Chicken Soup for Your Writer’s Soul? Absolutely!

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In a previous post I encouraged writers to seek out the Chicken Soup for the Soul website. There you will find a bevy of topics for which new books will be developed. They are always seeking submissions and believe me you are likely to find something you can wax poetic about.

I did find something when I checked out the site  and they selected my essay on volunteering to be included in their newest book, out next week. Yay, it arrived today! And there on page 89 is my story, “A Little Lipstick.” (It’s about a lovely gentleman I used to deliver weekly meals to who had only one poignant request…)

The Chicken Soup guidelines are fairly straightforward. The stories (they also accept poems) must be in first person, not “as told to” and they must have “heart.” Love that description, “heart.” It leaves much open to interpretation, doesn’t it? Doesn’t everything you write have “heart?” Anyway, this was my first submission (already submitted a second) and maybe it was beginner’s luck but I am so honored to be included. It’s just pretty exciting when someone (anyone!) thinks your work is worth publishing and reading. (Let alone paying you $200!) I’ve had two prior books published by big publishing houses. My most recent “Tales From The Family Crypt,” is self-published. With that varied publishing history, I can report this: It’s a thrill to be published no matter how you get there.

So, my writer friends and wannabe writer friends, get there! Give it a try. I can’t promise you’ll make the cut on your first try but I can guarantee you won’t make the cut if you never try. Also, I can promise you’ll be thrilled if you succeed and the disappointment of not getting in probably won’t kill you.

Do It. Join me in a future Soup! And do let me know if you make it. We’ll revel together.

The Irony of Amazon Reviews Mysteriously Disappearing

This post is not a complaint about Amazon reviews. It’s just something that made me smile this morning. I read recently that Amazon is going to crack down on reviews of products or books by people who are somehow related to said product or book. I get that Amazon wants reviews to be unbiased. As a consumer I want that too. And yes, I’ve heard the many stories of frustrated authors whose books have had completely legitimate reviews removed. I am, in fact, one of those authors and I’m not that happy about it.

I’ve had three reviews deleted from my page mysteriously. There were all there for a while and written by completely unrelated people. Two were 5-star, one was 4-star and OUCH it hurts to lose those. I’m guessing that somehow the Amazon algorithm used to crack down on bogus reviews somehow found that one of those writers is my friend on Facebook. He’s a guy I graduated high school with whom I haven’t seen or spoken to for 40 years. But, Amazon decided, I suppose, he and I were too close for their comfort and boom, his lovely review vanished. If you’re reading this, thanks for trying.

They deleted a review of someone I don’t know and to my knowledge she doesn’t know me. Five stars down the drain.

A woman who “liked” my Facebook book page sent me a message saying she was trying to write a review but was unable to “submit” it as Amazon seemed to be blocking it in some way. Maybe they discovered she is one of the 400 or so people who “liked” my page but for whatever reason they didn’t want her review to post.

But, overall I’m doing pretty well for a new nonfiction book about dysfunctional family. Twenty-four reviews, almost all five stars, a handful of four-star reviews and then these two, which are the ones that made me smile.

First is one written by a friend of my sister-in-law, one of the more despicable but true-life characters in my book. The “reviewer” even identified herself in the review as someone who “knows four of the people” I wrote about. She also pretty much said she hadn’t bought or read the book. And, she didn’t say she knew me, because I’ve never met her so I guess that was enough distance for Amazon to allow her review in which says the book is a “sad tale of a woman who is not happy in her own life.” That right there tells you she didn’t read the book because it’s not all sad. Some parts of damn funny, if I do say so myself.

But my favorite selection for Amazon irony in review deletion has to be the one by my brother-in-law. He does know me (alas for me), he’s an actual family member (alas for him since I pretty much described all the family members in detail and he is in no way happy about his depiction because it is, true and undeniably awful). Yet, Amazon allowed him to call me Hitler and that review stands!

But, as I said at the start, I’m just musing, not so much complaining. I’m overall grateful to Amazon for offering a platform for indie authors to get their fine work out there and to promote it to readers seeking new voices to enjoy. I’m hoping to garner so many good reviews I will no longer notice if a handful disappear. (Unlike now when I have pretty much memorized each review as if it were one of my children and therefore I notice when they’re missing!) Until that happens (the magical day when my reviews are in the hundreds instead of the 20s) if there are bumps along the way, if the system is imperfect, I can live with that. But when I realized the irony of stranger reviews being deleted while actual family member reviews are allowed to stay, it did make me wonder what’s up at Amazon?

Have you authors out there had mysterious deletions of your reviews? Do you think this matters much?

Chicken Soup for the Blogger’s Soul?

In my search of good places to submit original writing, one of the first I came across was the juggernaut that is the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books. Having received many of these books as gifts over the years, I was intrigued. So with my usual, What the hell, attitude, I wrote an essay and sent it off to their call for submissions on Volunteering and Giving Back. (They have a boatload of titles and topics so check out their website and write an essay to submit.)

Much to my shock delight, I’m in! The book is publishing in August and my essay entitled, “A Little Lipstick,” will be inside.

So, the point of this post, is this. If you are a writer or a wannabe writer, adopt the useful, “What the Hell” attitude. Send off your work and send positive vibes into the universe. Or, do as I did. Send off your work and forget about it completely so that you too can be shocked delighted when someone out there likes what you’ve written enough to publish it. Hitting the submit button feels very powerful. Don’t take it personally if you never hear from an outlet again. Or, worse yet, if you get an actual rejection telling you the writing is the worst thing they’ve ever seen. (Okay, no one actually says that, it just feels that way.) Just reward yourself for being brave enough to send your creation out there. You just never know what may happen.

The founder of the Chicken Soup books, Jack Canfield, was rejected by 144 publishers. No, that’s not a typo. 144 publishers said no to his concept. Fast forward to today, 500,000,000 books in print worldwide. Again, no typo, 500 million books.

If you haven’t yet been rejected 144 times, keep trying! Eat a bowl of chicken soup for comfort if need be! But keep hitting SUBMIT!

Free Is Just Another Word For…

Yesterday and today I’ve been offering a free download of Tales From the Family Crypt on Amazon.   I’ve been watching the download numbers go up with… well… actual glee. Mind you, no one makes any money on a free download so why is this making me so happy? What is it about imagining the readers who are about to crack open (cyber-wise that is) my work that gives me joy?

I think it’s something like this– Writers write. We often write in isolation but while we’re doing so, we’re envisioning the reader who is going to absorb our words. However, we can only imagine that person, we’re not there when they’re reading what we’ve written. (Unless you have a significant other you’ve been regularly forcing sweetly asking to read what you’ve written.) Seeing my download numbers go up on that lovely graph Amazon provides and on the rankings (#63 in nonfiction, #1 in Parenting, #1 in Aging Parents!)  just fills me with the hope that maybe, just maybe, in the next couple of days lots of people will read what I artfully crafted and poured heart and soul into in the tiny space that is my office. The work from that small space will spider out, yes, like the crack in your windshield that pops and then grows quickly into a web eventually taking over the front of your car, but in a good way. It will grow and expand into the universe of readers who will see what I wrote and perhaps act on it in some good way. Maybe they’ll call a long lost relative. Maybe they’ll find a way to speak to a family member or friend with whom they’ve had a falling out. Maybe they’ll hug someone who means a great deal to them. Maybe they’ll phone me with an offer for a movie script in which I will be played by Jennifer Lawrence. Anything is possible, right?

So for today, the download graph forecasts more joy. I hope you have a wonderful day too. And, remember, the best things in life are free. Some very good things cost money, don’t get me wrong, I like those too, but being able to enjoy the free is also terrific.

Writers and Parents: Be Careful What You Wish For!

Writing is a great many wonderful things but making a living at it isn’t easy. And, more importantly, it may not be a good thing. Consider this story. I wrote a parenting book some years back, before the advent of self publishing. Shockingly, at least to me, it was published by a major publishing house and even more shocking, they actually spent about 10 minutes promoting it. (Because promoting books is not one of the things big publishing houses do well or even at all for most books! Yes, that was a surprise to me too.) One afternoon I returned to my home office to hear this voice mail:

Woman’s voice: Hi. This is Andrea. I’m a producer  at the Oprah Show. We just received your parenting book and we think it’s terrific. We’re doing a show on being organized and we already have an expert booked on the show but if you could be in Chicago next week, we might be able to add a segment specific to parenting. If you’re interested, please call me at …

OMG. I won’t even bother trying to describe how I felt.  I know you can easily imagine. (Suffice it to say the moment was so thrilling, I can still remember what I was wearing when I heard the message.) So, of course I returned the call ASAP. First she waxed poetic about my book and explained the reason they loved it was because it was so practical. Every suggestion in the book was something any parent could do with any child. She loved the way I looked at parenting which was that parents should integrate kids into their lives while maintaining as much of themselves and their previous lives as possible. I was thrilled they understood the point of the book which was to give parents actual, doable advice for raising responsible, good kids without overwhelming parents with a lot of theories and philosophizing. She asked if I could send video of me on any prior appearance on TV as well as a brief description of what I thought would be a good two-minute segment. She explained it was not highly likely they’d be able to add me in since the show was really already tightly planned but she really liked the book and was going to try. I sent off my package and held my breath.

Next I phoned my agent, who, while she was thrilled for me, had a cautionary warning. What I said to her, somewhat jokingly but also maybe a little bit wistfully was, “Maybe I’ll be the John Gray of parenting.” Back then he was the IT writer, who had written the phenomenally successful relationship book about men being from Mars while women were from Venus. She answered quickly, “You don’t want to be that. He’s a relationship expert who’s on the road about 50 weeks a year. Do you want to be writing about parenting while being away from your kids 50 weeks out of the year?”

That struck me and proved to be a little comforting when I heard back from the producer who reported, alas, they could not fit my two-minute segment into the show, as she had feared. But, she said they loved my book and would try to find another show to work it into. Despite the fact I spent the next year sending her show theme pitches and small gifts in Fed Ex envelopes monthly (my agent’s suggestion), my Oprah appearance remained elusive. I was so disappointed. My dream of being a fantastically successful writer did not come to pass.

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Lego Art by Nathan Sawaya

Thus, I did not become the John Gray of parenting. But I did raise three amazing daughters who probably lamented how much I was around the house more than I did! I have no regrets. My book sold okay, I did some other  fun TV and radio appearances with it and got some very positive feedback. Thanks to the ability to self publish and the fact that the rights reverted back to me, I updated it and published it again this year so if you want to check out Raising Amazing Children: While Having a Life of Your Own, the practical parenting book an Oprah producer loved but didn’t produce a show about, it’s just 99 cents on Amazon. I figure if it’s a bestseller now, I can hit the road. My kids are all grown and won’t even notice if I leave town!  If you give it as a gift to a new parent you know, you can tell them it was almost on Oprah. (They don’t have to know you only spent a dollar on it!) If you read it, please share a review on Amazon. Your opinion will mean more to me than any producer’s! And, writers, rethink your disappointments. Maybe the way it’s working out for you is the way it’s meant to be after all.