By Linda O’Connell –
Whether you consider yourself a detail-oriented plotter, or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer, you have
developed strategies that work for you. Some writers can toss a few words together and write a great story with little effort, but many of us need a formula.
I have been published in 23 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Each true story had universal appeal, a beginning, a middle, and an end. My stories had unique angles whether via the message, writing style, or level of adventure.
A Chicken Soup for the Soul story reads like you’re speaking to a friend, but writing one is not as simple as
sitting in your best friend’s living room, sharing a life event. You must follow a basic “recipe” and then season it your way.
Imagine this scenario: You’ve just discovered a recipe on line for the perfect chocolate cake. You would like to win the blue ribbon in a baking contest. You gather necessary tools and ingredients, mix, bake, and create what you hope will be a prize winner. You discover that half the entrants have also found the same recipe and baked the same cake. Lined up on a countertop, they all resemble one another. Exactly what is it about your masterpiece that makes it unique? Is it how you decorate it? The elegant presentation? What is your attention-grabber? What leaves a delightful lingering taste for more?
Chicken Soup for the Soul receives more than 1,000 submissions for each book title. Editors whittle selections down to 200, then select 101 stories for publication. Selected submissions go through several editorial rounds and are read by several editors. Writers whose stories are selected sign two contracts: a preliminary contract where your story made first round selection, and later the your-story-made-it final contract. It can take a few months, up to a year or longer before you see your story in print. You can’t rush the process. Developing a successful “Chicken Soup” story takes time, too.
• Choose the preparation technique that works best for you. Do you free-write and then edit, or edit as you
go? Always, before hitting the SEND button, edit one last time.
• Every cook adds her own touch, something special which distinguishes her product from the rest. Season
carefully. Adding a shot of bourbon (expletives) or a dash of cayenne pepper (wisecracks) to a Chicken Soup story won’t necessarily spice it up. Use metaphor, analogy, and/or humor. Add sensory details to make your reader see and feel. Inspire. Aim for the goose bumps.
• Your title must have immediate appeal. Chocolate Cake or Chocolate Tingle, which recipe heading is more creative and interesting?
• Even if it’s good, your story may not be chosen. Sometimes editors receive too many of the same type of story submissions, so not all of them can be chosen regardless how many of them are good. Rejection has little to do with you and your product, and more to do with editorial needs. Unfortunately, Chicken Soup for the Soul does not send rejection letters, but they do keep stories on file for consideration for other upcoming books.
• The last morsel of your finished product should be as tasty as the first bite. Your story ending should be as delectable as your opening. Leave the reader with a relatable memory, a powerful, inspirational, take-away message in no more than 1,200 words.
Many writers think there’s a certain magic to landing a Chicken Soup contract. Others liken selection to the lottery. In reality, it’s common sense and a splash of whimsy.
BIO: Linda O’Connell, an award-winning, multi-published writer and seasoned preschool teacher from St. Louis, MO blogs at http://lindaoconnell.blogspot.com