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RustyVanReeves
08-07-2005, 08:31 PM
August 5, 2005

XXX Agency
c/o XXX XXXXX
XXXXX Rd.
XXXXXX, NY 10023

Dear MX. XXXXX:

I write a column entitled A Southern Son for the Madison County Herald. The column has a wide local following and I routinely receive many e-mails from readers telling me similar stories about their childhood and references to how much they enjoy reading my work.

In 2003, the local newspaper was asking my opinion about stem cell research for an article during the presidential election. I am a C4 quadriplegic since a 1975 freak high school football accident left me paralyzed from the shoulders down. During the interview, I mentioned I liked to write purely for myself. Intrigued, the editor asked to see my writing and I showed her several essays that I had tucked away in my bedroom closet from decades past. After reading them, she asked me to write a column converting my stories to a mere 1,000 words. I sent her a sample and that’s how my column began. I never imagined my journal of personal thoughts would be the Saturday fare for numerous readers across our county and even into outlying states.

I have recently compiled these into a book entitled NEWTON AVENUE AND DEERE STREET. The 50 stories are a poignant look back at growing up in the 1970s in a small southern town in Mississippi. They are reflective, somber accounts of childhood with an uplifting message that many people can relate to in a very personal manner. They all fall within the parameters of good taste—they push the boundaries of the heart and show readers a unique view of life from both sides of the fence while maintaining that rich style and flavor of the south. Finding fragments of your own life in these pages will be easy.

The manuscript is about 60,000 words. Similar works include All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum; Nothing is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life by Christopher Reeve; and Handbook for the Soul by Richard Carlson.

My other writing credits include two recently finished unpublished novels and a screenplay. Also, my essay entitled Tuesday's Gone will be published in the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature (September 2005).

I'm currently looking for an agent to represent this nonfiction collection. I would be happy to mail you the entire manuscript or sample chapters. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to present my work. Letter SASE is enclosed.

Best regards,

Rusty Van Reeves

Julie Worth
08-07-2005, 09:05 PM
The first paragraph I like. I’d leave off the next one, as it doesn’t seem relevant to the work. In the third, I’d double or triple the words, adding some poignant snippets, perhaps, and leaving off any reference to good taste. Similarly, I’d delete the words writing credits, as unpublished novels don’t count for much, and you’ve already established your credentials as a writer in the first sentence. I’d say, “This is my third book. Another work, Tuesday's Gone, will be published later this year in the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.” No need to say that the other two books are unpublished, is there?

RustyVanReeves
08-07-2005, 11:48 PM
The first paragraph I like. I’d leave off the next one, as it doesn’t seem relevant to the work. In the third, I’d double or triple the words, adding some poignant snippets, perhaps, and leaving off any reference to good taste. Similarly, I’d delete the words writing credits, as unpublished novels don’t count for much, and you’ve already established your credentials as a writer in the first sentence. I’d say, “This is my third book. Another work, Tuesday's Gone, will be published later this year in the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.” No need to say that the other two books are unpublished, is there?



:hi:

Thank you very much, Julie. Is this better? What kind of snippets? Quotes from my columns?

August 5, 2005
XXX Agency
c/o XXX XXXXX
XXXXX Rd.
XXXXXX, NY 10023

Dear MX. XXXXX:
I write a column entitled A Southern Son for the Madison County Herald. The column has a wide local following and I routinely receive many e-mails from readers telling me similar stories about their childhood and references to how much they enjoy reading my work.

I have recently compiled these into a book entitled ON THE CORNER OF NEWTON AVENUE AND DEERE STREET. The 50 stories are a poignant look back at growing up in the 1970s in a small southern town in Mississippi. They are reflective, somber accounts of childhood with an uplifting message that many people can relate to in a very personal manner. They all push the boundaries of the heart and show readers a unique view of life while maintaining that rich style and flavor of the south. Finding fragments of your own life in these pages will be easy. Below is an excerpt from a column called Magical Quarters.

After a meal we would exit Pasquales, walking out into the night of city lights to the car. We would chew our toothpick just like dad. In many ways we wanted to be him, minus the temper. But this night was fine. Not ruined by clinched teeth or ugly words but salvaged by fate and the sheer will of two little boys. We thought we could make him love us. We thought we could control that monster inside him, even if he couldn’t. But the bruises came and they went along with the long streaks of normal.

In the twilight of the evening we would pile into the old Oldsmobile. The return trip home was comfortable, cozy and quiet. My brother usually slept on the seat. On first glance we looked like any other family and most of the time we were I suppose. Whatever normal is, we were close.

--another excerpt. This one from Interstate 20...

I remember that weekend stubble on his chin nestled in the crease of my neck as I drove and the smell of Vitalis and sweat behind me. Even though my feet didn't reach the pedals I felt like I was driving. I was never scared with him wrapped around me. That's the best thing daddies can do — make you feel safe, showing you life from the driver's seat, letting you glimpse a bit of what is to come.

The manuscript is about 60,000 words. Similar works include All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum; Nothing is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life by Christopher Reeve; and Handbook for the Soul by Richard Carlson.

This is my third book. My essay, Tuesday's Gone, will be published later this year in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature (September 2005).

I'm currently looking for an agent to represent this nonfiction collection. I would be happy to mail you the entire manuscript or sample chapters. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to present my work. Letter SASE is enclosed. Recycle the unwanted pages.

Best regards,



Rusty Van Reeves

Encl: SASE

Julie Worth
08-08-2005, 12:48 AM
I love these excerpts! Perhaps you could transition them so they blend in. Something like...

...push the boundaries of the heart and show readers a unique view of life while maintaining that rich style and flavor of the south. A south one writer remembers as pleasant lulls between episodes of violence: After a meal we would exit Pasquales, walking out into the night of city lights...

Or another writer, who recalls a very different south: I remember that weekend stubble on his chin nestled in the crease of my neck as I drove and the smell of Vitalis and sweat behind me...

The last line sounds a bit like an order. Perhaps you could say: Thank you for your time. I've enclosed the first three chapters and SASE. May I send you the full ms of xxxxxxxx?

They will know they can recycle the sample chapters, but no point in making that suggestion!

(Edit: I guess I'm not clear on one thing: are these 50 stories your stories? If not, do you have permission to use them?)

RustyVanReeves
08-08-2005, 01:22 AM
I love these excerpts! Perhaps you could transition them so they blend in. Something like...

THANK YOU! :kiss:

...push the boundaries of the heart and show readers a unique view of life while maintaining that rich style and flavor of the south. A south one writer remembers as pleasant lulls between episodes of violence: After a meal we would exit Pasquales, walking out into the night of city lights...

Or another writer, who recalls a very different south: I remember that weekend stubble on his chin nestled in the crease of my neck as I drove and the smell of Vitalis and sweat behind me...

The last line sounds a bit like an order. Perhaps you could say: Thank you for your time. I've enclosed the first three chapters and SASE. May I send you the full ms of xxxxxxxx?

They will know they can recycle the sample chapters, but no point in making that suggestion!

(Edit: I guess I'm not clear on one thing: are these 50 stories your stories? If not, do you have permission to use them?)



Yes, all 50 columns are mine. :) I'll work on the transition.

RustyVanReeves
08-08-2005, 02:56 AM
Better, worse, too much? :flag: Made a few little changes in paragraph 2 by adding a sentence or two - also, added another excerpt. :Hammer:

August 7, 2005

XXX Agency
XXXXX Rd.
XXXXXX, NY 10023

Dear MX. XXXXX:

I write a column entitled A Southern Son for the Madison County Herald. The column has a wide local following and I routinely receive many e-mails from readers telling me similar stories about their childhood and references to how much they enjoy reading my work.

I have recently compiled my columns into a book entitled ON THE CORNER OF NEWTON AVENUE AND DEERE STREET. The 50 stories are a poignant look back at growing up in the 1970s in a small southern town in Mississippi. They are reflective, somber accounts of childhood with an uplifting message that many people can relate to in a very personal manner. They all push the boundaries of the heart and show readers a unique view of life while maintaining that rich style and flavor of the south. For many years, my family lived with my Mam-ma and Granddad in a slightly dilapidated antebellum house on the edge of Newton. These stories were born during my time there in that wonderful place beneath the old oaks. Our happiness was often tied to the tide of our father's emotional state, which was highly unpredictable. Finding fragments of your own life in these pages will be easy. Most of our upbringing was as typical as it gets.

Below is an excerpt from a column titled Magical Quarters.

After a meal, we would exit Pasquales, walking out into the night of city lights to the car. We would chew our toothpick just like dad. In many ways, we wanted to be him, minus the temper. But this night was fine. Not ruined by clinched teeth or ugly words but salvaged by fate and the sheer will of two little boys. We thought we could make him love us. We thought we could control that monster inside him, even if he couldn’t. But the bruises came and they went along with the long streaks of normal.

In the twilight of the evening, we would pile into the old Oldsmobile. The return trip home was comfortable, cozy and quiet. My brother usually slept on the seat. On first glance we looked like any other family and most of the time we were I suppose. Whatever normal is, we were close.

Below is an excerpt from a column titled Interstate 20.

I remember that weekend stubble on his chin nestled in the crease of my neck as I drove and the smell of Vitalis and sweat behind me. Even though my feet didn't reach the pedals, I felt like I was driving. I was never scared with him wrapped around me. That's the best thing daddies can do — make you feel safe, showing you life from the driver's seat, letting you glimpse a bit of what is to come.

Below is an excerpt from a column titled Tuesday's Gone.

I thought those trips with Mam-ma to the nursing home were just a convenient way to put off mowing the grass. It never occurred to me how much will and fortitude it took for her to make those visits—to sit in the presence of old friends who are cradled in the hands of death—to bring them fresh Folgers coffee in a thermos and yard cut roses wrapped in damp paper towels—to sit there, smile, and prod them for simple conversation—to dig into familiar memories that now only you possess.

The manuscript is about 60,000 words. Similar works include All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum; Nothing is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life by Christopher Reeve; and Handbook for the Soul by Richard Carlson.

This is my third book. My essay, Tuesday's Gone, will be published later this year in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature (September 2005).

Sample chapters or the entire manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time. Letter SASE is enclosed.

Best regards,



Rusty Van Reeves

Encl: SASE

veronie
08-08-2005, 05:00 AM
Ackk, It's "titled," not "entitled." Unless you are giving it to somebody.

Julie Worth
08-08-2005, 05:09 AM
Ackk, It's "titled," not "entitled." Unless you are giving it to somebody.
Definition from the hyperdictionary: given a title or identifying name; "the book entitled `A Tale of Two Cities'"

veronie
08-08-2005, 05:19 AM
don't trust the hyperdictionary. Trust me. Any acquisitions editor worth her salt knows it is titled, not entitled.

AncientEagle
08-08-2005, 05:39 AM
While I personally prefer "titled," and while "any acquisitions editor worth her salt" may also, I have seen both used for many years. Merriam Webster's defines "titled" as "designated." It also defines "entitled" as "designated."

My point: If a soft answer turneth away wrath, then it is likely that a sharp one increaseth it.

veronie
08-08-2005, 05:43 AM
I apologize for not being soft.

I still hold to my position, based on the AP style guide and numerous others.

When I see entitled used when it should be titled, it is like fingernails scraped against a chalk board for me.

:)

AncientEagle
08-08-2005, 05:56 AM
I agree.

reph
08-08-2005, 12:20 PM
Rusty, I think you'll have to say something more definite about what rights you own to the essays, given that they're based on material already published.

A few details:

"I routinely receive many e-mails from readers": Delete "many"; it's redundant with "routinely," and it's the blander word.

"A small southern town in Mississippi": Drop "southern." With "Mississippi," you don't need it.

"Tied to the tide": Oh, no. This reads like a clash of sounds created accidentally, and it's a mixed metaphor at that. Whether or not it was accidental, it reads that way.

There are people around here who know much more than I about queries to agents. I'm just offering a few copy-editing suggestions.

RustyVanReeves
08-08-2005, 06:05 PM
You guys are GREAT! I didn't mean to cause friction here. I reworded my sentence to avoid any trouble or hurt feelings. It was that or flip a coin. THANK YOU all for helping me. :snoopy:


August 08, 2005

XXX Agency
XXXXX Rd.
XXXXXX, NY 10023

Dear MX. XXXXX:

I write a column entitled A Southern Son for the Madison County Herald. The column has a wide local following and I routinely receive e-mails from readers telling me similar stories about their childhood and references to how much they enjoy reading my work.

I have recently compiled my columns into a book. All rights reverted back to me after their initial publication in the newspaper. The working title is ON THE CORNER OF NEWTON AVENUE AND DEERE STREET. The 50 stories are a poignant look back at growing up in the 1970s in a small town in Mississippi. They are reflective, somber accounts of childhood with an uplifting message that many people can relate to in a very personal manner. They all push the boundaries of the heart and show readers a unique view of life while maintaining that rich style and flavor of the south.

For many years, my family lived with my Mam-ma and Granddad in a slightly dilapidated antebellum house on the edge of Newton. These stories were born during my time there in that wonderful place beneath the old oaks. Finding fragments of your own life in these pages will be easy. Most of our upbringing was as typical as it gets.

Below is an excerpt from Magical Quarters.

After a meal, we would exit Pasquales, walking out into the night of city lights to the car. We would chew our toothpick just like dad. In many ways, we wanted to be him, minus the temper. But this night was fine. Not ruined by clinched teeth or ugly words but salvaged by fate and the sheer will of two little boys. We thought we could make him love us. We thought we could control that monster inside him, even if he couldn’t. But the bruises came and they went along with the long streaks of normal.

In the twilight of the evening, we would pile into the old Oldsmobile. The return trip home was comfortable, cozy and quiet. My brother usually slept on the seat. On first glance we looked like any other family and most of the time we were I suppose. Whatever normal is, we were close.

Below is an excerpt from Interstate 20.

I remember that weekend stubble on his chin nestled in the crease of my neck as I drove and the smell of Vitalis and sweat behind me. Even though my feet didn't reach the pedals, I felt like I was driving. I was never scared with him wrapped around me. That's the best thing daddies can do — make you feel safe, showing you life from the driver's seat, letting you glimpse a bit of what is to come.

Below is an excerpt from Tuesday's Gone.

I thought those trips with Mam-ma to the nursing home were just a convenient way to put off mowing the grass. It never occurred to me how much will and fortitude it took for her to make those visits—to sit in the presence of old friends who are cradled in the hands of death—to bring them fresh Folgers coffee in a thermos and yard cut roses wrapped in damp paper towels—to sit there, smile, and prod them for simple conversation—to dig into familiar memories that now only you possess.

The manuscript is about 60,000 words. Similar works include All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum; Nothing is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life by Christopher Reeve; and Handbook for the Soul by Richard Carlson.

This is my third book. My essay, Tuesday's Gone, will be published later this year in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature (September 2005).

Sample chapters or the entire manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time. Letter SASE is enclosed.

Best regards,



Rusty Van Reeves

Encl: SASE

WordedWrite
08-08-2005, 06:32 PM
Hello Rusty Van Reeves,



I'm enjoying reading the iterations of your query letter, and I think you're getting good advice from Julie. One thing that strikes me as too important to omit from your letter, however, is your perspective. I think people love to read stories from and about people like you who have overcome great challenges. That you are "a C4 quadriplegic since a 1975 freak high school football accident left [you] paralyzed from the shoulders down" and have become a successful writer, makes you eminently qualified as an inspirational author. I am sorry for your misfortune, and what I'm suggesting may feel uncomfortable to you, but I do think you have a chance to make "lemonade out of lemons"—as the saying goes. It may seem harsh to say, but your life circumstances do give you a marketing angle.



If I were you, I would put this information right up front, in the first paragraph, to let the reader see your "hook" immediately. Again, I'm sorry if this sounds cold, but why not use your disadvantage to your advantage? Make it part of the story, though, not just an "oh, by the way" remark. I'd work it into the story of how you came to be a writer and developed a following, and also relate it to the works you site, especially that of Christoper Reeve, along with any information you can include about the success of his book.



Another thing you might consider is having two or three versions of your query letter, and sending them out two at a time to see which one gets a better response. You can always resubmit a different query several months later.



Sorry if my poking my nose into your business upsets the apple cart, but I am inspired by you and felt compelled to respond.



Marilyn Haight

RustyVanReeves
08-08-2005, 07:16 PM
Hello Rusty Van Reeves,



I'm enjoying reading the iterations of your query letter, and I think you're getting good advice from Julie. One thing that strikes me as too important to omit from your letter, however, is your perspective. I think people love to read stories from and about people like you who have overcome great challenges. That you are "a C4 quadriplegic since a 1975 freak high school football accident left [you] paralyzed from the shoulders down" and have become a successful writer, makes you eminently qualified as an inspirational author. I am sorry for your misfortune, and what I'm suggesting may feel uncomfortable to you, but I do think you have a chance to make "lemonade out of lemons"—as the saying goes. It may seem harsh to say, but your life circumstances do give you a marketing angle.



If I were you, I would put this information right up front, in the first paragraph, to let the reader see your "hook" immediately. Again, I'm sorry if this sounds cold, but why not use your disadvantage to your advantage? Make it part of the story, though, not just an "oh, by the way" remark. I'd work it into the story of how you came to be a writer and developed a following, and also relate it to the works you site, especially that of Christoper Reeve, along with any information you can include about the success of his book.



Another thing you might consider is having two or three versions of your query letter, and sending them out two at a time to see which one gets a better response. You can always resubmit a different query several months later.



Sorry if my poking my nose into your business upsets the apple cart, but I am inspired by you and felt compelled to respond.



Marilyn Haight


I'm not offended at all. I appreciate the honesty. :Sun:

reph
08-08-2005, 10:40 PM
Rusty, don't say the rights "reverted back." Just say they "reverted."

In the South, do people put a hyphen in "Mamma"? I haven't lived there, so I don't know.

I have mixed feelings about mentioning quadriplegia. Would knowledge of an author's disability affect the market for a book? (That's what agents will want to know.) Well, sometimes it does. Suppose the blind man who climbed Mt. Everest wrote a memoir of his expedition; then blindness would be relevant. The film Ray would have been less interesting if Ray Charles had been sighted: the ways he coped with that obstacle to succeed in a highly competitive field were part of the story. Mentioning a bodily condition without tying it to the book, however, could be interpreted as "Give me a break, I have a hard life." If you include it, I'd recommend leaving out how you got it; and many people don't know what C4 means unless they've had a particular reason to become concerned about spines.

RustyVanReeves
08-08-2005, 11:47 PM
Rusty, don't say the rights "reverted back." Just say they "reverted."

In the South, do people put a hyphen in "Mamma"? I haven't lived there, so I don't know.

.


Not my mom, my grandmother - Mam-ma (pronounce Mam Mawww) - like Pap-paw. :hi:

I'm still mulling over the quad situation for the query. It is mentioned in maybe 50 percent of the columns as I look back comparing then and now. That is what most of my stories are - a comparison - ending with a revelation. :Lecture:

RustyVanReeves
08-09-2005, 12:25 AM
Definition from the hyperdictionary: given a title or identifying name; "the book entitled `A Tale of Two Cities'"

I have seen it both ways. Doesn't mean either was correct. Since Julie backed her's up with an example and an actual reference I'll go with hers - entitled. :kiss:

RustyVanReeves
08-10-2005, 03:33 AM
I hope this encorporates EVERYTHING! :flag:

August 09, 2005

c/o XXXXX
XXX Agency
XXXXX Rd.
XXXXXX, NY 10023

Dear MX. XXXXX:

I write a column entitled A Southern Son for the Madison County Herald. The column has a wide local following and I routinely receive e-mails from readers telling me similar stories about their childhood and references to how much they enjoy reading my work.

I have recently compiled my columns into a 60,000-word nonfiction book. All rights reverted to me after their initial publication in the newspaper. The working title is ON THE CORNER OF NEWTON AVENUE AND DEERE STREET. The 50 stories are a poignant look back at growing up in the 1970s in a small town in Mississippi. They are reflective, somber accounts of childhood with an uplifting message. My stories are comparisons between my life then as a normal child and my life now as a C4 Quadriplegic. They all push the boundaries of the heart and show readers a unique view of life while maintaining that rich style and flavor of the south. Other than living with a manic father who floated between jobs and was unable to control a violent jealous streak, we were a very normal family. On the outside, it looked that way.

For many years, my family lived with my Mam-ma and Granddad in a slightly dilapidated antebellum house on the edge of Newton. These stories were born during my time there in that wonderful place beneath the old oaks. Finding fragments of your own life in these pages will be easy. Most of our upbringing was as typical as it gets until a freak high school football accident in 1975 paralyzed me from the neck down. Six months later my father committed suicide. It was always a love hate relationship with him. Some days we wanted to kill him and others we never wanted to crawl off his back. Love can twist you into a fickle creature.

Below is an excerpt from a column entitled MAGICAL QUARTERS.

After a meal, we would exit Pasquales, walking out into the night of city lights to the car. We would chew our toothpick just like dad. In many ways, we wanted to be him, minus the temper. But this night was fine. Not ruined by clinched teeth or ugly words but salvaged by fate and the sheer will of two little boys. We thought we could make him love us. We thought we could control that monster inside him, even if he couldn’t. But the bruises came and they went along with the long streaks of normal.

In the twilight of the evening, we would pile into the old Oldsmobile. The return trip home was comfortable, cozy and quiet. My brother usually slept on the seat. On first glance we looked like any other family and most of the time we were I suppose. Whatever normal is, we were close.

Below is an excerpt from INTERSTATE 20.

I remember that weekend stubble on his chin nestled in the crease of my neck as I drove and the smell of Vitalis and sweat behind me. Even though my feet didn't reach the pedals, I felt like I was driving. I was never scared with him wrapped around me. That's the best thing daddies can do — make you feel safe, showing you life from the driver's seat, letting you glimpse a bit of what is to come.

Below is an excerpt from TUESDAY'S GONE.

I thought those trips with Mam-ma to the nursing home were just a convenient way to put off mowing the grass. It never occurred to me how much will and fortitude it took for her to make those visits—to sit in the presence of old friends who are cradled in the hands of death—to bring them fresh Folgers coffee in a thermos and yard cut roses wrapped in damp paper towels—to sit there, smile, and prod them for simple conversation—to dig into familiar memories that now only you possess.

Below is an excerpt from EL RANCHO MOTOR LODGE.

After eating, we returned to sit by the glow of the pool until we coaxed daddy in. Then on into the night we would climb on his muscled shoulders, as he would toss us into the deep. The odd blue light catching the brown of his eyes, the laughter of two boys circling him, smiling—building a memory we could never recreate in the autumn of our lives—catching a small glimpse of the boy still hiding in our father. Keeping him there until our arms turned to jelly and our eyes burned of chlorine—until mom called us inside.

Similar works include All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum; Nothing is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life by Christopher Reeve; and Handbook for the Soul by Richard Carlson.

This is my third book. My essay, Tuesday's Gone, will be published later this year in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature (September 2005).

Sample chapters or the entire manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time. Letter SASE is enclosed.

Best regards,



Rusty Van Reeves

Encl: SASE