Interview With Author Jan Ruth

1. Bio. I live in Snowdonia, a mountainous area of North Wales, UK. I write contemporary fiction about the darker side of the family dynamic, often blending life in rural Wales with a touch of city business. My style is best described as fast-paced and realistic, with a sprinkling of dry humour My first novel – written in 1986 – attracted the attention of editor Anne Dewe, Andrew Mann Literary Agency, London. Dewe’s own company, Love Stories Ltd, was a project aiming to champion those books of substance which contained a romantic element but were perhaps directed towards the more mature reader and consistently fell through the net in traditional publishing. Summer in October was contracted immediately but sadly, the project failed to get the right financial backing and the company dissolved. Many years later my second novel, Wild Water, was taken on by Jane C Judd Literary Agency, London. Despite Judd’s enthusiasm, the book failed to find the right niche with a publisher. And then Amazon changed the face of the industry with the advent of self-publishing and I went on to successfully publish several works of fiction under my own imprint, Celtic Connections. After a brief partnership with Accent Press in 2015, I chose to return to the freedom of independent publishing. Wild Water won the Cornerstones competition for the most popular self-published book in 2011, and Midnight Sky won the Romantic Review Magazine Award (2013). Silver Rain (2015) and Wild Water (2016) were both finalists in the Wishing Shelf Awards. 

2. The real-life story behind Wild Water is that of Jack Redman, the wronged alpha male who’s trying to make the best decisions for his family but more often than not, gets kicked in the teeth. How often we read novels in the contemporary genres which consistently root for the female character – nothing wrong with a strong woman, of course – but no one seemed to be telling these stories from the male viewpoint, at least not twenty years ago when I began my quest! Divorce still seems heavily weighted towards the partner with the children, and the mother is usually awarded custody unless there are extenuating circumstances which can be proved. Most of the time this is all well and good, but there are a great number of cases where our ancient system is fully exploited. Sadly, a lot of the initial storyline was prompted by real-life experience but there’s no better starting point than this for fiction in the family-saga genre. Jack Redman is a victim not only of the court system injustices but of its inability to deal with the speed and complications of contemporary family life.

3. Inspiration. Twenty years ago we moved from Cheshire to North Wales. Although Cheshire has its history and pretty rural surroundings aplenty, Wales is far more extreme in both aspects. The castles and the rugged hillsides strewn with stone settlements, druid circles and Roman roads bring out the historical muse in me. To think that I am treading the same path as someone who lived in the Iron Age, is both fascinating and humbling. Snowdonia kick-started my stalled obsession with writing in a very positive way. All this whimsical talk of the past makes me sound as if I write historical-based fiction. Far from it. Much as I admire many other genres I tend to be very much rooted in current times and my work reflects a lot of my own life experiences. But this is where I find the two ideas merge a little because I am most certainly inspired by this Ice Age landscape. What has gone before certainly shapes what we see today, but does it shape what we feel, too?

5. Mistakes. The single most important process of publishing a book is structural editing and proofreading. 

The lack of consistent, industry standard editing will kill the reading experience in record time. Readers can forgive a smattering of minor mistakes throughout an 80,000 word novel, but if the first thing they see when they look inside the book sample are glaring grammatical errors – then there’s little chance they will buy. It’s a false economy to skip the editing process.

6. Covers. I’m often asked who designs my book covers. I use a professional graphic designer. The cover can, and should work in a number of ways to help sell your book. Mostly it needs to match the content and the expectations of the genre – ie: not a photograph which you happen to like and may be related to the material in some vague way, but means absolutely nothing to a prospective reader on the other side of the world. Do some research and look at other books in your genre. Unless you have an eye for design, understand book marketing, and own the relevant software to be original and creative; pay someone who does. Of course, it’s perfectly possible to make your own cover with free software through Amazon’s publishing platform or something like Canva, but if the end result looks homemade – and you want to reach beyond friends and family – then consider the commercial impact. And often overlooked, but the font is a vital bit of selling kit. Nothing screams homemade more than a bog-standard font scrawled across a third-rate cover image. If the cover and the font look third-rate, then the reader is fully entitled to presume that the content is much the same. Do the research: you will not find a loopy font on a cold-blooded thriller. Consider the impact of this and apply accordingly.

7. Reviews. Never respond to negative reviews in public. Nothing looks worse to a prospective reader than to witness an angry response to someone who didn’t enjoy your book. They are entitled to their opinion and if it’s malicious then interacting in any way will add fuel to the fire. There are plenty of people who will enjoy a good to-and-fro at your expense. Not only does it look desperately unprofessional to join in, but it’s wise to remember that reviews are not directed towards the author. Neither are they an easy, cheap critique service – they are there to help other prospective readers decide if they might enjoy the book. Only take them to heart if there are several reviews flagging the same issue. And then… get it fixed.

10. Creative v Commercial. Traditional publishers like material which is easily branded to match their current list. It’s easier to market and sell, and the reader knows what to expect. I’ve been with a traditional publisher and two agents, but I’ve always sold more books (and continue to do) so under my own imprint. My material doesn’t slot into a commercial pigeon hole so I guess I’m happier producing the books I want to write rather than moulding them into something less desirable from a personal point of view. Are you writing fiction the public are looking to read? If it’s a complicated contemporary romance set in Newcastle and your main female character is aged 45, it won’t sell as well as a formula romance set in Cornwall with a heroine aged 25; even if your book is more original and better executed. Sadly, this is the way commercial sales and marketing works for the big guys, and the independent publisher can either try and swim with the mass-market tide, or accept that writing to their own agenda and enjoying creative freedom will always produce books which are more of a struggle to sell.

11. Emotions. Where do ideas come from? Even if I tell myself I’m done with writing for a while – and I do, frequently – something will eventually worm its way out of my subconscious. This mutation of daydreaming is often coupled with observations of other people and happenings in their lives, as well as my own, until eventually all of these considerations are pulled together and mulled over, like some sort of fictional tombola. And for me, it’s those personal stories which add an extra layer of reality to a work of fiction. Write what you know is all about understanding your subject thoroughly, and preferably having experienced some of it first-hand.

Book links, blog: https://janruth.com/

Author: NFReads.com

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