Toronto-based author Samantha Stroh Bailey just self-published her first book, Finding Lucas, an honest and funny novel about Jamie Ross, a woman who realizes five years into her relationship that her boyfriend, Derek, is no longer the same man she fell in love with. And even though she can hardly stand to be around him anymore, and her closest friends and family make it clear they think he’s no good for her, she can’t find the courage to leave him. Then one day she starts thinking about Lucas, the guy who confessed his love to her when they were both much younger, and Jamie makes a leap of courage that takes her to some truly unexpected places.
Publishing this book has been a journey in itself for Stroh Bailey, who took it upon herself to research the self-publishing process and launch her novel as an ebook—it can be purchased from Amazon’s Kindle store. The author spoke to us from her Toronto home about the chicklit genre, the self-publishing process, and the inspiration for Finding Lucas.
Bookclub-in-a-Box: You’ve mentioned on your blog that before you published Finding Lucas, you were wary of labeling the book “chicklit” because of the negative connotations some readers associate with the genre. How did you decide how to categorize your book?
Samantha Stroh Bailey: “When I decided to self-publish, I thought, ‘Do I call it a romantic comedy, or do I call it chicklit?’ […] I was wary of the term ‘chicklit,’ because people equate it with silliness, with fluff, and I don’t think the book is fluff. It is fast-paced, and it has romance and covers all the chicklit markers, but I didn’t want people to say, ‘Oh, it’s chicklit? I’m not going to buy this because it’s not a smart book.’ I think it is a smart book, and there are serious issues in it, so I decided to market it as both chicklit and romantic comedy. And now that I’m being interviewed on chicklit blogs, and I’m being reviewed, and I’m connecting with chicklit authors and readers, I realize there’s still a huge market for it. And those who love chicklit will always love it.
I was speaking with other authors, and we were saying we need a new name for the genre, but we can’t think of one. We need to think of a new name so women, and even men, wouldn’t be embarrassed to buy that pink-covered book.”
In Finding Lucas, Jamie’s relationship with her boyfriend Derek is obviously toxic; he doesn’t treat her with respect, and it takes Jamie a long time to realize she’d be better off without him. What do you want readers to get out of Jamie’s journey to accepting herself and searching for love?
“I’m lucky; I’m married, and I’ve been with the same person for 17 years, and he is amazing. But I’ve had my own share of bad relationships, and I’ve had friends who have been in demeaning relationships—the outsiders can always see it, and they know it, but you’re so afraid to leave. And I think the older you get, once the 30s hit, you might get into a relationship and get so scared that you’re not going to find anybody to love you.
In Finding Lucas, even though Derek truly doesn’t love Jamie, she didn’t feel that she could leave. She was too scared to leave. Jamie is a person who’s so insecure, and reserved, and afraid to get to know new people and put herself out there. And I’ve seen that in women who get so caught up in their insecurities that they don’t realize how fantastic they are. I think that’s what I want readers to take out of it—no matter how you grew up, no matter what thing you’ve gone through, there’s always the other side. And most people need an impetus to do it, so for Jamie, it’s finding Lucas. But once you realize that you can go and have an amazing life, and that you are so worth more than someone treating you poorly, anything is possible.”
Were any of the book’s characters influenced by people you know in your own life?
“Most people reading it might think Jamie is me, and she’s not at all, actually—Jamie and I are so different. I’m quite outgoing and warm, and I don’t really lack in confidence. [Laughs] […] But there are elements of each character that are influenced by people in my life. Lucas is very loosely based on my own friend with benefits from high school and university. And though the things that happen in the book are not at all related to Jack—which is what I’m calling him when I talk about him—it was the same kind of relationship. I was with him, but we were never really boyfriend and girlfriend, but oddly we seemed to keep coming back to each other for a period of about seven years.
The inspiration for the book came when I was lying in bed one night thinking it had been 10 years since I’d seen him or spoken to him, and I was thinking, ‘What happened to him? Is he married? Is he happy? What is he doing? Is he still in Toronto?’ So I decided to do a little search, and we’ve actually been in touch since then. He’s happily married and has a crew of kids. It was just so nice to get in touch with him again, because he is such a lovely person. And as I was lying there, I thought, we all must wonder what happened to those boys. And with Facebook and Twitter, they’re easy to find. And especially if you’re not in a relationship or you’re in an unhappy relationship, you think, ‘What if I found him? And what if we could actually get together? And what if things could be different, now that we’re older?’ And that was it—I was like, ‘Oh my God, there’s the book.’ […] Thank God my husband supports me in everything I do. He knows I’m nuts, and he supports me through everything.”
Tell me about the experience of self-publishing this book.
“At first, when self-publishing started, it seemed to me like untalented people were doing it, and I thought, I’m not going to do that—this was at least 10 years ago. All I wanted was that call from a publisher, and to walk into a bookstore and see my book on the shelves, and go to New York and have this New York publisher. After rejection after rejection, I ended things with my agent, but I was getting the same responses on my own, which were, ‘You are a fantastic writer, you have a lot of talent, but we can’t sell this.’ And with Finding Lucas, I thought, ‘Are you kidding me? Really?’ I thought, ‘It’s different, and I know that it’s a good story.’ My mom was a publicist for years and years, and around the time when Diablo Cody came out with Juno, she said, ‘Diablo Cody was discovered because she put her stuff online. Why don’t you do that?’ So I started to look into it—and I don’t even think at that time the Kindle was out. […]
I started following self-published authors and self-published blogs. There were well-known authors who were self-publishing, and they were writing about how well they were doing, and how nice it was to have creative control of their book. I spent a good six months doing research on all the different places to self-publish, and once I decided on the Kindle, I researched that like crazy. I kept following authors, and what I learned was that I should outsource as much as I could: I got a professional graphic artist to do my book cover; I made sure I had it professionally edited a few times; and I got the formatting done, because technology is not my forte.
I know [major self-publishing success stories] are few and far between, but I decided I was going to do it. So after outsourcing everything and making sure it was as perfect as it could be, I did it: I put it up, and now it’s available!”
How do you manage your writing schedule? Do you have a routine?
“No—it is really, really hard. I have a caregiver two days a week for my daughter, and basically I work during my daughter’s naps, I work at night, and I work solid for the two days I have when our caregiver’s with my daughter. I pick up my son as early as possible from school as well, so I don’t have that much time. My routine is that I have to work on the [freelance writing and editing] business first, because that’s where my income comes from and I love it—so my clients come first. I find I spend a lot of time emailing and working on social media promoting my novel, so there is little time left to actually write.”
Do you have any advice for other self-published authors trying to promote themselves?
“First of all, join Twitter and Goodreads. I only recently joined Goodreads, and it’s such a fantastic social media site for books and authors. I have met other authors there who have been so kind and so helpful, and it’s so nice to connect with people who just get what I do. And we all help each other to promote our books and start new books.
Start a blog. I post about once a week, but it’s hard to keep up with the posts. Also, there are so many book bloggers and book reviewers, and you have to contact them to review your book, to do guest posts, to do author interviews—most of them are open to self-published authors. I also offer giveaways of the book, and most people are able to receive an ebook, so that’s been great.
I would also say about self-publishing to learn everything you can before you do it, because people want it done so fast—especially if you’ve tried for years to be traditionally published, then you don’t realize how important the cover is. Some people are very talented, so do it yourself if you can, but if not, it’s worth the money to come out with a professional product.”
Can you tell me about the YA book you’re publishing in the late fall?
“Hmm, how much do I give away? The book is about a teenage girl who lives with a single mom who suffers a tragic loss in her life, and is sent to Israel during her last summer before graduating high school. That’s the last place in the world she wants to go, and it’s about what happens to her.”
What’s your favourite book that you’ve read so far this year?
“That’s actually a really difficult question, because I read about three books a week. I would say one of my favourites was The Paris Wife. I really like Hemingway, and I loved how the book mimicked Hemingway’s writing style. And I love that I totally believed it was a memoir—I was so sucked in that I really believed this was Hadley writing the story. I was so impressed that [Paula McLain] created this character that felt so real. I was obsessed with Hemingway’s books when I was younger, and I loved that all these literary giants from his life were brought into this story.
Also, Jennifer Weiner’s Then Came You. It’s quite serious, and a bit dark, but she creates characters that you can still relate to even if they aren’t always likeable, because she redeems her characters.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for space.
Samantha Stroh Bailey is also the co-writer of the Bookclub-in-a-Box guide to The Paris Wife. To buy the guide in paperback or PDF, click here.