Rachel Anderson has always had a way with words. With years of writing experience across a wide range of disciplines, she’s worked as a newspaper reporter, a copywriter, a television newscast producer, publicist and now, a marketing and public relations consultant. Among her first pieces of writing is the novel she wrote as a teenager—Secrets and Desires, which tells the story of identical twin girls separated at birth and later reunited when they are 17. Anderson originally dreamt of getting her novel published, but the exorbitant fees charged by publishers kept her back. Now, however, she—alongside her son, Justin—helps teenagers get their own stories onto the page and into the hands of readers.
Sigma’s Bookshelf is a publishing organization started by Anderson and Justin, currently a senior at Wayzata High School. Like his mom, Justin has always loved writing and storytelling. “I was writing children’s books when I was 4,” he says. Four years ago, he and his mom rescued a cat and three kittens left in their neighborhood park. They adopted one of the kittens, who they christened Stripes, and worked with the Adopt a Pet Shop in Plymouth, to find homes for the others. Justin wrote about the experience in his book Saving Stripes.
All proceeds from sales of Saving Stripes go to the Adopt a Pet Shop as a token of the Andersons’ gratitude for working so hard to place Stripes’ mom, an older cat suffering from a range of illnesses, in a loving home. “They poured a lot into that cat when she was sick, so we wanted to replenish what they spent on her,” Justin says. So far, almost $3,500 has been given to the organization from the over 350 copies of Saving Stripes sold.
That experience launched the start of Sigma’s Bookshelf—the first book publishing company exclusively for teenagers. Justin knew having a mother who works in the book publishing industry gave him a leg up when it came to getting his work published, and he wanted to give other young writers the same opportunity. Though Anderson has lent her expertise to getting the organization off the ground, she says it’s ultimately her son’s brainchild. “I just happened to have picked it up and run with it. I was like, ‘god, that’s a great idea!’ But it’s really his thing,” she explains.
Anderson also shares the insights she’s gained throughout her years as a writer in the publishing classes she teaches for teenagers. “We started these classes with the idea of giving kids a basic understanding of the publishing industry and how to approach writing in a way that’s really going to help them put together a really nice book,” she says. From generating story ideas to listing books with online retailers to collecting royalties, she walks students through the many stages of the writing and publishing process.
Her writing advice is applicable for teenagers and adults alike, and given that National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is upon us, there’s no better time to put them into action. Each November, NaNoWriMo participants attempt to complete a 50,000-word manuscript throughout the course of the month. Though it takes a great deal of focus and discipline, it can be done—and even the most complicated novels always start, Anderson says, with an idea.
“Story ideas can come from anywhere. Sometimes they’re things directly out of people’s imagination; other times they’re based on something that really happened. Sometimes, they could even come pieces of conversation, maybe something you heard in the grocery store,” Anderson say
Her best advice is to be prepared for inspiration to strike at the most random of times. She advises her students to keep a pad of paper and a pen with them at all times, just in case. “When something comes to you, just scribble it down. You never know where your inspiration is going to come from,” she says.