Our Featured Author this month is Sylvia Dickey Smith. Sylvia is the author of the Sidra Smart Series, set in southeast Texas. She’s also a talented teacher and workshop leader. She has a whole series of workshops she leads called the “Creating” series, with topics like Creating Credible Characters, Creating a Plot That Won’t Stop, and Creating Fiction From Real Life.
Sylvia will be giving away a copy of one of her books to a Straight From Hel reader. You can find out how to put your name in the hat for the book at the end of this post. Good Luck!
Welcome Sylvia! I know you’ll have a lot to share with Straight From Hel readers. I’m very happy that you’re here.
SFH: In your Sidra Smart/Third Eye mystery series, you've pulled together memorable characters, vivid settings and plots with twists and turns. Tell us about the series and anything you have in the works.
Sylvia: At first, Dance On His Grave was a standalone murder mystery. The series developed after I’d landed an agent for the book. She loved the plot, the characters and the setting and said it would sell better as a series. Then she assigned me the task of writing synopses for two more books! Of course this blew me away. I was excited—yes—but after all the work it took to first learn HOW to write, then write the book, and finally land an agent, I felt mentally spent! Now she wanted me to come up with not one, but TWO more ideas for books in a series! I hustled, let me tell you! I whined, I borrowed, I copied, (and asked for forgiveness for that infraction!) and surprised myself that I ended up with plans for two more books. Then, after I got started—ideas just rolled in on the old Idea Express. Now I have more ideas for books than I have time to write.
So the series will continue as long as fans want it, or until I run out of ideas for the next caper for Sidra to get into. Folks in Orange, Texas have supported me way beyond what I’d ever imagined. They are thrilled to have a series set in their neck of the woods. They love reading about a locale, or a colorful character that reminds them of people they know. And it has been fun for me to return to my roots. I moved away soon after high school. I am convinced almost every person in Texas lived in Orange at one time or another! I meet them everywhere I go—even my hairdresser in Austin was from Orange and went to the same elementary school that I attended many years ago.
Okay, I think I’ve departed from the question about other things I have in the works.
I’m drafting a romance novel and intend to have it to my publisher by the first of April. That is a killer assignment, since I’ve just begun the first draft—but challenges get me fired up. I want to see if I can do it! This will be a stand-alone contemporary romance novel about Azilee Tyler—a young woman who raises Charolais cattle and 57 varieties of pecan trees, and communicates with horses better than she does men.
Another in the works is a standalone novel of a young woman during WWII who has her own war to fight—at home.
SFH: I know you're really good at marketing your books. Do you have a background in marketing or is it something you've learned along the way?
Sylvia: I am? Oh, thanks. No, I don’t have a marketing background, although I suppose being a preacher’s wife all those years taught me something about reaching people, eh?
I just hustle—thinking, always thinking about new and creative ways to attract readers, which results in many sleepless nights, of course. I go to bed some nights and my brain just won’t shut off long enough for the Z’s to catch up. It has been said that I see everything and miss nothing. I guess I do. Maybe it’s that right/left brain connection. I’m left-handed and I’ve read that many left-handers draw from both hemispheres of the brain more than do right-handers. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it sounds impressive, don’t you think?
Seriously, I enjoy marketing. I love meeting people; I love creating an environment at my book signings that will attract readers and be fun for everyone involved. I believe life is too short, and if you can’t have fun doing what you’re doing, then don’t do it. Plus, I see it as another one of those challenges—let’s see how many people I can get to listen to me talk about my book, and us both enjoy it.
The difficulty is that marketing is a process that must involve others, and writing is a solitary activity. Writing a first draft takes lots of focus, and when I get bogged down in the plot, it is so easy to put that aside and do a little marketing—looking for a place to have a book-signing or talk to a book club. Which, of course, doesn’t help me get that first draft written!
SFH: You also do a lot of the more technical stuff on your website and blog. Did you have help with things like the YouTube video for Deadly Sins, Deadly Secrets or the slideshow on your blog? Are these things the average author can learn to do?
Sylvia: Before my first book came out I developed my own site using a template, and did pretty well with it, I thought. But then time started getting more precious and I hired a web maven to help me with it. She’s great, and helps keep things on track. I do my own blog. And yes, these are things any author can learn to do for themselves. They are not really high tech; they just take time to first figure out how to do it, and then time to keep things fresh and up to date. I love working with websites and blogs. It is truly fun to learn. Actually, when I get tired of writing I think I’ll buy the software and learn how to design book covers!
SFH: With two books under your belt and another in the works and much experience at marketing, including an upcoming Carnival cruise where you're a featured author, has anything surprised you along the way?
Sylvia: Yes, that I got my first book published!
The process to having a book published in today’s market is indeed discouraging. The market is tight and difficult to break into. Anyone who doesn’t have to write in order to breathe would be better off finding another way to express themselves.
SFH: You lead a lot of different workshops and you work with aspiring authors. What advice do you have for writers who are struggling to get published?
Sylvia: DON’T GIVE UP—Instead, keep learning new and better ways to both write, and to present your work. Hire a professional editor to read your manuscript and give you honest feedback. Do not be offended by their suggestions. One fantastic woman (a retired English teacher) who has reviewed both of my books told me she’d share her red-marked copy of my ARC with me if I would not be offended. I said of course, that I’d love that feedback. It may sting, but it would make me a much better writer. I strive for perfection, even though I fall far short of that goal.
If you have sent out ten query letters and received rejections on them all, modify your query, have someone knowledgeable about them give you suggestions, make changes, and then send out ten more. Then, with every rejection letter that comes in, repeat that same process. Discontinue that process ONLY when there are no more viable agents/editors that you can find, or at least until you have sent out two or three hundred letters.
AND, learn to laugh every time you get a rejection letter. I got to where I’d announce to my husband, “Hey, look, another neg letter!” Wear them like a badge of courage, because indeed they are.
If you feel like you have a great manuscript, and other knowledgeable people have given you the same feedback (family members and friends don’t count in this equation) then don’t accept no for your final answer. Keep working until you get that YES! And it only takes one.
SFH: Thank you Sylvia!
Sylvia definitely isn’t sitting around or worrying about rejections. She has a whole list of books, both fiction and nonfiction, she’s working on, including more in the Sidra Smart/Third Eye Series.
And she’s in demand for speaking and workshop engagements. In the Fall, she’ll be teaching writing classes aboard a Carnival cruise.
As a wonderful bonus for all the Straight From Hel readers, you can sign up for a chance at a free copy of one of her books. Just email your name and address to her at email@example.com. You’ll have through February 29, 2008 to enter.
Also, if you have any questions for Sylvia, post them here in the comments section.
Thank you again, Sylvia.
6 months ago