How Can You Improve Your Query Letter?

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Q. I asked a question this morning [note from Chuck: at the meeting of the Northern Ohio SCBWI where I was teaching] about submitting to my top choice agents first, and whether that was a good idea or not. I was wondering if maybe I would learn something by submitting to some other agents first. Your response - "If you don't feel comfortable submitting, maybe you aren't ready" - made me stop and think. But as I thought about it, I think the root of my question is that the query itself seems to have such a high importance, that it may take a few tries to get it right. If I send it off to five agents and get no response, then maybe the query needs modified. Better yet, maybe I do get some kind of feedback, rather than a form response, that helps me write the query better. So it isn't that I don't think my writing isn't ready, it is more that I'm not sure if the query is. Am I just overthinking this thing way too much?
- D. Robert

A. So you're concerned that your query is not up to snuff, correct? OK, well the first thing to know is that submitting to agents will offer you nothing in terms of how to make it better. If the query doesn't hook the agent, you will get a form rejection. You may get a personalized rejection letter when they say no to your sample writing (a partial or full ms), but I've never heard of an agent giving feedback to a query. So, that said, if you just get form rejections to your query, the only feedback you will get is "This doesn't work," but they won't have any specifics.
Next thought: If you are afraid your query stinks, but are convinced that the writing is good, then why not contact agents that also request sample pages along with the query? That way, you can at least put your writing foot forward.
If you're simply looking for ways to improve your query, let me offer four quick tips of advice:

1. Check out this post on "How to Write a Query Letter to a Literary Agent"

2. Also visit this post on how to establish a connection with an agent upfront, letting them know you picked them out of the big pile for a reason. 

3. Query Shark is a site run by agent Janet Reid, where she invites people to send in queries, and then critiques them.

4. My boss, Jane Friedman, has a post on the 5 Elements of Query Letters.

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