Query and Book Proposal...Getting and Evaluating Feedback

Submission protocol, query etiquette, and strategies that work
Skyhawk
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Query and Book Proposal...Getting and Evaluating Feedback

Post by Skyhawk » December 14th, 2009, 8:31 pm

I don't have a standard query. I write a fresh one each time I solicit an agent. It's my belief that they like to know you did a little research on them first so I'll mention something in the query that I know about them. I would think the small personal touch may help in getting your query a little more attention. The other reason is that I rarely hear back from an agent unless he/she was kind enough to put their rejection in writing and even then, it's a form letter. So I never really know whether the query was "perfect" like everyone suggests it be, and perhaps it was rejected for a whole different purpose.

More often than not, for my non-fiction book, I send out the entire proposal with query or cover letter. It;'s the best I think it can be only I have no clue what "they" think of it. There are so many reasons for a rejection, I can't trip over it. I did get feedback and critique from other writers and editors and guess what? If you ask 3 different people what they think of particular detail in the proposal. You may get 3 opinions.

So I guess my question is this? We as writers who are trying to get published have been taught over and over that our solicitation material needs to be perfect. Period. If it's not, it will cost us. So after sending about 30 queries/proposals and of course all rejections, how are we to tell what the people who read them, and really count, think?

Lastly, let me give you an example of exactly what I'm talking about.

All of the research I did when I was learning how to write a book proposal including discussing it with Susan Page, who wrote perhaps the foremost book on how to get published, suggested that I write the synopsis for my non-fiction in the 3rd person. A woman who wrote 18 books and is a professional copy editor, who has been mentoring me through all this also said, 3rd person. So of course, I did. Writing a synopsis of a book which is a memoir, could sound too self-serving and be very difficult in the first person. I agreed with everyone.

There were only three agents with whom I had a chance to correspond with after they rejected me. One was our very own Nathan, and the other two both suggested I change the overview and write it in the first person! Can you imagine? They said it would come off more personal like you were talking to them directly. So go figure! Just don't give up hope no matter what. Those of us who persevere, eventually make it.

I invite your thoughts, feedback and experience here.

scottmathews.wordpress.com

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Ryan
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Re: Query and Book Proposal...Getting and Evaluating Feedback

Post by Ryan » December 15th, 2009, 1:12 am

That's some pretty tough stuff. My book is a memoir as well and I am currently rewriting my query and proposal in 3rd person because I recently heard it would have more impact. Post or send your Query via email. I'd like to read it.

Quick question. Did you switch back to 1st person when talking about your credentials or keep the whole thing in 3rd person?

Ryan
My love of fly fishing and surfing connects me to rivers and the ocean. Time with water reminds me to pursue those silly little streams of thought that run rampant in my head.
http://www.withoutrain.com/

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Re: Query and Book Proposal...Getting and Evaluating Feedback

Post by Krista G. » December 15th, 2009, 2:09 am

I feel for you, Skyhawk - that's about how my first jaunt into the wonderful world of querying went. So many form rejections is a clear indication that something's not working, but it's hard to say exactly what that something might be.

Did you write your proposal from the wrong perspective? Did you write it in the wrong tense? Was your font wrong? Did you misspell the agent’s name? Did you misspell your name? It’s easy to get caught up in the details, because the details do matter. Misspell the agent’s name and he’s already going to be glowering when he reads your first sentence. Write it in the wrong tense and the agent may cringe at every verb. But will she reject it only because of that one mistake? The truth is, probably not.

Keep getting feedback, keep evaluating where you’re at, but remember, it’s still your book. Nobody can decide the best way to pitch it but you. Maybe somebody (or several somebodies) spot a problem in the proposal or even the book itself, but that doesn’t mean you have to fix it in the way he or she (or they) recommend. At the end of the day, you make the call, because you’re the one who put in all the work.

And you know what? Maybe this book won’t get published right now. That’s okay. There’s always the next book - and for some of us, the next one, and the next one:) (How many books did Stephen King write before he published one? I can’t even remember now, but I’m pretty sure it was more than two…or maybe even seven…) Somebody, when you’re uber-famous, everyone will want that first book, the book nobody wanted before. And you’ll pull it out of the back of your closet/hard drive, dust it off/convert it over to Windows 982 (since they never can seem to decide exactly how many operating systems they want), and say, “Oh, this old thing? This was just a little something I wrote way back when Windows 7 was new…”
Author of THE REGENERATED MAN (G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, Winter 2015)
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Hillsy
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Re: Query and Book Proposal...Getting and Evaluating Feedback

Post by Hillsy » December 15th, 2009, 5:20 am

I've actually devised (In my mind!) a devious system that agents could "if they wish" employ to balance the two problems agents would have if they were to abolish form rejections and plump instead for the personalised approach that would appease desperate, wannabe authors.

Categorise the rejection, no more, no less. Put a number at the start/middle/end/whatever, of the form rejection and on the agent/agencies website list all the categories. Simple.

The huuuuuge problem with personalised rejections is the time it would take if it was employed. Hours upon hours of notes pointing out why something just won't make the cut. Nathan here has been kind enough to ping out some quick fire replies to queries posted here, and I applaud that, but it's done on his own time. Take a look at a personalised message, extrapolate that by 100, now think how much time it would take to append 100 form rejections. An hour, say? Now factor in the cognitive processes involved in articulating why something doesn't work, highlighting passages, giving workable solutions.....now we're seeing the scope of the issue....it cannot be done in depth because there aren't the hours in the agent's day....hell if you believe what you read there is NEVER enough hours in the day.

The second issue I've read about is the fact that an Agent does not want to open a potential avenue for dialogue every time he rejects someone. Send a personalised message and you may get a further reply saying anything for "Thanks", to "You know nothing!", to "So you say I'm not being transparent here but what I'm acutally saying is that the Dolphin understands it's dilemma and...." A form rejection is a polite brush off, the same you would give to a door to door salesman when you don't have the time to discuss the finer economic points of different gas suppliers. It puts an effective barrier between the "No" and the "Why"

So, back to my idea. The agent will know, in 90-95% of cases, why he/she is rejecting something. After a few days of use, the Agent will know the numbers correlating to the categories, so it is just the case then of putting 1 extra keystroke down somewhere for reference. The best thing is that the Agent gets to choose the categories so can be as vague or as specific as they wish to be.

In this system, everybody wins. The Agent doesn't have to expend any more time on answering queries, also the form style rejection keeps the relative distance between Agent and supplicant. But importantly the author gets a little bit of help along the way.

Just as an idea, here are some example categories an agent could use for feedback - would you prefer this to a flat rejection?

1. Good query, good writing, but the plot wasn't right/didn't do it for me. (subtext: Try another agent)
2. Good query, good writing, but I don't think I can sell this project. (subtext: Try another agent)
3. Good query, however writing sample needs work (subtext: The query is fine, look again at your writing)
4. Query ok but didn't jump out at me, scanned sample pages and were ok. (subtext: Query needs work so the Agent can grasp extent of plot.)
5. Query has potential but needs work/lacks details. (subtext: Good idea, poor query)
6. Query needs work/lacks details. (subtext: Overhaul query as it's getting you no where)
7. Thankyou for your query but I will not be offering representation at this time. (subtext: Dreck)

C'mon....ain't this great????????......Lets lobby Nathan to do this and by the end of 2010 there could be an industry wide standard!!

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Mira
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Re: Query and Book Proposal...Getting and Evaluating Feedback

Post by Mira » December 15th, 2009, 10:23 am

Skyhawk,

Yes, I totally feel for you. I think the query system is especially frustrating because it gives so little guidance to the author.

I think if I wrote a memoir, I'd try to write the query in the same voice as the memoir. Probably flow more easily and sell the concept for the get-go. That said, my guess is that your query and proposal are perfectly fine. Any agent worth their salt will see past a decent query to the book underneath it.

It's possible you haven't hit the right agent yet. But it's also helpful when you're getting multiple rejections to step back and look at two things:

a. My writing. Is it as tight and compelling as it needs to be?
b. My concept. Agents are having trouble selling right now. Is my book a hard sell? Do I have the platform? Is the market saturated? Is this a topic that would have wide appeal?

I might set a limit to querying. Say 100 or so. Then put the book away for awhile. When you take it out again, you might see the book more clearly and whether it needs re-working. Or you might feel the time is better for the concept. Or you might go another round of querying, or e-publish.

But in the meantime, you can start working on your next book.

Maybe you'll publish THAT one, which will give you the platform to publish THIS one.

Or vice versa. It's hard to predict. I think it's just good to see this as a long-term process where so many things are out of your control. So, you put in the footwork, and try not to make yourself too crazy. :)

Congratulations on finishing your book, btw! That's a huge accomplishment in itself.

Sorry this was so long. Hope it was helpful.

Best wishes for your success. :)

Skyhawk
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Re: Query and Book Proposal...Getting and Evaluating Feedback

Post by Skyhawk » December 16th, 2009, 6:31 pm

Hey guys...Thanks for all your feed back and to answer some of the questions, I have since gone back and forth from 1st to 3rd person depending on my mood and to whom I'm talking to. Most of this crap just flows off anyway just like the book. To accomplish "tight" and meet the needs of what's considered to be successful has been difficult. To put 50 years and so much diverse subject matter into one page has been challenging, to say the least. Had it not been for Sydney and her immeasurable guidance,(she wrote 18 books)I'd be screwed! When it becomes too much, and we're getting closer, I don't care how the message gets out. I live in Hollywood and big screen---here I come. But for now, as one of you requested, here's the last of about 5 different queries I've used. Nathan did not see this one. And like the writer I became, I just spent an hour changing it again! And each time I read it, I gotta wipe the snot off my keyboard so I can finish it. Here goes nothing...

BEHIND BLUE EYES...A Memoir

Unspeakable suffering. Pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization. Imprisonment, torture, grave injury, disease, overdoses, suicide and even murder. A life few live to talk about, let alone have the faculties to express intimately in a memoir that will send a message of hope to more than 25 million Americans who suffer from addiction to drugs and alcohol.

However, it wasn’t always like that. Rising above a very troublesome and abusive childhood, I beat all odds and took a piece of that “American Pie” and before I was 26. I was a very proud, well-respected, self-made millionaire. Known to many as the best private detective in South Florida, I always prevailed, and in some very high profile cases which have taken me around the world.

While working undercover busting drug dealers, for various clients, narcotics became a very serious problem for me. I awoke one day only to find that life as I knew it was all but gone. My family, my home, my career, and my fortune were a distant memory. My God…what have I done? How could this possibly happen? What did I do to deserve this? Most of all, how did I muster the courage, the strength, and the will to even live? How could I possibly face myself, let alone the rest of the world? The humility, embarrassment and loss of identity, was unbearable for any human being to endure.

I couldn’t, or more accurately, didn’t want to. There was nothing left of me anyway so I embarked on a 10-year suicide mission trying harder and harder to kill myself descending so far down into the pits of hell, I came face to face with the devil himself. Several suicide attempts would fail, but I was coming closer. At this juncture, there was only one thing that could possibly save me---would that be God? If there is a God, why would he let this happen in the first place? And why would he suddenly show up now or was he there the whole time, but I just realize it?
Finally, during my last brush with death, perhaps the closest anyone could ever can get, it became clear. So crystal clear a child could have seen it. The rest became easy. Is that what this book is about? God? I don’t know, that’s for the reader to decide. However, what it does offer is the life of man who has been through so much, it sounds surreal. Huge success and horrific failure. Redemption and recovery. But most of all---Survival and the instinctive will to live.

This is truly the “how to” of how to come back from every element of pain, suffering and complete emotional breakdown that life can possibly deal you. So did I get it all back? Hell no. My wife is still gone. My millions are long gone. No one knows who I am any more. However I did get this: My identity, self-respect, self-esteem, self-worth, my health, happiness, but most of all, peace of mind and the power to do God’s will. I spend most of my time working with others who are still suffering.

I have attended UCLA in pursuit of my certification in addiction counseling. I work at a homeless shelter where I get the opportunity to do service sharing my experience, strength, and hope. Why? Because I can. I lead by example. What else would you do? Oh, and write a book. I did that too. So now I need an agent. I would love to share with the world how I survived this. I couldn’t possibly go to my grave with my secrets and not tell this story when so many others have died trying.

I have a full proposal prepared which includes an overview, sample chapters, and a strong marketing plan should you have a vision for my project, which I hope includes a film. I do live in Hollywood. And one last thing. I can support every word of which I write with such documentation as court records, witnesses, photographs, newspaper articles, and medical records.

Thank you for reading.
scottmathews.wordpress.com
Last edited by Skyhawk on December 17th, 2009, 8:21 am, edited 1 time in total.

BlancheKing
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Re: Query and Book Proposal...Getting and Evaluating Feedback

Post by BlancheKing » December 16th, 2009, 7:49 pm

Hm.. just a quick picker-upper since everyone else has already said everything, and I don't want to be a parrot. =)

Here's a quirky way to think about it: Think of the writing industry as applying for college, or rather applying for the Ivy League Colleges. The chances of getting in are slim to none. If you're missing anything at all in your application (lack a plot, research, mediocre query, or just the fact that things are spelled wrong), then you automatically end up in the rejection pile. But even of those who get it right, only few are accepted, and in the end, no one really knows why one guy was accepted and the other wasn't.

So keep trying; send more of those query letters out. Don't take the competitiveness personally. And if nothing else, you can always use the rejection letters as wallpaper... ;)
One manuscript, One dream, One stack of stamps that needs to be bought...
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Mira
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Re: Query and Book Proposal...Getting and Evaluating Feedback

Post by Mira » December 17th, 2009, 2:18 am

Hmmm.

Okay, that's a lot more information.

First, deep respect for your recovery. I know from my own life what a hard path that is, and how few people actually recover. That is something to be astoundingly proud of. Respect, definitely.

So, in terms of your book. I'm worried this will sound harsh, and I don't necessarily want to discourage you. Please just take this for what it is - my opinion. For what it's worth.

But what I think you may be up against is an audience issue. Agents may see your books as targeting a niche audience.

The millions of drug addicts whom you mention in your query aren't going to buy books, right? They're using. So, your audience is people in early recovery, or on the brink. Possibly family members of addicts.

For a mainstream audience, you're competing with celebrity stories of recovery, and bookstores offer lots of those.

I'm not in any way implying that your story shouldn't be told. It sounds like it's an amazing story. Again - deep respect. I just wonder if it may be a harder sell to mainstream publishing.

You might think about more niche publishing, like Hazeldon - publishers who specifically target your audience.

However, If you're going to stick with mainstream, then I'd be prepared to beat the pavement. Also make sure your book is extremely well-written. If you have a great 'voice' that can sell a book from the grassroots. And continue to build your platform, definitely. Start a blog, all kinds of things like that.

In terms of your query, I like the first person voice, but I do want to recommend alot less telling and alot more showing. Don't tell me it was hell, show me it was hell.

You seem very close to the material, Scott. It's very emotional for you. The world of publishing, like all business, can be very impersonal. Before writing this feedback to you, I thought about that. I was very tempted not to write this, because....it's so personal. But I thought, well, Skyhawk asked....so I'm being honest about what I see as the realities of the business.....and this is completely up to you, of course, but I found myself wondering if you might want to give yourself more space from this material before putting it out for potential rejection. It's very personal and close to your heart.

So, I hope some of that was helpful, and not discouraging, which was not my intention - just trying to be honest. Please know that I could be wrong about everything I said. I do wish you the best, and I totally applaud your tremendous acheivement of recovery.

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Re: Query and Book Proposal...Getting and Evaluating Feedback

Post by Skyhawk » December 17th, 2009, 9:06 am

Mira...Thank you so much for taking the time to express your honesty and being sensitive about it. You have touched on some very interesting points. A "niche" audience. My very first exact concern. All the junkies are using, not reading books! Well first off, although I had been told for years that I should write a book, I was seriously inspired by James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces" which sold 5 million copies! Granted, he was on Oprah but when I discovered he did so well with a book that was not completely truthful, discussed only a brief period of his very young life, had over 100 grammatical errors, and offered little in terms of recovery, I had felt like society had been short-changed so off I went.

The lesson here is that it's all in the marketing. Mo matter how good, or bad, one's story may be, if we don't put into action a strong marketing plan, and indicate so in our proposal, we have little chance of publication. It is no longer enough that writers can write a great story but we now must wear a second hat and be prepared to sell. And yes, a blog could be the first step and I have already created one. scottmathews.wordpress.com.

Almost everyone has one person close to them with addiction issues but believe it or not, that's only a part of my story and I've struggled with this part of it because we do have to be so tight. It's more about a man who has been through so much in a lifetime, readers will be saying, "my God, what's gonna be next"? A perfect title would be "Never A Dull Moment" in a story that offers surviving life in the mob. And not just any mob but the ruthless killers I grew up with known to many as the "Goodfellas" and first hand stories of murder including the one of my best friend who was shot to death the night of his 50th birthday. Rags to riches where I started a business with a half a box of business cards going from door to door to becoming the largest in the country. A side career in flying in my private plane to casinos all over the world counting cards stashing away so much cash, I couldn't even count it. Seven years as a private investigator with some chilling stories about cases that will make your hair stand up including murder cases and my client, serial killer, Donald Leroy Evans who had claimed to of murdered over 70 people! And there's more. Way more.

So you see, just about anyone will enjoy reading an exciting story that will touch many in a number of ways. Try putting all that into one page! I have to go to work now so I'll end with this. I'm not getting attention because I don't have a recognizable platform, yet. Your right, if I was a celebrity things would be different. The query is designed to getting the agent to want to know more. The actual proposal covers all of what's offered in the book. But I still need to convince them that I have a way, and are willing, and have the budget for marketing through a P.R. outlet and "that" I'm working on!

"Till the next time...

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Mira
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Re: Query and Book Proposal...Getting and Evaluating Feedback

Post by Mira » December 17th, 2009, 10:02 am

:)

Cool. I see it's not possible to discourage you, and I'm abit relieved. I don't want my words to be too discouraging to a stranger on a blog - I only know a very small piece of this from what you've posted....

It does sound like you have quite a story there! And yes, I think marketing is crucial. And I suspect you have a fair amount of natural salesmanship, so go for it. :)

Although, I do have one suggestion. Before you go full force into marketing, my suggestion would be to back up. The writing is absolutely key. James Frey may have had some grammatical errors, but he wrote a readable, compelling book. This isn't just about selling - if your book is well-organized and accessible, your message will come through more clearly. I'd recommend getting yourself a critique group - who will help you take a look at your writing, and be sure it's crystal clear and ready.

For example, your writing flows well, but you do have a tendency to 'tell' rather than 'show'. You need to move the power of your words from the exclamation point at the end of a sentence into the sentence itself. A good critique group and/or writing mentor will help you learn that.

I totally wish you the best! I'll look forward to seeing you on Oprah someday. :)

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Re: Query and Book Proposal...Getting and Evaluating Feedback

Post by Skyhawk » December 17th, 2009, 11:04 am

Okay, fair enough. I do tend to be a little quick to get to the point and slwoing down to make a better one is a valuable critique. I do belong to a writes club and are blessed to have a copy editor who's written 18 books and just absolutely loves my writing. I have put my stuff out there and got nothing but comments that sounded little less than a review I couldn't have expected better if I apid for it. However, let me add this. I have no formal training as a writer. Heck, I can hardly spell. I write the way I talk and you won't see any weather descriptions or other words that some may consider to be fillers. I give it staright, hard and to the point.

The feedback I've received from most are friends, family, etc. and so I know they're gonna be nice. I've nenevr put my material out there for a group considered to be professionals and I'm sure my work can use improvement and anything that I could do to write a better book, I will. I want to put out the best product I can. it's one thing to have lived this stuff and it's another to describe it. I write with what I have to work with.

This afternoon when I get home I will post the first few pages of chapter one. Feel free, PLEASE, say what you will. You won't hurt nor discourage me and in fact I would be grateful that someone like yourself, a stranger, who I already have respect for, would even take the time to help me. I will take all the help I can get. There is a much bigger picture here and it's not about me anymore!

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Mira
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Re: Query and Book Proposal...Getting and Evaluating Feedback

Post by Mira » December 17th, 2009, 11:32 am

Skyhawk, there is a real power to your words. I think writing is all about releasing that power in the way that makes the most impact. Writing is a skill, the better you can get at it, the more impact you have.

I'm not sure I'd post the chapter here - Nathan hasn't yet agreed to that level of critique. But if you look on the writing thread, there are two threads that recommend on-line critique groups. Alot of them are very good.

Another benefit to a critique group is you'll network, and learn all the ins and outs of this business.

I think you're well on your way. I hope you know all of my feedback was intended to help you be ultimately successful at this!! Thanks for not letting this discourage you. You have the drive, the passion and the story, the rest is all fine-tuning.

Go for it, Skyhawk!

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Re: Query and Book Proposal...Getting and Evaluating Feedback

Post by Skyhawk » December 17th, 2009, 5:16 pm

Mira...Point well taken. I do the best I can with what I have to work with and I'm learning more each day. So far, anyone who has read my material has offered nothing but compliments so much so, I had no idea it was even that good. I also work with a copy editor who has written 18 books and is very old school, and tough. Like an old English teacher.

Nevertheless, I would love nothing more than for you, a fellow writer, and someone I respect already, to check out my chapter one and synopsis which is on my blog and let me know what YOU think! I would be honored and grateful. Perhaps all those people were blowing smoke up my @@@.

I've been told I deliver straight, hard and fast but allow the reader access to my inner self. I've heard I keep them turning pages hungry for more and more. i'd like to know what you think? scottmathews.wordpress.com...or anyone else for that matter!

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Mira
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Re: Query and Book Proposal...Getting and Evaluating Feedback

Post by Mira » December 18th, 2009, 1:00 am

Sure Skyhawk, I'd be honored. I can't do much more than that because my break from school ends soon, but I'll visit your blog sometime over the next couple of days.

Again - good luck!

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Ryan
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Re: Query and Book Proposal...Getting and Evaluating Feedback

Post by Ryan » December 18th, 2009, 1:36 am

I read your Query and was overwhelmed with all the info. Then, I read your from the heart--flowing off your fingertips--message to Mira and was like Wow! Holy SH*$^%!

This paragraph with some revisions could be your opener. The Goodfellas comment says a lot.

"A perfect title would be "Never A Dull Moment" in a story that offers surviving life in the mob. And not just any mob but the ruthless killers I grew up with known to many as the "Goodfellas" and first hand stories of murder including the one of my best friend who was shot to death the night of his 50th birthday. Rags to riches where I started a business with a half a box of business cards going from door to door to becoming the largest in the country. A side career in flying in my private plane to casinos all over the world counting cards stashing away so much cash, I couldn't even count it. Seven years as a private investigator with some chilling stories about cases that will make your hair stand up including murder cases and my client, serial killer, Donald Leroy Evans who had claimed to of murdered over 70 people! And there's more. Way more."

My current favorite song's chorus repeats over and over, "What if I kept going...just not knowing..."

Keep going man.

Cheers

Ryan
My love of fly fishing and surfing connects me to rivers and the ocean. Time with water reminds me to pursue those silly little streams of thought that run rampant in my head.
http://www.withoutrain.com/

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