We’re thankful and excited to hear from our member, Sharon Struth, who shares thoughts about her writing journey and advice for those who have recently completed their first novel.
- Would you say you write women’s fiction or romantic women’s fiction? Do you write in other genres?
I’m published in romantic women’s fiction. The book I’m currently working on, however, is straight women’s fiction.
- What is your last published title?
My April 2018 release is Willow’s Way, a book that took on a personal journey for me.
Here’s a bit about Willow’s Way…
Willow Armstrong, the once-famous “Queen of Weight Loss” and president of Pound Busters, succumbed to stress eating after her divorce. Now the scandal of getting caught on camera binging on pizza, and the internet-wide mocking of her new curves, may destroy her career. Add in a business advisor who drained her finances, and Willow is out of options—until she learns she’s inherited a house in England’s most picturesque locale, The Cotswolds.
Willow’s trip across the pond to sell the property and salvage her company soon becomes its own adventure: the house, once owned by grandparents she never met, needs major work. Plus, single dad Owen Hughes, the estate’s resident groundskeeper and owner of a local tour outfit, isn’t thrilled about the idea of leaving . . .
Yet as Willow proceeds with her plans, she’s sidetracked by surprising discoveries about her family’s history–and with Owen’s help, the area’s distinctive attractions. Soon, she’s even retracing her roots—and testing her endurance—amid the region’s natural beauty. And the more she delves into the past, the more clearly she sees herself, her future, and the way home . . .
This story is personal for two reasons. One, I love to travel. It was delightful to get up each day and write about a place where I have such fond memories. The second reason is more personal. I’ve struggled with my weight as far back as I can remember. Like the heroine of this story, my own self-image was formed back during my childhood, where I was very aware of my weight. Occasional remarks by adults (though said jokingly) left me even more self-conscious about my appearance. This feeling carried into adulthood. I set out to write a character with the same baggage, but who slowly learns that self-love comes from within. A notion I’m slowly taking stock of far too late in my own life.
- Are you traditionally published, self-published, or both?
All my books were done through publishers (Kensington for my two series), with the exception of one. Though a few publishers showed interest in The Do-To List, I genre hopped a little too much and those interested said no. Readers often don’t really care if you do this…publishers do. Fair enough. Difficulty in knowing where to shelve and market a title is a big reason they’ll turn books down. But I loved the story, so took a leap into self-publishing.
Did I love self-publishing, you might ask? Not as much as I thought I would, though there are some benefits.
Cover choice and marketing freedom (with categories and price) are pluses. But you’re responsible for everything and it’s a time sink. I’d rather be focusing on writing craft and devoting time to making my books shine. For me, writing isn’t a game of volume, but a balance of quality and volume.
- What would be your number one tip you’d give to someone who’d just finished their first manuscript?
A first manuscript is a huge accomplishment! So take a breath, pat yourself on the back, but I have one warning… Don’t rush to self-publication before asking yourself this: Is your book ready for the public? Here’s why I offer this advice…
My first manuscript is physically sitting in a drawer in my desk. It will never be seen by anyone. I call it “My practice book.” I can now see that there is so much wrong with it. BUT, the time I spent writing it served a purpose. I learned how to piece together a novel, think about where to stop and starts scenes and chapters, and how to fully flesh out story. Experience has given me some insights into what was wrong with this book. The characters lacked in real goals, motivation for those goals, and solid (not contrived) conflict to keep the reader interested. Internal emotion was missing. My dialogue came across as stilted and didn’t sound natural—almost cliché in its tone. In hindsight, I didn’t “feel” the story. I went through the motions of writing it. But hey, it was a first book and getting through it was a feat!
So back to my first comment: If you read your book and don’t feel the type of satisfaction you get from our favorite author, then try to find out what is missing. Maybe take some online classes. Get some honest feedback.
On feedback, test readers, contests (RWA has plenty and you WILL get honest feedback), even submissions to agents or publishers can highlight areas where you still need work. Warning: feedback stings. I’ve cried from some.
Here’s what I learned, though… Let the feedback sit for a day or two, then go back and see if what you got makes more sense. Yes, maybe there is something you could improve upon. Does more than one person say the same thing? Be honest with yourself. Do you need to take some classes to improve your craft? And remember, not every person’s advice will be right or valuable. You need to learn to trust your gut and instincts about when your work is ready.
If you think honest feedback will sting, imagine a bad review from a reader, publicly placed for everyone to see. Yeah, those sting even more (and we all get them). But if you haven’t done everything to make your manuscript the best it can be, then you aren’t trying hard enough. Writing is easy. Great writing is hard.
- Do you prefer to write at home or go somewhere to write?
Writing is my full-time occupation and I have a small office set up for myself at home. People often ask, “Is it hard to work from home?” Yes, it can be. But I once heard a well-known author say she treats it like any job, where she gets up, showers, gets ready, and then works. So that is exactly what I do. I’m usually at my desk by eight each morning, and I wrap up around five or six each day. My two dogs are my office-mates (a Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen and mini schnauzer). We take breaks for walks, investigate the refrigerator, and bark at any strangers or neighbors on our street. Oddly enough, on those breaks away from my desk, I have the best plot point revelations! Stepping away from the desk frees up the creative juices.
- What advice would you give an author who has just published her first book?
I’ll never forget when my first book released. As I strolled the grocery store that week, it dawned on me how people in town might have read the book. I panicked. Haha, yes, I knew the book was written to be read by others, but a realization hit me: I’d just exposed a part of myself for the world to see and judge.
So, if you’ve published your first book, here are two pieces of advice. First, start writing the next. Mainly so you aren’t overly focused on the results of the first. Second, people will tell you not to look at reviews. I say, look at them. The good and the bad. Authors need tough skin and confidence. Neither will come by hiding from what readers think. Just don’t let a bad one take you down for too long. I can get ten super reviews, and one bad. For a moment, energy goes into the one bad. When it does, I try to take Taylor Swift’s advice… Shake if off. Not everyone will love your work, but some will. That’ll make the whole journey worth it.
Sharon Struth believes you’re never too old to pursue a dream. The Hourglass, her debut novel, was a finalist in the National Readers’ Choice Awards for Best First Book. She is the author of the popular Blue Moon Lake Novels, which include Share the Moon. Her latest series, the Sweet Life Novels, are set in several European locations.
When she’s not working, she and her husband happily sip their way through the scenic towns of the Connecticut Wine Trail, travel the world, and enjoy spending time with their precious pets and two grown daughters. She writes from the friendliest place she’s ever lived, Bethel, Connecticut. For more information, including where to find her published essays, please visit sharonstruth.com or visit her blog, Musings from the Middle Ages & More at www.sharonstruth.wordpress.com.