I've been keeping up with my queries of late, and here are some notes from the incoming mail that may prove useful to those of you in the Query Trenches.
1. Query was ok, but not captivating. It felt like a million things I'd seen before.
How you will avoid this: More vivid language in a query is almost always a good idea. Not MORE words, but more vivid words. If you can't look at your query and think of more vivid words to use, it's time to do some more reading in your category. Really watch for how the masters of the craft deftly convey character and plot with word choices.
2. Query for a book I didn't want to read
How you will avoid this: you won't and shouldn't. You have no way of discerning what I want to read, and if you think you do, you're wrong. You should query me for everything, and I'll figure it out on this end. What's the worst thing that will happen? You'll hear no.
3. Query did not explain any thing specific about what information the book would offer that I would find useful (this was non-fiction.)
How you will avoid this: I can not over emphasize how important it is to be specific, not abstract, with queries for non-fiction. "I will make you glamorous in 30 days" isn't helpful. "Here are ten specific things you can to do to your wardrobe to create a more polished appearance" is. See the difference. Know the difference. WRITE the difference.
4. Query described characters I found unappetizing.
How you will avoid this: Remember, your reader has to be interested in your characters. Make sure you tell us something that will entice us, not describe a sad sack who's made a series of poor choices and now the chickens have come home to roost. Some of this might be my personal impatience with people who are the engines of their own destruction (drug addicts, drunks, people who marry abusers thinking they'll change him/her) but not all.
5. Query had pages with unpublishable writing
How you will avoid this: If you're hearing a lot of NO, or great swaths of silence, it's time to get some eyes on your work. And I don't mean your crit group or your beta readers because presumably, they ok'd the pages you're sending out and thus have failed miserably in helping you understand your work isn't up to snuff. Enroll in a writing workshop, hit a conference, pay for a critique of pages. Don't just keep querying because no one is EVER going to say "your writing isn't up to snuff" in a rejection letter.
6. Query was clearly slap dash effort by someone who had spent no time learning the basics of the publishing industry. Also, nothing about the actual book.
How you will avoid this: you already have, simply by reading publishing blogs and acquainting yourselves with how querying works.