The popularity of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books is beyond extraordinary. What started out as a multi- rejected book idea has turned into a multi-million dollar book empire. More than 110 million Chicken Soup for the Soul books have been sold. Many of the books have been translated to 40 different languages. I'm proud that my personal essays have been included in some of these books, and I hope to continue being a Chicken Soup contributor.
I thought I would share a bit about being published in these collections. I'm very happy with my Chicken Soup experiences, and part of that may be that I went into it with little expectations at first. I started with them because I had a few stories that seemed to fit what they were looking for, and I thought I had nothing to lose. Unlike some of the other markets and contests I was looking at, submitting to Chicken Soup could be done at no cost to me, and I didn't even need to worry about a postage stamp, because they had an online submission system. I had read these books for years, and because I could always relate to many of the stories, I felt less intimidated than I would have been if I had started by sending my work to a prestigious literary magazine, or to a glossy periodical that rarely accepted unpublished writers.
That beginner's luck served me well as my first two pieces were accepted (Hey, this writing thing's not so tough, I thought). If I would have known what I was up against-- that they receive thousands of submissions for each book, and that chosen submissions are put through multiple readings by many people, and they have to be given the highest "score" in order to be passed up to the co-authors of the book, I may not have tried!
Hurry up and Wait
I've talked with other writers who have submitted to Chicken Soup for the Soul and have discovered another common theme: You need to have patience. For the first few, the turnaround was 2 months from submission until Final Word of approval. This was actually somewhat fast, as you first get notice that you are being considered, then a finalist, and THEN approval. Just because you make the first cut does not mean you are guaranteed to be one of the 101. I had an essay make it to finalist and then was not chosen. After final acceptance and edits, it was another 3-4 months until publication. At that time, I received payment and my author copies.
For the "Thanks, Dad" book, I was sure that my essay wasn't chosen. Unlike other markets, you do not get a rejection letter if your essay is not accepted. I sent my submission in June (2009) and didn't hear from them until December (2009, the book was published in April 2010). Sometimes they will make you aware that a title is not going into production for a time, sometimes not. I would recommend keeping track of slow turnarounds like these on your list of submitted work (you have one of those, right?).
Steps to Publication
Once your essay is being considered, you are asked to sign a release and write a bio for the section at the back of the book, "Meet our Contributors". If you have named someone else in your story, they may feel your subject's permission is necessary, so you may need to obtain that, or you may be able to change the names.
When copies of my edited essays were sent to me for review, I was able to make corrections (a wrong name or place for example). In the case of "Melody of the Heart", it was published in the section of the book called: "Making Grey Hairs--Fathering Teenagers". That was appropriate because I talked about being a teenage brat. The opening quote that Chicken Soup had chosen to open my essay with was also appropriate: "It's difficult to decide if growing pains are something that teenagers have--or are." However, I wanted to focus more on the music that brought my dad and I together, so I asked that my opening quote be changed to: "Where words fail, music speaks. --Hans Christian Andersen". They accepted my edit. (You can read this essay here.)
What's Good for Your Writing Soul?
--or,what I like about writing for Chicken Soup
- You retain your rights, so you can resell the work.
- They may accept previously published work as well (it probably has to be exceptional), as long as you let them know and you own the rights, of course (if unsure, look at your contract and look here for an overview of your rights.
- Payment is usually $100 to $200
- Most everybody has heard of Chicken Soup for the Soul, so the recognition is nice
- They have a syndication agreement, so your essay/your writing has a chance for more exposure online and in newspapers (I was surprised to find "Melody of the Heart" printed in The Oklahoman and other newspapers a few months ago)
--the few drawbacks, with mini-Excuse Edits
- The Competition--I would recommend the same as with any market; send in your best work, and move on to your next project.
- The Wait--again, move on to another market or work. You know how the ABC's of selling are "Always Be Closing"? Well, the ABC's of Writing are "Always Be Composing". Writers write. Keep creating instead of worrying about one submission that you know may take months to be decided.
Find what Chicken Soup is looking for here, and sign up for my newsletter for a monthly listing of Chicken Soup and others looking for submissions.
Read my essays (and others!) in these Chicken Soup books:
Good luck breaking into this market! Let me know if you are one of the lucky 101!