Cover design by Mary Kramer (MilkweedGraphics.com), Copyright (c) 2008 by Unlimited Publishing LLC, used by permission.
Excerpt of my book proposal that landed me a publisher for Anything But a Dog!
First, here is my query letter that gained a publisher for my light-hearted memoir, Anything But a Dog!, which is the true story of how a big, homeless dog found his way to my disabled daughter Elizabeth’s couch.
Dear [editor’s name],
Inevitably, most kids ask for a dog. And who can blame them? Dogs like Lassie adore you, keep you warm when you're caught in a blizzard and drag you out of burning buildings when you're unconscious. But by the time we’re adults, we’ve learned the truth: dogs urinate on your new wall-to-wall carpets; dig holes in your leather recliners to hide their rawhide bones, and bite your neighbor’s kid.
So when my seven-year-old daughter Jackie asked for a dog, I said no. Our younger daughter Elizabeth was disabled and wouldn’t be able to protect herself from a frisky animal. But I did make Jackie a promise: “If God brings a dog to our doorstep, you can have it.” In the meantime, I offered her a hamster.
My nearly completed 40,000-word manuscript, “Anything But a Dog,” includes the accounts of our dysfunctional pets like the hamster who wouldn’t run in her wheel, a Stinky Rabbit who did even less, an ant farm that killed off its ants, the cat who attacked Elizabeth’s face and the inevitable appearance of a dog at our door. Of course we also had other concerns-- keeping Elizabeth alive and happy. Elizabeth was born severely disabled as a result of a virus I caught, CMV.
Although congenital CMV causes more disabilities than Down syndrome, most women have never heard of it or how to avoid it through cautious handling of the saliva of young children. OB/GYNs often don’t realize how common the virus is or they just don’t take the time to warn their patients how to avoid it. The back matter of my book includes interviews with the country’s leading CMV experts about the latest prevention methods and emerging treatments.
Dog lovers or those who care for someone disabled will find “Anything But a Dog” a place to get comic relief from the very difficult worlds they have chosen, or have been forced, to enter.
Short stories about our dog and Elizabeth have appeared in newspapers, magazines and newsletters. I am the author of the books, Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife, published by Heritage Books, and the children’s novel, Ride a Horse, Not an Elevator, serialized in the Sentinel and incorporated into Cornell University’s statewide 4-H programs. I write public relations material for the State University of New York at Rockland and am a graduate of Cornell University. A public speaker, I have appeared at Cornell University, Johns Hopkins, West Point Museum, on radio and television, and at several libraries and schools. I will also be speaking at the international 2008 Congenital CMV Conference to be held at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.
Please let me know if you would like to see my book proposal for "Anything But a Dog," which includes an overview, samples chapters, the target market and promotional ideas.
Suffern, NY 10901
The above query letter intrigued a few agents, but ultimately I found a publisher, Unlimited Publishing LLC, by searching online for one that would be interested in my type of book. After reviewing my book proposal, a contract was signed. Anything But a Dog! was published in 2008 (the official date turned out to be December 18—my daughter Elizabeth’s birthday).
Book proposals, like manuscripts, should be double spaced with page breaks for different topics—I’m just trying to save space for the folllowing:
by Lisa Saunders
Format, Page _
The Market, Page _
The Competition, Page _
Anything But a Dog! Table of Contents, Page _
Sample Chapters: Chapter 1, Page _
Author Biography, Page _
Author Promotion, Page _
Chapter Summaries, Page _
Possible Reviewers, Page_
Author Resume, Page _
Anything But a Dog is approximately 40,000 words, 20 chapters and includes an epilogue and congenital CMV resources. This humorous memoir covers the last 25 years of the author’s life, with a focus on mothering a healthy child alongside a seriously disabled one, all while hosting a series of disagreeable pets. There are photos of the family with their pets available.
Theme: The chapters of Lisa’s life are tied together into one unifying theme—trying to see the bright side of every situation, and when there is no bright side, trying to find a way to move forward anyway.
Back matter: Congenital CMV facts and how the public can save their unborn children. It includes interviews with doctors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), other parents, and doctors associated with Congenital CMV Foundation. A list of support groups and organizations for families raising a special-needs child will be included.
“No, you can’t have a dog.”
Belle the Beast
Elizabeth: A Christmas Blessing
Clara the Cat
Ant Farm—Survival of the Fittest
Ride a Horse, Not an Elevator
Above the Mason-Dixon Line
God Sent This Dog to Our Door?
With a Name Like Riley, He Has to be Good
Riley in Quarantine
Little Elizabeth, Riley and the Grandpa Train
Music Soothes the Beast
Riley’s Toenails and Elizabeth’s Health
Can Riley Make the Move?
Elizabeth’s Life on the Edge
Elizabeth Celebrates Sweet 16
Riley’s Hair Meets the Leaf Blower
Riley Crosses the Rainbow Bridge
Epilogue: Donald Dog?
Contacts and Support
Ways to Raise CMV Awareness
Addendum I: Elizabeth and Riley’s Story for Children
Addendum II: The Woodcutter
About the Book and Author
I cringed. The dreaded day was here—all kids inevitably ask for one. And why wouldn’t they? Movie dogs like Lassie drag you from burning buildings and keep you warm when you’re lost in a blizzard. But by the time we're adults, we've learned the truth about them: they urinate on your new wall-to-wall carpets, dig holes in your leather recliners to hide their rawhide bones, and bite your neighbor's kid.
“No, you can't have a dog,” I said, bracing myself for the age-old argument.
“Why not?” she demanded.
My mind raced for good excuses to make my point. Might as well start with the standard one: “A dog is too much work. And I know I'll end up being the one who walks it in the pouring rain.”
“I promise I'll take care of it. I will, I really will! Honest Mom!” Jackie exclaimed.
“Sure,” I thought, “that’s what they all say.” Avoiding her pleading eyes, I picked up a plate sticky with leftover syrup. “The truth is,” I said, “we just can't risk a dog around your sister.” I hated admitting that. I didn't want her to blame her little sister, three years younger, for being so fragile. But taking care of Elizabeth, who was quadriplegic from cerebral palsy, was already enough work without adding a dog that might playfully nip at her.
I know! I’ll give Jackie the “lip-severing story.” That’ll convince her we can’t have a dog around her sister.
“When I was 13,” I began, “I talked Grandma and Grandpa into letting me have a Weimaraner. His name was Bogie—short for Humphrey Bogart—and he was a nipper. One day, my two-year-old cousin Suzannah was playing on the floor underneath the table with a Popsicle stick in her mouth. Bogie snapped at the stick and bit her lip off! My grandmother got the lip off the carpet and wrapped it in a paper napkin to take to the hospital. But it couldn’t be sewn back on. A surgeon fixed Suzannah’s face, but when we got home, my mother loaded Bogie into the back seat of the car and took him to the vet’s. I never saw him again. He took the ‘long walk’ as they say in the Lady and the Tramp movie.”
I paused so Jackie could let the horror of the incident sink in.
But all she wanted to know was, “Where’s Suzannah’s lip now?”
“Gosh, I don't know! The last time I saw her lip it was stuck to the napkin, all shriveled and mummy-like on my grandmother’s bookshelf. But that’s beside the point; can't you see how dangerous a dog could be for your sister? She can’t speak—how would she call out to us if she was in another room and the dog was bothering her?”
Elizabeth was born severely disabled because I caught cytomegalovirus (CMV) while pregnant with her. She was unable to roll over, sit up, or even feed herself and required constant hands-on attention. When she wasn't getting therapy at her special-ed school, I kept her propped up on the couch so my husband Jim, Jackie or I could easily sit beside her and stretch her rigid limbs. Naturally a dog would try to sit beside her too. I could just picture it landing on Elizabeth when it jumped on the couch. It would stand on her scrawny legs, scratching her with its nails and lick her face—just after cleaning its unmentionable parts. Elizabeth would be stuck!
If there were a Lassie-like dog out there, Elizabeth more than anybody could use one, but I just couldn’t take that kind of a chance on an animal that could live up to 13 years.
Undeterred, Jackie asked, “Can I call Daddy at work? Maybe he'll say it’s okay to get a dog.” I headed to the laundry room of our Cape Cod style home with Jackie in hot pursuit; scampering like the playful puppy she desperately wanted.
Jim and I had been married 10 years and that was enough time to know he'd be even less keen on a dog than I was. “Daddy’s afraid of dogs. When he was a little boy, neighborhood dogs chased him on his bike and one bit him. It would scare him to death to think of defenseless little Lizzy with a dog.”
I felt Jackie tug on my arm as I moved the wet clothes from the washing machine to the dryer.
I stared into her earnest blue eyes, nearly hidden behind her crooked, self-cut red bangs.
"Jackie, you can’t keep a dog beside you at all times—how about when you go to the bathroom? What happens when you go to school?” Suddenly the irrefutable reason why she couldn’t have a dog struck me. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? “Besides, we live on a highway. The moment the dog got out it would get hit by a car.”
I was right—that worked. But not in a way that made me feel victorious. Jackie turned away and ran upstairs. I could hear from the squeaky thud she’d thrown herself on her bed. She was undoubtedly crying with the understanding that all hope for a dog was gone. It was true, we really shouldn’t have a dog as long as we lived on Veirs Mill Rd., a busy highway only 16 miles north of Washington, D.C.
Jackie was such a good kid, always eager to please. I hated to disappoint her—especially when I thought of my own childhood buddy, a beagle named Donald Dog.
I couldn’t remember being a little girl without him. When I was three, we lived in Massachusetts. Donald Dog came to our doorstep and never left. My parents invited him in, thinking they'd have an extra pair of eyes to watch over me.
A year earlier, when I was two, we lived above a bar. My parents were late risers, and when they got out of bed one morning, they were terrified to find my bed empty and me nowhere to be found. By the time they got around to checking downstairs in the bar, there I was, sitting on a barstool sipping a bottle of Coke with a stack of nickels for the jukebox, compliments of the bartender. That’s when it occurred to my parents that a dog might protect me should I run into more sinister characters the next time I went bar hopping...
If purchased through the National CMV Disease Registry or the UK CONGENITAL CMV Association, a percent of the proceeds are donated to raising CMV awareness and parent support. Thanks in advance for your support!]
The Congenial CMV Foundation and CMV Registry plan to promote the book through their Web site, newsletters, and conferences and will seek national print and broadcast media attention. Speaking to organizations as a member of the Rockland Community College Speakers Bureau Anything But a Dog can be successfully promoted through multiple avenues: Pet and Women’s magazines Special-ed magazines and newsletters TV talk shows Radio talk shows Book reviews Teaching noncredit classes at writing centers/community colleges on writing memoirs Book signings and appearances in stores Fundraisers for CMV research and animal shelters
Author Lisa Saunders raised Elizabeth, born severely disabled, for sixteen years. She is also the mother of a healthy child, Jackie. She wanted Jackie to have as normal a childhood as possible, yet also had the needs of a medically fragile child to consider. Finding a pet that would meet the needs of both was no easy task. Anything But a Dog is a lighthearted look at what it took to finally get her to the pound the find the perfect dog—one that needed them as much as they needed him.
A public relations professional working at the State University of New York at Rockland, Saunders knows how to write press releases and gain media attention. As the author of two books, Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife, published by Heritage Books, and Ride a Horse, Not an Elevator, serialized in the Sentinel and incorporated into two state-wide 4-H programs, she has experience promoting her work through public speaking and personal contacts. She has spoken at Cornell University, Johns Hopkins, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), The Derek McGinty show, libraries, writers’ conferences, and on local radio and television. She is the parent representative of the Congenital CMV Foundation and a STOP CMV Action Network area rep. She graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. degree in Business Management and Marketing, and is a member of the Rockland Community College Speakers Bureau.
A freelance writer, Lisa Saunders has published articles about Elizabeth in Challenge Magazine, Celebrate Life, and in the newsletters of the CMV Registry and CURE Epilepsy. Stories of Elizabeth and her dog Riley have appeared in several local newspapers. Saunders has also written travel pieces and articles on chlamydia and RETT syndrome. For samples of her work, visit http://www.authorlisasaunders.com/
Lisa Saunders resides in Suffern, New York, with her husband Jim and dog, a beagle/Basset hound mix, Bailey.
Experienced in public relations, author is prepared to undertake a media campaign to gain attention for her book, Anything But a Dog, including:
Creating a press kit including a book-news release, quotes, photograph of author and press clips.
Pitching print and broadcast media with light-hearted stories about enjoying life with a disabled family member; raising awareness for congenital CMV so others can be spared Elizabeth’s fate; and with appeals for trainers to work with dogs to serve the disabled.
Coordinating author interviews on local radio and television.
The Congenial CMV Foundation and CMV Registry plan to promote the book through their Web site, newsletters, and conferences and will seek national print and broadcast media attention.
Speaking to organizations as a member of the Rockland Community College Speakers Bureau
Anything But a Dog can be successfully promoted through multiple avenues:
Pet and Women’s magazines
Special-ed magazines and newsletters
TV talk shows
Radio talk shows
Teaching noncredit classes on writing memoirs and raising a handicapped child
Book signings and appearances in stores
Sample Chapter Summaries (you will need to write a summary for every chapter, but I've only included the summary for the first and the back matter).
Chapter 1: “No, you can’t have a dog.”
“Mom, can I have a dog?” my seven-year-old Jackie asked, standing next to me while I washed the breakfast dishes.
I cringed. I dreaded this day for years—all kids inevitably ask for one. “No, you can't have a dog.” I scrubbed a tough piece of pasta from the bottom of a pot. I went on to give her all the usual reasons: “Too much work,” “I'll be the one who ends up walking it in the pouring rain,” etc.
“I promise I'll take care of it. Honest Mom!” Jackie clasped her hands together in earnest.
“Sure,” I thought. But I didn't say it. Picking up a soiled dinner plate, I began to scrub slowly, measuring my next words. “The truth is, we just can't risk a dog around your sister.” I hated admitting that. I didn't want her to blame her little sister, who was three years younger, for being so fragile, for being unable to protect herself from a frisky dog. But taking care of Elizabeth, who was quadriplegic as a result of congenital CMV (cytomegalovirus), was already enough work without adding a dog that might playfully nip at her.
I felt bad for Jackie. Her longing for a dog, which she felt would be a faithful companion, was probably a result of Elizabeth’s inability to play with her. Though the sisters loved to cuddle and watch cartoons, there was little else they could do together.
Fond memories of my own childhood dog, a beagle named Donald Dog, prompted me to make Jackie a promise: “If God Himself brings a dog to our door, then you can have one.” This little bit of hope cheered Jackie because she knew that is how I got Donald Dog--he showed up at my parents’ doorstep and never left. But knowing that the chances of that ever happening to Jackie were extremely remote, I offered her a consolation prize—a hamster.
Back Matter: Congenital CMV
I interview doctors and other parents of children affected by CMV to uncover the latest congenital CMV research and prevention. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 750 babies are permanently disabled by congenital CMV. It is more common a cause of disabilities than Down syndrome, and is the leading viral cause of mental retardation and hearing loss. Dr. Schmid of the CDC wrote to me: "The overwhelming majority of cases are not evident at the time of birth...the development of symptoms, such as neurosensory hearing loss and mental retardation, may not manifest for a year or longer."
The CDC recommends that pregnant women avoid kissing young children on the mouth or cheek, sharing food, towels or utensils with them, and frequent hand-washing—especially after diaper changes. The CMV Registry adds that toys must be washed with disinfectant. There have been recent breakthroughs in treating unborn children when their mothers have become infected with CMV. OB/GYN’s are not routinely testing women for congenital CMV nor warning them how to avoid it.
SUMMARY: Published author, public speaker and public relations writer for the State University of New York at Rockland. Author of EVER TRUE: A Union Private and His Wife, published by Heritage Books, and Ride a Horse, Not an Elevator, serialized in the Sentinel and incorporated into 4-H programs.
EDUCATION: Cornell University, Bachelor of Science: Business Management and Marketing.
Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife., published by Heritage Books. The true story of one couple’s devotion to their country and each other in the midst of the Civil War’s infidelities, scandals and ever-present threat of death. Edited Civil War letters and researched and wrote historical information. Featured in the Rockland Journal News. Reviewed in American Civil War, The Civil War News, and the Ithaca Times. Now a one-act play which debuted at the Lafayette Theater in Suffern, NY. Have performed in several productions of Ever True: A Civil War Love Story.
Ride A Horse, Not An Elevator, serialized in the Sentinel. A humorous children's novel about a lonely city girl who visits her eccentric relatives in the country. Featured in the Cornell University’s “Horse Book in a Bucket” 4-H program and the United States Pony Clubs. Reviewed in Women Today, The Children’s Post, Radio Zone Bookbag and The Writer’s Edge.
SHORT STORIES/ARTICLES: Published in American Spirit, Women Today, Celebrate Life, Welcome Home, Cornerstone, Times Herald-Record, Rockland Magazine, The Journal News, Rockland County Times, Battlefield Journal, The Civil War News, , Sentinel, The Rockland Review and CURE (epilepsy) newsletter. Sample titles: “The Hanging of Henry Gale”; “The Silent Virus that Silenced Elizabeth”; “A Tale of Two Dogs and a Shelter” and “Rockland Father Breaks Guinness World Record.”
PUBLIC SPEAKING: Topics include writing, historical research and children’s issues. Venues: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Cornell University, Johns Hopkins, The Washington Independent Writers Association, The Maryland Writer’s Association, William H. Seward House, Daughters of the American Revolution, Civil War Round Tables, Rockland Community College, grade schools and libraries. Interviewed on the “Derek McGinty Show,” “Street Talk” with Larry Ann Evans, “Generations Together” with Beverly Warren, “The Joy of Living” with Margo Haskins, and the "Chris St. Lawrence Show."
State University of New York at Rockland Community College, Suffern, NY, 2006-Present
Campus Communications Assistant (writer)
Write press releases and the college newsletter SCENE. Interview alumni, students and professors. Initial contact person for students interested in learning more about advertised programs. Assist with RCC Foundation fundraisers and write the bios of contributors and event honorees. Edit course catalogues and event programs.
National Field Service, Suffern, NY, 1998-2008
Human Resources: Compose bid proposals and letters to clients and employees. Recruit right of way, utility, MIS, communications and administrative personnel for clients. Interview candidates for job openings and communicate with clients regarding employment needs. Host tables at job fairs and assist in social event planning for clients.
Day Care Provider, Rockville, MY, 1987-1993
Ran a licensed day care center in my home.
Jordan Kitts Music (piano retailer), College Park, MD, 1983-1986
Payroll Manager: Calculated commission and non-commission payroll and payroll taxes for employees in 17 retail stores and the warehouse. Responsible for confidential records, and accounts payable.