Guest Post By Chelsea Kowalski
Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing established author, Samantha Bailey, about her latest book, Woman on the Edge, as well as her life in the pandemic, her writing process, and even a peek into her new book (coming in 2022). Samantha has worked as a journalist, a freelance editor, and has written five books. Her latest, Woman on the Edge, is a psychological thriller, and became an instant Canadian hit. Her novel spent twenty-two weeks on the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail bestseller lists, received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, and was a PW Best Books’ Pick of the Week. It was also the December 2019 Fiction Book of the Month at Indigo.
*This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
CHELSEA: Woman on the Edge is your first book with Simon and Schuster, a major Canadian publisher. Bigger publishers often come with national publicity, foreign sales, more buzz. etc. How were you able to adapt to the bigger release and level of attention that came with a major publisher contract?
SAM: I’ve been writing for two decades and while Woman on the Edge is my traditionally published debut, it’s the fifth book I’ve written. After twenty years, two agents, and many, many rejections, I am ecstatic to finally have a home with Simon and Schuster. I’d dreamed of working with editors, publicists, marketing, and salespeople who believed in me and my voice. Simon and Schuster Canada has the most dedicated, hardworking team. I couldn’t believe I got to be on national television and radio, that Indigo chose my debut as their December 2019 fiction staff pick, and there was an entire wall of Woman on the Edge when you walked in the door. It was surreal, wild, and the most incredible experience of my life.
CHELSEA: How do you find a balance between writing a story that’s marketable but also heartfelt and a form of artistic expression?
SAM: This is, I think, the crux of commercial fiction. My ultimate goal is to write the very best book I can, stay true to my voice and the story, and entertain. I want my books to both feel like an escape and provoke thought and discussion. This is my livelihood and my art. I pour my entire soul into my work, which is scary and cathartic, and I always keep in mind that I am providing a respite from life in many ways.
CHELSEA: Can you describe the editing process for your work, from both yourself and your editor?
SAM: Intense! I am also a freelance editor and have had my own business for over ten years editing manuscripts for other authors. I have deep respect for the editing process and for me, at least, the magic is in the revisions. Both my agent and editors are invaluable. My agent taught me how to outline and the elements and beats that are crucial in a thriller: the characters’ goals and motivations, a three-act set-up, showing the thoughts and feelings of the characters without being too heavy-handed. My editors taught me pacing, how one sentence can say so much more than a rambling paragraph, to pull all the threads together, and make sure each word is as powerful as possible.
CHELSEA: What advice would you give to budding writers who see your name on the bestseller lists and want to achieve the same success?
SAM: Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to hit number one on the Canadian bestseller lists and become a USA Today bestseller. I dreamed about it like I dream of being five inches taller. I’ve learned that anything is possible. I’m not an overnight success by any means. I think authors who long for a publishing deal, to be a bestseller, have to dream big and go for it. I never gave up. Writing is my identity, my heart and soul, and I can’t imagine my life without it. So, my first piece of advice is never stop. If you have a story to tell, just start and keep going. My second suggestion is to find your people, those authors and readers who become your community. I’m very blessed to have the most amazing, supportive group of author and reader friends, who cry with me when things are hard and celebrate with me when they are spectacular. Publishing is a business full of ups and downs and having that support is so important.
You can find your people through social media, or through dedicated workshops, like Bianca Marais’s. Bianca runs fabulous courses and a podcast. And it is vital to accept and embrace the editing process. A first draft is just that—a place where you begin. Cutting, slashing, tearing your words apart is part of the process, and it’s okay to make mistakes.
CHELSEA: Do you have a reader in mind when you write? If so, who?
SAM: I don’t have a specific reader in mind when I write my first draft. I let myself bleed on the page and tell the story as I see it in my mind. I do very detailed outlines beforehand to make sure I hit all the beats, and I try to apply all the lessons I’ve learned.
CHELSEA: Is there a memorable moment that sticks out in your mind from speaking/appearing at an event like a panel or even a book club meeting?
SAM: My very first large in-person event was at the Kitchener Public Library, one of the most beautiful spaces I’ve ever seen. I was scared, excited, and worried because I live in Toronto and don’t drive on highways. Maybe because I’m a thriller writer, and I imagine the worst possible scenarios. The author interviewing me that winter night was Marissa Stapley, who doesn’t drive. It was snowing hard, and we could have taken the train, but our extraordinary publicist, Jillian Levick, arranged for a car to take us. Oh, did we feel like rock stars!
The crowd was so kind and engaged; Sheila Bauman, the event planner, was not only warm and friendly, soothing my nerves, but also made us snacks to take home. Matt MacKinnon, the events manager, pulled everything together, and Marissa asked excellent questions. I was shocked at the lineup for me to sign copies of Woman on the Edge, and how many people came to see us in a storm. I’ll never forget it.
CHELSEA: Can you talk about a time that you received an unexpected rejection and how you got through it?
SAM: I have received hundreds of rejections. I think the first ones were the most unexpected because I knew so little about publishing then. I started out writing edgy rom coms and signed quite quickly with a New York City agent for two of them. I truly believed that within months, I’d be wearing Manolo Blahniks, sipping Cosmos, and signing my book at a Manhattan bookstore. Well, that never happened because both of those rom coms were resoundingly rejected on submission. It was my first lesson that sometimes you will get what you want in the most unexpected ways and that my path was not going to be fast or easy.
CHELSEA: How do you practice self-care as a writer?
SAM: I just finished my second draft of my next book, and I’ve written in every room in the house to find the quietest space. I’ve discovered there is no quiet space. I love to lose myself in books and television, and both are essential to my self-care. I also walk my dog, do yoga, play tennis horribly, and try to make sure I take breaks when I need to.
CHELSEA: What does success look like to you moving forward, in terms of your career as a writer?
SAM: I want to write for the rest of my life. It’s all I’ve ever truly wanted to do. I still have big dreams like hitting The New York Times bestseller list, seeing screen adaptations of my work, and when it’s safe again to be with other people, to see someone on public transit, an airplane, on a beach, reading my books. Truly, though, I just want to make a living from writing and satisfy my readers.
CHELSEA: Can you give a sneak peek of what you’re working on now?
SAM: I can give a little peek! I just submitted it to my editor. It’s my first book set in Canada, Vancouver and Toronto, and it’s a thriller about obsession, identity, and what we hide from those closest to us, even from ourselves. I love this story so much and hope my readers will, too!
If you would like to read more about Samantha, her work, or invite her to attend a book club meeting, you can do that here!
Chelsea Kowalski is a recent graduate from Ryerson University’s Publishing program and an alumna from the University of Toronto. She is passionate about all things literary (especially female-driven books) and loves interviewing new authors about their unique stories. Chelsea is happiest when given the chance to write, edit, and help support someone’s dream of reaching readers. Follow her on Twitter.