Today, Bite-Sized Fiction talks to Adult, Young Adult, Adventure, Speculative Fiction author Sharron Riddle from her home in Virginia, where she lives with her husband and dog, Dr. Watson, who made an appearance during our recording. We talk about how writers lie, writing while working full time, the importance of editing, and how to find a publisher. Most importantly, Sharron stresses professionalism.
Sharron is the author of one self-published novel and six published novels, including Sin, Requiem for the Undead, The Boatman, and the techno-thriller Storm Surge, and currently has a series, Jinn, running on Kindle Vella. She’s been a fiction judge and author critique group facilitator and especially welcomes novice writers with honest, direct advice.
BSF: How did you get started writing?
SHARRON: I wrote my first book when I was about six, and my sister, now a professional artist, illustrated it. So, we put it together, stapled it, and we had a little book.
I’ve always loved to write. I’ve always loved to tell stories. I used to get into a lot of trouble for telling stories when I was young because, in my head, I didn’t see the difference between a story and a lie.
Like show and tell. I had nothing to show, so I told my whole class that my dad was on safari in Africa. That he led safaris, and I got into a lot of trouble for that. My dad did travel a lot. He worked for ATT. It wasn’t very glamorous, so I made up this exciting, fun story.
It never occurred to me that it was a lie. The teacher made me stand in front of the class and confess, and it was so embarrassing and humiliating. I was like seven.
But I thought it was fun. I entertained the class.
BSF: What was your day job before you became a writer?
SHARRON: I was an insurance underwriter. Very technical.
BSF: But you wanted to be a writer. How did you do it?
SHARRON: I had a hundred-mile round trip commute so that I would go in an hour and a half early, and I would write. Then in the evenings, I would stay until after rush hour. I had two rush hours—one in Tampa and one in St. Petersburg, so I had lots of time. And I made time for writing because it was my creative outlet.
BSF: Now that you write full-time, do you keep the same schedule?
SHARRON: No. I pretty much do all my writing now in the morning. Then I’ll spend some time editing, and then I’ll bake something or work in my garden.
BSF: Do you have a word count goal, or do you prefer to set a time writing goal?
SHARRON: I have a spreadsheet that I use for my word count to keep me on task. It’s important to me because I’m easily distracted. And now that I’m home all the time, I think, “Oh, I have all day to do it.” But my day is easily spent in other places. I have to hold myself accountable. I think it is important to hold yourself accountable. If you’re serious and want this to be your job, you have to make sure you put in the time and do the words—put in the work.
BSF: Do you outline?
SHARRON: My current series is a good example. I have three separate spreadsheets—one for the mythology and another character spreadsheet. And one is for each of the books in the series.
Each book has its page and outline. I plan what happens in the book, the first and last chapters, and then I plan the fill-in chapters. I’ll write chapter descriptions for each chapter, so it makes it a lot easier to write the book by the time I’m done with that. For the most part, I know what’s going to happen, but the characters still get to do what they want.
BSF: You make it sound like your characters are alive?
SHARRON: Well, they are. My characters are so much a part of me that they’re talking through me when I’m writing. It’s like channeling. People look at you funny when you say that, but I get so invested in them. They’re all my friends. These are my friends, and I can’t wait to see them again. That helps me keep writing. It’s like I can’t wait to go back.
BSF: Do your characters ever do anything that surprises you?
SHARRON: All the time. I just had a big shock at the end of the fourth book of a five-book series. I was like, oh, great, how will I incorporate this into the next book? I had to let it go. It’s very weird, but yes, they do.
BSF: How do you keep the character’s voice consistent?
SHARRON: Because in my mind, I hear her, so she’s always the same person. As the story progresses, it becomes more serious and darker, and she’s had to adapt to changes, but I still hear her so clearly in my head.
BSF: Do you like editing and revising?
SHARRON: I enjoy it. Going through my book and I’m reading and not changing anything surprises me because I’m always so critical of my writing. It surprises me when I come across a chapter where I forget I’m reading my book. That’s fun. I like making the story better, finding the bad stuff, and pulling it out. It’s like when I’m working in my garden, and I’m just pulling out the weeds.
It’s not always easy. The first book in my current series was one book, but it got to be such a big book that by the time I concluded I had to split it in half, I had already read it so many times I was tired of it. And then splitting it in half, I had to develop a new plot to intertwine in the story.
By the time I had edited this book, my husband had edited it, and my friend had edited it, we had read it so many times we couldn’t even see the story anymore. So, I hired an expensive editor. I’ve hired editors before, but not someone of this caliber.
But really, when you can’t remember what you were saying, it can get out of hand, and that’s why it’s good to outline.
I always have a book on the side when I’m writing. This series is so intense that I had to keep a lighter book to unravel my brain. I just write them, and then I throw them to the side because they need a lot of editing. I’m still focused on my series; these are just distractions.
BSF: What kind of workshops have you taken?
SHARRON: I’ve taken a lot of classes English Creative Writing classes. I met my husband in a creative writing class. And I’ve taken a lot of workshops. In fact, I’m signed up this week for the Women’s Summit Publishing Conference. You’re always learning, always learning new things.
I’m focusing more now on the marketing side, but you can always learn more about writing and the business of writing.
I write mostly young adult and even upper middle grade; it’s very much my target audience. Young adult is a large market, but you have to be visible. Marketing is important, but it’s time-consuming. That’s difficult for a writer because you need to write and edit. But I like having control.
How do you feel about social media?
I do like Goodreads and Instagram. If Goodreads would let you have the same interaction you have on Facebook, it really could generate readers. Unlike Facebook, which I think is an excellent social tool with other authors and even readers, you can’t focus on books like you can on Goodreads. So, they’re missing an opportunity there, I think.
Everybody says if you’re an author now, you have to get on TikTok, but I’m so bad at coming up with ideas for TikTok. Three little films every day. Not going to happen. I’m not going to sing or dance. TikTok is good for reaching my audience, and they have a whole section called BookTok where people will review books and post little short video snips about books and their favorite books. It’s interesting, and it could be a helpful tool. I imagine I’m going to have to figure it out.
BSF: What do you read?
SHARRON: I read pretty much what I write, although I love murder mysteries. I love British murder mysteries. I read a lot of those. They just seem so atmospheric and well written.
BSF: Have you written a mystery?
SHARRON: I just finished a middle grade about a little boy who sees spirits and solves a murder. His mom is a state policewoman in Maine, and she’s the only Latina on their force who is a detective.
BSF: What makes a good story?
SHARRON: I think it has to be exciting and interesting. With dramas like the Lovely Bones, it’s not constant action, but the story moves at a good pace and draws you in because it’s tragic. And that’s true with all stories, and there must be an element that draws you in and keeps your attention, a good plot.
BSF: How important is the plot?
SHARRON: I would give it a solid 60%. The reason I started reading the Hunger Games is that you instantly fall in love with this character Katniss, but you also fall in love with the whole idea of what she’s going through, which you’re thrown into very quickly. And that’s what keeps you reading. I loved the writing and the character, but the biggest draw was the story.
BSF: Advice for novice writers?
SHARRON: Read, read, read, and write, write, write. The more you write, the better you’re going to get at it. And don’t stop. Don’t give up. Have faith in yourself. But it’s hard work. It’s the most tearing your hair out of your head profession you can get into. It’s been said before, but it’s true, if you want to be a writer, you won’t be able to stop. You can’t stop the stories from pouring out of your head. It’s just how you’re wired.
But don’t imitate a beloved series. There’s only one Harry Potter series and love it or hate it; there’s only one Twilight series. You’ve got to put your twist on it. Find something that hasn’t been done. When you’re writing middle grade and young adult / high school age, you’re going to have school involved. There’s no way around that, but there are a lot of different approaches. You might not write the next Harry Potter book, but that’s okay as long as it’s a good story. It doesn’t have to be a mega-hit, just make it original and make it your own.
The best thing you can learn as an author is to learn how to engage your reader, and that’s like a magical superpower on its own.
BSF: How do you find a publisher?
SHARRON: I think one of the best resources is Writers Digest. I still go on their site and see what agents are looking for and what’s hot right now. You can search for publishers, search the smaller presses that are taking direct submissions since many of the larger presses won’t talk to you. And now, half the agents aren’t accepting submissions because they’re being slammed so badly. All of a sudden, everybody wants to be a writer it seems like. That’s wonderful if it’s what you want to do. I encourage people to follow their dreams and hone their craft. But make sure you’re sending out quality work when you start submitting. One of the biggest reasons they shut off from submissions after a while is because they have so much to go through.
I’ve had agents say you can have the best zombie book ever written, but if I already have a big client with one, I can’t take you on as well. It’s not fair to the person I’m already representing, and they just don’t have room for you, even if it’s a great story.
So, be professional. Think of it as a job interview. Keep going. I’ve had many author friends tell me that it’s not even their first, second, or third book, that you never really know which book is going to be the one that takes off.
If this is what you want to do, then keep at it.
BSF: Thank you, Sharron!
SHARRON: Thank you for the fun interview. I enjoyed our chat.
You can buy Sharron’s book on Amazon.
Or check out her new adventure on Kindle Vella.
And learn more about her and her work by reading her blog.
Watch bonus content from our interview here.