We all know that critique groups and beta readers can be a great thing. I have a fab critique group and have also met up with a few super awesome beta readers with this last manuscript (*waves at J. Leigh, who got through my book in record time and offered awesome input). So I'm a big proponent of getting this kind of feedback. I think it's the rare writer that can produce a perfectly polished manuscript in isolation.
However, what I never considered was the query critique aspect of things. That letter, which we talked about yesterday, can make or break your chance with an agent or publisher. I typically send mine to my crit group and get their opinion, which is uber helpful, BUT I didn't take into account that they usually know the story by the time they see the query.
At Queryfest, the agents suggested having separate people to crit your query--people who haven't read your story. Your crit group may be great, but if they've already read your story, when they read the query, their mind is going to automatically fill in any blanks the letter may have.
I think this may have been the issue with a few of the queries they critiqued in the workshop. You could tell the people knew how to write, but the summary was so confusing that we were left going, "Wait, what?"
So seek out others to run the query by, see if they "get" your story and are hooked by doing a cold read of that letter alone. Let them play agent. Or, post on a site like Public Query Slushpile--I've always gotten solid feedback there as well. If you find yourself having to answer questions and fill in the blanks for the people reading it, then you haven't conveyed the idea clearly. Revise.
I've already taken this advice and hooked up with one of my new buddies I met at RWA *waves at Murphy* and it's been great to get an outside opinion.
So what do you do to get your query in shape? Do you get it critiqued or just go for it? Have you ever posted on one of the public sites to get feedback? And feel free to put your email in the comments if you want to exchange query critiquing with others.