Monday, September 6, 2010

Create Your Own Yellow Brick Road

By C.L. Phillips

Is there only one yellow-brick road to publication? Methinks not. Just as there is a title for every reader, a car for every driver, there is a path to publication for every writer...who doesn't quit. Sylvia Dickey Smith, winner of the Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation Sage Award Winner for 2010, proves where there's a will, there's a way.

Starting in 2006, Sylvia queried a hundred agents. Not one nibble. In 2007, she found an agent who subsequently went out of business. Weary, discouraged, and determined never to be self-published, Sylvia reset her sights on small publishers. She landed a deal, sans agent, with LL Dreamspace. Fast forward three years, and she's published three mysteries - Dance on His Grave, Deadly Sins Deadly Secrets, Dead Wreckoning, and one cookbook Sassy Southern Classy Cajun.

What's unique about Sylvia's journey is how her writing evolved. She's moved into women's historical fiction with her latest book, A War of Her Own, a project she started during NaNoWriMo 2008, soon to be released in September 2010 by CrickHollow Books ( Again, she didn't slow down to find an agent. Instead, she targeted small publishers, negotiated her own contract, and pushed forward with the zeal of a tiger on steroids. Sylvia said, "I came into this world feet-first and left-handed. I'm not waiting for anybody to tell me what to do." Sylvia attacks the writing business like a business, and she is her own entrepreneur.

What I admire about Sylvia's journey is her ability to make decisions that are right for her, and her ability to execute. She created a plan. When the plan didn't work, she changed. When the changes spurred personal growth, she trusted her inner guidance and a new voice emerged. She's following this new voice into a new area, women's fiction. Like any artist, she's experimenting, letting each project or novel play a role in the growth of her craft, her self, and her dreams. When asked why she created A War of Her Own, Sylvia said, "In the 1940's, women were left on their own when they had problems. And women do what they have to do come hell or high water. I wanted to write about that kind of woman." In War of Her Own, the main character, Bea Meade gives a new meaning to personal strength as her life evolves from that of a young, sheltered wife and mother to a divorced working woman, meeting the world on her own terms with a pragmatic view of men, family, and religion.

There are many ways to measure success. Sylvia creates her own measures. Do you? On your path to publication, do you have a plan for evolving your command of craft? Are you building the internal self image to sustain you during difficult times? Do you nurture experiments that could be the key to your future success? Sylvia taught me that the answers will be different for every writer. What's important is that you honestly ask the questions of yourself, and Write Down the ANSWERS. Make a plan. Get out there. Engage the market. Make adjustments. And as always...

Write on!


C.L Phillips writes mystery novels while nestled under a hundred-year live oak tree in downtown Austin. Except in August. C.L writes about the the gap between what people want and what they actually do. Broccoli or chocolate chip cookies, anyone? Check out her web site: or find her onTwitter: @clphillips787


Ricky Bush said...

Great interview, C.L., about an author who knows how to hang.

Philip Martin said...

Hi, I'm Sylvia's publisher (Crickhollow Books), and I concur that Sylvia "pushed forward with the zeal of a tiger on steroids" . . . and in a really wonderfully pleasant way!

If you're interested in some tips (by me) for working well with a small press, there's a series of posts anchored here:

Pauline Alldred said...

Inspiring interview. I'm just at the point where I need to find an agent or find another way. Growing with each work is what keeps us writing, I think.

JB Lynn said...

Inspiring piece, thank you!

I think the nature of most committed writers is to push themselves and grow. It's always nice to know that someone's tenacity has paid off!

M.M. Gornell said...

Inspiring. Such good, good advice.

C.L. Phillips said...

Glad to know this story helps all y'all as much as it does me. Sylvia is a generous mentor. Her example is one I cherish.


Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

Cindy, thanks for such a great job with the interview/blog post. And thanks to all for the kind words. I'm running behind a little because I was out of town when the blog went live.

I truly do embrace the concept of receiving that which we give back. (And take advantage of Philip's offer. He has some good stuff on this blogs.

Cindy--I love the title of your article! Cool!!
Sylvia Dickey Smith