Interview by Susan Allison
A member of WNBA and The Author’s Guild, Sheila Murray Bethel, PhD is recognized internationally as an expert in leadership. She is a successful entrepreneur, bestselling business author of five books, and a Hall-of-Fame speaker. She has given over 4,000 presentations to over two million people in 20 countries. Her latest published work, A New Breed Of leader, 8 Qualities That Matter Most In The Real World, What Works, What Doesn’t and Why is published in English and Chinese and is winning global praise. She has also written for such publications as The Washington Post, The San Francisco Examiner and USA Today, to name a few.
When asked about her earliest writing experiences, Sheila remarks, “I am always impressed when I hear about women who knew they wanted to be a writer as a child or they talk about writing stories and plays or poems in school. I never did. I came to writing late in the game, as a necessity that turned into a passion. As a beginning professional speaker, I realized that I had to write articles, training materials, and most of all, a book. To have credibility in the marketplace, I needed a traditionally published book, and preferably one that did well.”
In her thirty-five years as a professional speaker, Sheila wrote two compilations with other experts, and three books on her own on the subject of leadership. Her first solo book was a best seller in a large niche market; the second was a national bestseller, published in several languages and took her, as she describes, “around this wonderful globe of ours, speaking to fascinating groups of people in a myriad of organizations in fascinating venues.” It was the longest selling business book in her publisher’s history, with twenty-three printings in the U.S. The third book was a follow up to the second and again sold in many languages and countries.
When asked to share her publishing experience, Sheila has sound advice for every writer: “Don’t Give Up!!! Publishing is one of the hardest things I have ever done. You will encounter nay-sayers and negative people who don’t believe in you or your work. You will get your feelings hurt, shed a tear, and even want to give up during the process. Please don’t. If you feel like quitting, call me and I’ll give you a pep talk.”
Based on her years of experience, Sheila has three key tips about publishing:
- Once you have finished your book, take your ego, wrap it carefully in a piece of lovely soft velvet, and put it in the closet. From now on look at your work as a Product (not you personally). That is the only way you will survive what it takes to see it through to publication.
- The hardest thing to do is to understand that rejection, or constructive criticism, is not personal. It is not you that is being rejected; it is your product. Take a deep breath and get feedback on why it is not being received as you had planned. Ask yourself, what can I learn/do to make it better or more appealing. A caveat here; ask advice from those who are as successful or more so than you. While it is generous of others who are not yet published to help, odds are they won’t be able to give you the hard news you need to make your book publishable.
- Get an agent! Will it be easy? No. Is it worth it? Yes! Research the net for the agents that work in your genre. Their website will tell you all you need to know about how to approach them and what they will and will not accept, and how to give them what they want; i.e., synopsis, longer outline, several chapters and so on. Get to know the books they represent and with which publishers they work. It is key to be informed about them before you try to submit your work. It pays off! I’ve had three non-fiction agents; two I enjoyed working with, one I did not. Will I go through it all again for a fiction agent? Yes. I will be right there with you on this journey to have a published book!
Currently, Sheila is writing a work of fiction, and is drawing on so many inspiring writers for inspiration: “Early on I read the classics; Virginia Wolfe, the Bronte’s, Toni Morrison, Willa Cather among others. Their artistry was the basis and inspiration for my writing. They made me laugh, cry and come to realize how much their words empowered me and allowed me into other worlds. My current fiction project is greatly influenced by Australian writer Colleen McCollough, author of The Thorn Birds. She was a powerful storyteller, a true genius of the written word. She would create a broad scope of time and place and characters and then skillfully and artistically bring it down to one place in a specific time with a detailed group of characters.”
Now that Sheila is retired and is “no longer a road warrior,” she has the luxury of flexibility and can write anywhere, from her desk, to BART, in a park, at the library, on a plane or in a hotel room. What works for her is to write in two-hour segments, take a break and then come back and finish or edit what she has written: “I often take what I have written ‘for a walk,’ meaning that I go out to one of my favorite walking trails and read and edit as I walk. Nature inspires me and frees my mind. I always come back with better material than when I began.” Sheila’s debut novel is half-finished, and she is “enjoying the challenge.”
In her parting words, Sheila Bethel inspires us to believe in ourselves and to keep writing: “Congratulations and good for you! There has never been a better time for women writers. The global awareness of women’s issues, as well as the rights and contributions we have made, make it a pivotal time in literary history. Your words and ideas are important!”
Sheila would love to hear from you. Find out more about her and her work at: