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What goes well with chicken soup

Lots of writers ask me how to get published in the bestselling Chicken Soup for the Soul book series. That’s because I’m very lucky to be a frequent contributor. In the past few years, they’ve published 40 of my stories.

Submitting is simple. You go to their website, fill in your name, address, etc., and then just paste your story. Authors receive $200 plus 10 books per story.

CSS editors receive more than 5,000 submissions per book. Therefore, before you submit, I’d like to tell you what they want. The editors want stories, not essays. A term I’ve heard is “a Chicken Soup moment.” I keep that etched in my brain. At this point, I’m acutely aware of when I’m experiencing a Chicken Soup moment. Or notice that someone else is.

I was reading a friend’s Facebook post. She had recently been published for her first time in CSS. On her FB page, she posted a beautiful picture of a Christmas decoration she kept up all year around. She wrote, “I hung these three angels from my dining room chandelier at Christmas two years ago and they have never left.” Her caption for her picture: “Angels Watching Over Me.”

The instant I saw that, I e-mailed her, suggesting that was a perfect Chicken Soup moment. I wrote, “Your life is filled with Chicken Soup moments. You just have to see them.”

Those “moments” do not need to be huge, as in a miraculous medical recovery. You can find them in the simplest of experiences. Although I have had stories accepted about my spinal cord injury, simpler topics have included: “The Appointment,” – my husband falling apart when our dog got groomed for the first time (humor), “Little Things Matter,” – not celebrating Valentine’s Day because we didn’t want to bother, “My Husband is on a Diet” – humor, “Mud-dling Through,” – when I stopped to help an old dog get up from a mucky sandbar.

I have found a major difference between submitting to CSS versus other popular publications. Your story is going to be read. You’re not just sending it to Simon & Schuster, their publisher. You’re sending it to someone who’s actually going to read all of it.

I’m seeing a slight trend of CSS accepting more humor, as well as just a tiny touch of edginess. Example: In Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You, my humor story contains the following dialogue.

Last night he screamed from the bathtub, “I’ve got it!”

I called out from the den, “Geez, Bob. I hate to think what you mean by that.”

In another book, Think Positive, I tell a story involving my husband having X-rays. The technician forgot to remove whatever they call those things that are placed over nipples so that nipples don’t show up as suspicious spots on the films. I wrote this dialogue:

“What are people going to think if you’re wearing nipple buttons?” I grabbed his nipples and started yanking.

Yes, I know that dialogue isn’t all that edgy, but a year ago, I would have edited those parts out before submitting.

Although the editors have published my reprints, as long as the columns ran in a very small venue, they prefer originals. I retain all rights to my stories. However, I do agree to give permission to CSS to use my story in various venues. That’s part of the contract. This works in my favor.

My stories have appeared on www.beliefnet.com, which is a huge inspirational website. Several of my works have been picked up, also via CSS, by King Features Syndicate and, therefore, are published in newspapers all over the country. Women’s World, another gigantic publication with a readership of more than 7 million, picked up one of my stories.

Your chances of acceptance are increased if you submit something that is not on the same topic that most others will be submitting. You can probably predict the most common topics. A terrific writer/friend submitted a story for the book, Runners. It was about finishing his first marathon. He didn’t get accepted. I would bet, because he’s such a great writer, that his story was not included because finishing one’s first marathon was likely the topic of plenty of stories for that book.

CSS editors prefer diversity.

— Saralee Perel

Saralee Perel is an award-winning nationally syndicated columnist and the author of Cracked Nuts & Sentimental Journeys: Stories From a Life Out of Balance. She was recently interviewed on “Books & the World” about her book and won two awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association for serious and humor columns. You can read one of the winning columns here.

Reflections of Erma