Friday, October 9, 2009

An Interview with Susan Bono by Tricia McWhorter

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down to lunch with gifted editor, publisher and writer Susan Bono. Everyone I talked to in my pre-interview information-gathering phase told me that Susan is extremely talented, funny and delightful. They were absolutely correct.

In addition to running an editing and coaching business for writers, Susan is the intrepid publisher of Tiny Lights: A Journal of Personal Narrative, a literary magazine currently in its fifteenth year of publication. Tiny Lights appears twice a year in hard copy and has an on-line presence as well. [1]

Susan started out teaching high school, but when her children were born, she left teaching in order to stay home with them. When they reached the ages of nine and seven she returned to college at Sonoma State and took classes in the personal essay from Gerry Haslam, whom she credits with helping her find her way into editing and publishing.

Susan told me that her work as an editor combines her love of teaching and writing. It felt like a way to blend the two, since the collaboration between editor and writer is much like the dynamic between student and teacher, where one is coaxing the very best from the other. Publishing seemed a good way to combine all these interests, since having an audience for the work is something all writers need. Susan said that her life works best when she maintains a balance between editing, publishing and writing.

I asked Susan what tips she could give aspiring writers. Here are a few of her favorites:

1. Jump on every opportunity you have to get your name out there by being published. Don't worry if the publication is large or small. The important thing is to build credibility. (I'll give a plug here: check out Tiny Lights if you write personal essay. You may want to respond to one of the prompts listed on Searchlights and Signal Flares Tiny Lights on-line writers' exchange at .)

2. If you have a blog or website, be sure to note that at the bottom of all of your correspondence and submissions; otherwise you're wasting an opportunity to get your name in front of people.

3. Be organized. If you want to make money as a writer you also have to think of it as a business. Keep track of your submissions: who, what, where and when you send things out. Calendar upcoming submission and contest deadlines and think ahead so you'll be ready to send in your work. [2]

4. Let publishers know if you are sending out simultaneous submissions. If you hear one of your pieces is being published, let the other publishers know so they don't waste time reviewing your work. Susan said that she has been in the position of having chosen a story as the winner of a Tiny Lights writing contest only to discover that the piece had already been published elsewhere with the stipulation that it not be republished. The writer had wasted her time as well as her judges' time.

5. Publishers are busy. If you submit something and don't hear back, don't assume it was because they hated your work. It's possible the publisher loved what you wrote but was too busy to respond immediately. They may have gotten distracted and your story might have become buried under the mountains of paper on their desk or lost in their inbox. There could be lots of reasons why you haven't heard anything. It is okay, and smart, to politely follow up.

6. The most important thing of all? Just write.

Susan Bono can be reached at You can also follow her on Facebook at

Editor's Notes:

[1] Go to Susan Bono's website at to find out about contests and submission guidelines.

[2] This point was underscored by our October 4th guest speaker, Stephanie Freele. She suggested the minimum items to track regarding submissions on a spreadsheet are as follows:

Title Market Date Date Date Redone Comments

Sent Rejected/Accepted

[3] Editing is the act of re-visioning --- a way of looking at your written work in a new way. The editor's job is to help you shape your work into its final form and to make you look fabulous. The editor is on your side, trying to make you look the best you can be. Writers and editors are collaborators. Be sure to come on out and say hi to Susan on October 24th at the Redwood Writers 2009 Conference.

More conference details:

[4] Be sure to find out more about Tricia on her blog Thought Threads at

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