Your Success Stories: Shilah Ferr


I grew up in northern New Jersey with my brother and sister. We share treasured memories of high school, the Jersey shore, and tons of family time with cousins, all of which became part of April’s Heart! My romance novel is set in high school in the eighties and although a work of fiction, basically follows the skeleton of my life, especially my dysfunctional family!

I have been a teacher for thirty years, so writing, language and vocabulary are definitely in my wheel house. Once I finally got started, writing the story, then editing it, was the easy part. I love the romance genre, and after reading so much of it, I felt like I could do it too! I work full time, but became very immersed in my eighties world, and would write whenever I could.


Your writing journey:

My writing journey started as I pondered if I had a book in me while I took my daily “power walks” around and around my neighborhood. I thought about the diaries and scrapbooks I kept while growing up, that were sitting up in my attic. Surely all that documentation would be useful.

One day while on my walk, I had the idea to take all the romances I had back in the day, and turn it into one long relationship. Once I had that idea, I was good to go!

To write the best story possible, I realized that being completely authentic was of paramount importance. I remember a famous fiction author saying that although her story is fiction, there is nothing in it that didn’t really happen in real life. That is completely true of April’s Heart as well. Which lends itself to some controversial points that I will discuss later in this article. I felt everything I wrote had to be pretty much exactly the way it was. The big things and the small. This made the writing a little easier because I had such a strong picture in my mind, right down to the hand gestures of a character. I wanted my readers to have the same picture in their heads as I did in mine. That was really important to me.

I finished April’s Heart on the Fourth of July, 2019. I started reading tons of articles about editing and publishing. It was all very daunting. I discussed the cost of editing with a trusted friend who told me, right or wrong, I’m still not sure, for my husband and I to edit it ourselves. I took that advice and our approach was for me to read it out loud to him. We had a blast! He found the story very funny and moving. And although he and I did not grow up together, it brought back tons of his own old memories, including heartbreaks from former girlfriends and such. We would end up laughing, then stopping to discuss our teenage years. It was hard to believe after all these years of marriage that I was hearing some pretty crazy stories for the first time!

We read it out loud twice. I found this helpful in that if I myself stumbled over a sentence, it needed to be fixed. We would discuss certain sentences or passages over and over again, way beyond the readings that summer. It’s amazing what changing one little word can do. Every word had to be purposeful. We wanted less rather than more, and constantly kept that in mind.

After our two readings together, I read it six more times. I also gave copies to several friends and relatives, and their feedback was very helpful.

The music of the time period helps tell the story of April’s Heart. I researched how to use song lyrics in books, and learned four basic ideas, all of which were used in my novel. First, titles of songs are not copyrighted, so if just using the title of a song was enough to get my point across, great! Next, you can rephrase a segment of a song lyric, so it’s not a direct quote. Did that. Or you can make up your own song lyric to suite your purpose, no problem there. And finally, you can ask permission to the holders of the copyright to reprint lyrics. So I asked myself what were the most important songs that I felt strongly enough about to go through the difficult process of finding the right copyright holders, contacting them, waiting and waiting, getting the permission, paying the fee and signing an agreement. As you may know, there are two songs in which lyrics are reprinted with permission, as stated on the copyright page of my book.

During my research about using copyrighted material I stumbled across an article in which an author gave credit to the artists of the songs he referenced by embedding a free 30 second Spotify link right there in the text. That changed everything for me! My husband and I decided to go for it! I went through the story again, listing all the songs referenced. He secured the Spotify links and showed me how to embed them into the text. As you may know, April’s Heart has almost 40 (37 to be exact) Spotify music links on all the songs in the ebook edition. I think this makes the story a lot of fun, and brings the reader right back to the time and place of the eighties.

We planned to have a photo shoot in a local high school with some young friends we would pay as models. We wanted April and Mitch up against the lockers looking at each other longingly. I thought I had done everything right. I filled out the paperwork to use the school, set the day and time with my chosen models, discussed clothing, everything. Exactly 24 hours before the photo shoot I get a call from someone in charge of such uses of schools who tells me I need a million dollar insurance policy! I was devastated and forced to cancel the shoot!

My ever supportive husband took the beach dune photo that now graces the cover of April’s Heart. I now know that most authors contract with a professional to design a cover, but again, right or wrong, we were not willing to do that. We are planning to remake the cover this summer, adding some sexy detail like a bikini top on a beach blanket. I am currently waiting for a review of April’s Heart from a group of people who collectively discuss the story and the cover, and agree on a review. I want to see what they have to say about the cover before we proceed.

I published April’s Heart using Kindle Direct Publishing. It was pretty easy to use, but had some challenges as well. However, their system of calling you when you need help was brilliant, and really helped me more than once to navigate some tricky things that I just wouldn’t be able to figure out myself!

April’s Heart paperback debuted on January 17, 2020 and the ebook on January 21, my husband’s birthday. Although April’s Heart has been largely well received, sales are slow. I have a handful of reviews, mostly positive, but it has been difficult to get any traction going. There is just so much content these days, it’s hard to get noticed. But hey, you never know, sometimes lightening does strike!

Anything else you feel like sharing:

As I stated earlier in this article, everything that happened in April’s Heart actually happened in real life. That includes the drinking, drug use, and sexual activity of minors. I thought long and hard about this as I wrote my story and the year that has followed. I had to be true to myself and my readers. I can apologize for the actions of these characters, but for me, and so many people I know, this is the way it was. The late seventies and eighties. Sometimes I cringed as I questioned whether I should include a certain detail, but I just had to man up, be brave and just put it in there. “Just put it in there” became a small mantra of mine!

I feared what people would think. I feared offending people. Some of the best advice I got when I shared my fears with an author friend of mine was that not everyone is going to like ANY story. There is no story that is everyone’s cup of tea. You’ve just got to accept and expect that. Boy, that really helped me. I stopped worrying about it.

Turns out, no one even mentioned it! Not until recently that is. As a publicity function I agreed to participate in a certain program, but was notified by the organizers that they were disturbed by the content of April’s Heart, and did not want their program associated with my book. I simply emailed them back with two words, “No worries”. I let it go.

But, like I said, my readers really like April’s Heart and have left some amazing reviews that focus on the emotions of young love.

One thought on “Your Success Stories: Shilah Ferr

  1. Pingback: Writing Body Language: Attraction | Julie-Jeanette's Writing Blog

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