Wednesday, May 14, 2008

#26-with revision

Dear Query Shark:

Dogs and foxes are similar in appearance but they are not at all alike in character.

My book is named, 'To Kill a Snake.' John Suter the chief of homicide at the CBI. Is like the hound dog. He is happy to guard the live stock and chase the predators away.

Books aren't named. They are called or titled. You have two sentence fragments. They make your query letter look illiterate. What is CBI?

The fox in this case is Ryan Stone. His son has been killed by a jealous rival for the attention of a girl at a graduation party. Ryan's quest for revenge takes him into the dark world of drug dealing. After he enters that world in search of vindication he finds, he like the fox, is over whelmed with blood lust. He is killing for the shear joy of it

Your punctuation renders your sentence meaningless. I believe what you mean to say is finds he, like the fox, is overwhelmed. The rule on clauses set apart by commas is: if you remove the clause the sentence must still make sense. If I remove your clause I get: he finds is overwhelmed with bloodlust. And in fact you'd do better with a well chosen that: he finds that like the fox he is over whelmed with blood lust.

When I see this string of errors in diction, grammar and punctuation I stop reading. Words are your tools and yours need to be sharpened.

The drug cartel sent an enforcer to put an end to the leakage of money and drugs caused by Ryan’s activities.

John Suter and Patty Bell are called in to investigate killings at a small airport near Erie Colorado. They are soon up to their necks in the chase. They need to find the person who is stacking up bodies faster then they can travel to the locations.

We already know who the villain is. You need to start with this and then reveal the villain or it's anti-climactic.

You aren't ever up to your neck in a chase, the metaphor doesn't make any physical or visual sense.

In the end Ryan Stone and the enforcer have a shoot out in a local park. Ryan is shot by the enforcer. Suter arrives on the scene and is forced to shoot the enforcer. He is profoundly disturbed by this event because he has never before fired his weapon at another person.

There's no plot here. You've described a series of events about four people.

To Kill a Snake is a story of about 103400 words. I have added the first few pages to this e-mail. I am now writing another Suter story. I will have a completed draft by the end of July I also have another book on the back burner ready to start as soon as I finish the one I am working on.

Thank you for your time and attention. I am hoping to hear from you soon.

Form rejection letter.

Revison #1

John Suter has always been happy to guard the live stock and chase the predators away. He is a hound dog by nature. This has always worked well for him in his capacity as chief of homicide at theCBI. (Colorado Bureau of Investigation.)

John Suter and his partner, Patty Bell, have been asked to come to the airport at the small town of Erie just north of Denver. The Chief of the Erie police thought that seven murders would be well beyond the capacity of his small four man police force. When the operating crew arrived at the airport, that morning, they had found seven bodies scattered across the tarmac.

John slowly walked the perimeter of the crime scene. The view reminded him of the morning he had walked into the chicken coop shortly after the visit of the neighborhood fox. That morning, as now, everything he seen was dead.

This is not a hook, it's a description of what happens early in the book. It's not that compelling because we don't have a sense of why this matters.

Everything he seen? Basic errors in grammar raise the bar for your query to Olympian levels.

When Ryan Stone's son was killed by a low level drug dealer, Ryan went hunting for the men responsible. He found that he enjoyed the excitement of the hunt, and was pleasantly surprised by the stacks of unexpected money. After Ryan had left an impressive total of bodies behind; the drug cartel sent Royal Roybal to stop the cash bleed. Roybal soon began to stack up his own total of victims. After perusing the scene at the airport John felt his hound instincts going to work. John and Patty Bell start to hunt down the pair of foxes that have invaded their chicken coop.

This paragraph is a mess. The sentences don't connect to each other. We don't know who Ryan Stone is; we think John Suter and Patty Bell are the people you're talking about. There's no connection to the scene at the airport with Ryan or this other guy Royal.

My novel 'To Kill a Snake' is 103000 words. I am currently writing another story with John Suter and Patty Bell, as the protagonists. There is another novel in line behind that one. I will have a first draft by the end of July.

form rejection


R. Lyle Wolfe said...


Please vacate the water, immediately!

Lucy said...

Excuse me if I'm wrong, but I get the impression from your query that English is not your first language. I am a certified English teacher; I've worked with a number of ESL students, and this is the kind of writing I often see from them. If English is not your first language, then this is a very courageous attempt to express yourself, and I applaud you for it. However: you need more years of experience with the language.

If English is your first language, I'm sorry, but you need to spend some time taking specialized corrective writing classes such as are offered by community colleges. This doesn't mean that you can't or won't be a good writer, but it does mean some very hard work ahead.

Whatever the case, I truly wish you the best.

K.B. said...

He is killing for the shear joy of it

Shears are type of scissors. The word wanted here is sheer. Darn those homophones. Unless, of course, this guy really does have a scissors fetish, or he uses sentient Fiskars as a weapon of choice.

Sarah Laurenson said...

A query letter is your first impression. You aren't making a good one with typos and missing punctuation. If you have someone who critiques your manuscript, ask them to critique your query. If you don't, you might want to consider getting someone before sending out a query or any part of your manuscript.

talpianna said...

Given the location, "CBI" would appear to be "Colorado Bureau of Investigation."

IS there an "Erie, Colorado"? According to Wikipedia, "The Erie (also Erielhonan, Eriez, Nation du Chat) were an Iroquoian pre- and early-historic group of Native Americans, who lived from western New York to northern Ohio on the south shore of Lake Erie."

It would be very unusual for a city in Colorado to be named for an Eastern tribe.

Anonymous said...

It's a half hour north of Denver. Check it out on Not very big, but it's there.

I've actually seen MUCH worse writing from people who claim English as their first language. Maybe I'm just jaded, but I kept thinking about how much worse this query letter could have been.

Still, it should always be one's best foot forward.

Ulysses said...

In addition to the spelling, grammar and punctuation already mentioned, I'm concerned about length. 103K words is a little long for a first, non-epic fantasy effort, isn't it?

A good chainsaw trim wouldn't hurt.

Anonymous said...

I dunno. In what I've seen, 75-150k is perfectly reasonable for a novel length (not sure about the first time though). Epic fantasy is more like 250-500k.

Lucy said...

"I've actually seen MUCH worse writing from people who claim English as their first language."

So have I; that's one reason I thought that English might be the second language here! ;-) I've had the pleasure of working with ESL students who were ahead of some native English speakers in several aspects of the language. The one thing that they consistently struggled with, though, was appropriate word choice; and that's a problem that I'm seeing in this query, besides the grammatical issues. Unfortunately, word choice is so context-dependent that it's one of the hardest skills to master in acquiring a second language.

Josh Everett Ryan said...

"You have two sentence fragments. They make your query letter look illiterate"

Is there ever a good time, or an excusable reason, to use sentence fragments in a query letter?

I used sentence fragments in my own query that I sent to you. They're fragments for a specific reason, though... and it helps make the tone of the query letter reflect the tone of the novel.

I'm a little worried now.

Lehcarjt said...

The query opened up with a dog/fox scenario. It totally threw me when it was titled 'To Kill a Snake.' Too many animals for, especially as the fox/snake are the same person - right?

Also, who/what is the enforcer? Is that another name for the fox/snake? I got a bit lost with that.

beth said...

I could read a book that was written like this letter. The grammar has to be better, or I won't read. In all honesty, Janet got along much further than I did! I stopped after the second paragraph.

mbenkin said...

For a minute I thought the story was about talking dog policemen and murdering, drug smuggling foxes. You know, Animal Farm meets CSI. It could be a bloody barnyard bonanza. In fact, if you turned it into an allegory and named it 'Bloody Barnyard Bonanza' I'd probably buy it.

Aimless Writer said...

Did we need the fox/dog analogy? I think it was distracting. I kept waiting for it to mean something.

r.lyle wolfe; lol for the feeding frenzy!

Editorial Anonymous said...

“livestock” is one word.
“overwhelmed” is one word.
Hound dogs are for hunting, not guarding livestock.

talpianna said...

Erie, CO might have been founded by a homesick New Yorker.

Actually, foxes and dogs aren't all that different. Has anyone read Rita Mae Brown's Jefferson Hunt Club mysteries, where horses, dogs, foxes, etc. have speaking parts as well as the humans? The cleverest fox and the smartest young hound have become friends. (Of course, this is foxhunting in Virginia, where they don't kill the quarry if they can help it.) Also Disney's THE FOX AND THE HOUND.

As for long first novels, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was a first novel; and ANATOMY OF A MURDER was a second novel, but no one had ever heard of his first one.

Incidentally, neither foxes nor dogs are natural enemies of snakes. That would be cats, or members of the mongoose family.

Just_Me said...

Dear Author~
I think you have a workable idea for a story but I'm not sure you should rush off to Book 2 just yet. I recommend finding a critique group, one that won't just smile and nod but one that will actually work with you to improve the story.
The critique group should be able to help with the clarity of your query letter as well.
I'm guessing that with some editing and rewrites you can have an excellent novel. Don't rush for publication with your first draft. Let it sit, go back and revise, and get some honest advice from other writers before you try your next query.

Phoenix said...

Is there ever a good time, or an excusable reason, to use sentence fragments in a query letter?

Josh: Like anything, it's all in the execution. Stylistic fragments used appropriately should never be a concern. Inappropriately used frags, such as the ones here, are.

Of course, this author might have originally had "CBI" as "C.B.I." and forgotten to remove the last period and the word-processing program automatically capped the "I" after the period. Unfortunately, sloppy proofing is still a no-no, and the rest of the errors in the query point to more than just a typo.

Josh Everett Ryan said...

Phoenix: Thanks! Very reasonable answer. I hoped that as long as it looked like I knew what I was doing, I'd be safe and not look illiterate. Thanks again.