger/etc. decide to satisfy an immediate desire rather than hold out on hope that a stranger might satisfy a future desire at the end of a specified time period.

    In the real world, we're mostly not juveniles and we're more in control of our environments. We can choose our own reward and our own stakes. We can redirect our attention to other things. There's no clock bearing down to amp up the tension or give a guarantee of payoff. We can write the next thing while waiting; we can seek and receive help.

    The kid can't improve on his marshmallow, nor does he have reason to try. The marshmallow's a constant. A writer CAN improve their query, and has every reason to make their attempt as close to perfect as they can get it. The query's a variable. The reasoning capacity in your average under-eight year old vs. that of you average teen-adult is completely different.

    Put a teenager in the room with a TV, an Ipod and the Internet and have someone remind him every few minutes not to eat the marshmallow if he wants to get two at the end of the experiment and it would be more accurate.

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  4. Josin--you've made several good points! However, there's quite a bit of research to show that this paradigm actually does measure something valid and that it does predict some long-term outcomes for kids (kids from the original marshmallow experiment were followed for 20 years and there were some interesting differences between those who ate the marshmallow and those who didn't).

    In research, we can't replicate the real world, but we can try to create a situation where we can measure characteristics that operate in the everyday. You are TOTALLY right that there are other intervening factors, but impulse-control is quite powerful and predicts significant variance in outcome.

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  5. Bwahahaha!! So then it's not just me!!!!! I can't wait to see the explaination for this one!

    ~JD

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  6. OMG! That is totally querying. I'm still laughing at the one girl who didn't even wait for the researcher to leave before she ate her marshmallow.

    I saw all types of queriers in this, including the ones who send out a few queries (the nibblers) to test the waters. :D

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  7. Awww! So cute!! That little blondie bear could have easily been my little boy! His facial expressions were exactly the same! :D

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  8. HA!That was fun. I'd love to see the same experiment with a bunch of writers and marshmallows.

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  9. Adorable. I also thought it very appropriate that they had an REM song playing in the background, since Michael Stipe's voice goes so perfectly with all things sad or tragic.

    I would argue that this experiment would better mirror the perils of querying early had the marshmallow been somehow flavored like ajax, since querying early is almost certainly going to end with a bad taste in your mouth.

    But I do think it's an interesting study and analogy about impulse control, especially considering your response to Josin's comment.

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  10. I have heard about/seen/read tons about this type of experiment, as one of my sons has ADD and has a hard time controlling impulses. For him, everything has to happen now!

    (I loved the little girl who shovelled the marshmallow in her mouth before the explanation was even finished.)

    I'm not sure I can make an exact analogy about querying, except feeling you may be rewarded if you don't "eat it all at once." In other words, work on it, wait on it, have Matt MacNish and his QQQEers critique it, wait some more, show it to some writer friends, wait and rework even more, and then send out a small batch so that, even if the query reeks after all the work you've done, you haven't completely shot yourself in the foot and can repeat the process all over again until an agent finally (please god, I've worked so hard at not eating the marshmallow!) gives you two marshmallows for all your efforts.

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  11. ohman! i've seen this before! i love the busybody twins! they remind me of my kids. :)
    i'm with dianne. the marshmallow is your wip, the time is the distance you need to look on it with new eyes and rewrite and edit, the results is your success...
    i hope that's right!
    anyway, those kids were so unbelievably cute! and i'm really looking forward to learning about impulse control. (maybe you'll open my eyes to something that will help me resist all those cookies!) :D

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  12. I love the kid who just almost puts it his mouth, throws it back down and covers his eyes. To stinkin' cute! I'd say the marshmellow is your ms too. If you have patience to make it the best it can be, you'll get twice the compensation.

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  13. I laughed so hard! I've seen this test before (diff. version), but it is too perfect not to love it every time. Thanks for starting my Monday morning off with LOL.

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  14. While this wouldn't fit the question (what does the marshmallow itself represent) as well, one could view eating the marshmallow as nagging the query recipient. "Well? Did you get my query? How about it?"...

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  15. So darn cute! I loved watching how squirmy they were. I'll just take a little lick, or a bite, or just look at the bottom. Oh no, I'd better not touch it! Hee hee.

    Okay, having read the above comments, I guess the marshmallow must be our ms, but while watching, I was thinking it might be the agent. We want to take a taste, but we know we're not supposed to.

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  16. OMG! I thought there were human subject review committees! This is more torturous than Milgram!! LOL. SO cute, especially the kid who kisses his. YES NOVELS ARE LIKE MARSHMALLOWS but not cuz they're all fluffy goodness. LOVE THIS POST!

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  17. Love to see the IRB approval for this. What are we doing? TORTURING SMALL CHILDREN.

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  18. Um. Did you write this post for me? I'm on the cusp of querying and that marshmallow looks really, REALLY good.

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  19. LOL!!! That is so hilarous and cute and mean! :D I love how they all had to touch it... and little red's like, "What? I'm eating it now. Do I still have to sit here???"

    good stuff~ <3

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  20. Cute video! It is SO smart to wait before sending. I've been following the rule of waiting about a month before revisions. You can totally hold off when you know that the wait will prevent you from sending crap into the world.

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  21. That.Was.Awesome! Been there, done that, but thankfully don't have to be there anymore. It's always good to wait just a little bit---the bigger the rewards!

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  22. That last little girl...you can tell she was raised right...she cleared her plate ;-)

    That's the querier who queries prematurely but doesn't reply to a rejection. They just move on :D

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  23. LOL! Those kids are sooooo cute!!! The marshmallow totally becomes their entire world. Waiting is SO hard!!!!

    Ugh. I will ponder this as I start to wade in the query pool.

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  24. I am right now going through what I hope is the final revisions on my novel, researching agents, & preparing to write a query letter. So you have great timing.

    I'll have to look out for your next post because really my only response to this video is "Why are they torturing these kids?" oh and "What's so great about a marshmellow that it'd be worth waiting for a second one?"

    Now that I think about it more, if it was me as a kid in that chair (and if I liked marshmellows more) I'd wait for the 2nd one, but then I'd only eat one even then and save the 2nd one for later when I could put it between some graham crackers with some chocolate. I don't think that wouldn't been hard for me to wait. I was great at staring into space and daydreaming when I was a kid.

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  26. One more thing: It really does seem like an excurciatingly long process to write, revise, & get a book published. Maybe I'll get published when I'm sixty. I think the video got to me sublimininininally. (PS: I'd be nice if it posted using my Wordpress account by default. Anyone know how to set that?)

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  27. That's so funny - good on the kid who was able to wait. Yep, I 'd say the marshmallow is your ms.

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  28. Ha. I loved this!

    I'd say the Marshmallow is your MS. :)

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