I've lurked quietly on your blog for years. I had hoped some day to send an email out of the blue with the subject line "My novel is getting published, and I couldn't have done it without you!" But I'm not there yet.
I started querying my novel about a year ago and didn't have much luck. First round: zero full requests out of ten total queries. OK, fine--so I reworked. Second round: one full out of seventeen total queries. OK, fine--I reworked again. But then I got spooked. What if I burn through all the agents in the world with an obviously-flawed letter and manuscript? I'm especially concerned because even with all this editing and help from friends, I'm not convinced my query is actually improving. I haven't sent in that many queries, but the trend isn't great.
So now I can't get past the reworking. I would gladly part with some dollars for a thoughtful/experienced opinion (since I'm too skittish for the forever-public Query Shark). So is there anyone out there who does this well? I've found a few places online, but I don't know if they're any good. I've seen you mention query evals agents will donate for fundraisers--but I don't know how to find these either. Related, any chance chum bucket will open up again? I know it's querying-for-real and not primarily about feedback, but I've been hanging on to my query for you just in case.
The value of QueryShark isn't that you get your query critiqued. The value is you see lots of critiques and figure out how to do it yourself. Read the archives, make notes. Use those notes to assess your query.
It's the same thing you do when you read books in your category: watch how other writers handle challenges, make notes, follow suit.
I get the sense that you think The Answer is somewhere out there, and it's not. There is no one answer, there is only effort, and practice, and paying attention.
You can't buy what you need here which is honing your ability to distinguish good writing from flabby writing, and interesting, compelling novels from ho-hum novels. That comes from reading, and writing.
Stephen King famously said "The first million words are practice" and I think he's spot on.
This isn't going to be easy, and the path is never going to be clear. The best you can do is keep your machete sharp and whack away at the foliage till you clear YOUR path.