Hind sight is always 20/20 and I am very analytical, which seems to be the only way to determine if adjustments to your query letter are needed. Unless you have a friend in the business, there is no way to get additional review over the good and the bad of your first draft. The only guidance available without a paid consult are the instructional blogs written by agents themselves. Which is great (don’t get me wrong), but they only suggest how to craft it; there’s never a place to get feedback about your first draft. (Yes there is queryshark, but she is busy, and doesn’t critique everything). Plus every agent is different, and different agents also request query letters in different ways. For example, in an online form submission… Should the ‘summary of work’ section be written like a letter?
Additionally, I am now convinced that an author could read a bunch of Dos and Don’ts guidance, and still end up writing a query that lacks in certain areas, or says too much in others, etc. A solid query will require feedback to ensure a quality letter is written, but in the absence of feedback, one must analyze.
After not winning the Pitch A Palooza, I read the Book Doctor’s description of what constitutes a good query (here) followed by reading the winning query and realized what mine was missing: Character attachment. I needed to describe my protagonist (which went against some instruction I had received earlier) and make the agent connect with my character. Adding in my character to my query forced me to explain other detailed story elements, creating a much more focused and story-centric query.
I must also raise two important notes about my query: 1) my old version had too many superlative sales-pitch descriptions rather than focusing on content, so I removed those. 2) As a fantasy novel, my query is at a slight disadvantage when it comes to word count. Usually someone can just say “Johnny did this” and everyone already knows he is a human. No explanation required. In my case, I need to explain what an elkin is, and who the Soul Smith is.
EDIT: I used to have my query letter here, but I’ve found that it evolves so fast that posting them here seems pointless. The next query letter I post will be the one that lands me an agent! So in it’s place, here is a link to a successful query letter and the agent’s explanation of why she liked it so much: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/successful-queries-agent-jenny-bent-and-oh-my-gods