At the official UK launch of her already block-busting novel On Dublin St, Samantha Young looks every inch the professional author, signing copies and chatting with eager fans.
The novel, billed as an Edinburgh 50 Shades of Grey, has topped the New York Times and USA Today bestseller list and gained her a legion of readers around the globe.
Hard to imagine then that less than two years ago things were very different for the University of Edinburgh graduate – who was out of work, living at home, and wondering what to do with her life.
After completing her studies in ancient and medieval history, she had dreamed of putting her knowledge to good use working for the likes of Historic Scotland, but found it difficult to even get a foot in the door.
She recalls: “I only ever managed to get one interview and a series of rejections. After all that work, I was getting nowhere. It was very, very difficult and frustrating. I felt like a total failure.”
She had already been forced to move back in with her HGV-driving dad and retail assistant mum during her third year at university, and balanced her studies with part-time work answering phones for a cab firm.
Samantha, who comes from Bridge of Allan in Stirlingshire, continued to work for the company after finishing her degree in 2009, before being offered another position with the police in Falkirk.
She says: “Again, I was answering phones. It was a good job, the people were lovely and I really enjoyed it. Then one morning, about six weeks after I had been hired, my manager took me into an office and apologetically told me that they were going to have to let me go because of all the budget cuts. It was no-one’s fault, but I could tell they felt terrible because they knew I had left another position.”
Though Samantha could have been forgiven for sinking into a depression, she instead decided to put the free time forced upon her to good use.
“I had already written quite a lot when I was at university so I decided to start self-publishing. That was in February 2011 and for the next few months I just wrote constantly. At first, I specialised in young adult fiction and after a few months I was doing well enough to at least support myself. Then someone suggested I try my hand at contemporary romance. I thought about it as perhaps something to try in future, but when 50 Shades of Grey really started to take off I thought it best to strike while the iron was hot!”
And she came up with the name for her resulting erotic novel On Dublin Street, with a little help from her mum ...
“I couldn’t decide what to call it so she asked me where it was set. I told her it was in the New Town, because that’s a place I spent a lot of time when I was at university here, so she suggested I look at street names and the minute Dublin Street came up I just knew that was it.”
She could never have predicted the rocketing popularity of the book, which centres around the steamy encounters of American Jocelyn “Joss” Butler and housemate Braden Carmichael, who are said to reside in a ground-floor Georgian apartment next to a boutique, which would place it next to designer ladies wear store Linzi Crawford, where the Stac Polly is situated in real life.
The book sold 200,000 copies through the self-publishing platform alone before being snapped up by publishing giant, Penguin.
Samantha continues: “I had been quite nervous before putting the book out as it was in a genre I hadn’t tried before and also because it felt more personal to me.
“I decided to make Joss American because I had already built up somewhat of a fanbase in the States – I should stress that I’m referring to adults who happened to enjoy the fantasy novels that were aimed at the older teenage market. I wanted to give them a relatable character, but she is really like an exaggerated version of myself, having experiences very similar to ones shared by me and my friends.”
The book took Samantha six weeks to write, but her family will be reaping the benefits for many years to come, with the money she has earned already having paid off her parents’ and her brother’s mortgages – though she says she’s happy staying in her rented flat for now.
“It’s been great to be able to do all that for my family. They’ve always been so supportive.
“About six months after I had first been made redundant, the police actually got back in touch to offer me a full-time position, but my dad told me to stick with my writing and see what happened.
“He’s so thrilled about how things have turned out – not that he’s read the book. My mum read it and I think she found the sexy bits a wee bit difficult to get through.
“But then my granny asked if she could read it. My dad warned her that it was a bit ‘steamy’ but she insisted on getting a copy. A few days later she called my dad back and told him she had read steamier stuff, which I’m sure he was delighted to hear!”
And there’s good news for the thousands of fans who are already clamouring for a sequel, with Down London Road due to be released on May 7.
She says: “This one will centre around Johanna Walker, who appears as a minor character in On Dublin Street, and a bartender called Cameron McCabe.
“There was a bit of a mixed reaction when I announced that Joss and Braden wouldn’t be returning as main characters, some fans of the book seemed a little disappointed – especially about Braden, who seems to be very popular. But I just felt that I’d told their story and I didn’t want to throw more drama at them just for the sake of it.
“However, they will be making appearances in Down London Road, so hopefully that will keep everyone happy. Plus, I think Johanna and Cameron are great characters, too. I already have ideas for a further two or three books in the series and they’ll all be based in Edinburgh, and feature people from previous stories.”
The success of the book will see Susan jetting off to Nashville, Tennessee, later in the year for a writers convention, though she’s still getting used to being a focus of admiration and attention.
Speaking before the launch of her book in Waterstone’s on George Street last night, she admitted to some nerves – although that may have been because her parents were in the audience. She need not have worried.
After the event, she says: “It’s actually starting to sink in that this is all really happening. I’m just so pleased that this has gone well – fingers crossed the rest are as good. And I managed to find a bit I could read out in front of mum and dad – though admittedly it was quite a short passage.”
If you would like more information on Samantha Young, visit her website, www.samanthayoungbooks.com.
SAMANTHA Young isn’t the only one making a name for herself without taking the conventional route ...
The book which inspired her to enter the adult romance genre, Fifty Shades of Grey, was originally published online as free Twilight fan fiction. However, when some expressed dismay at the sexual nature of the stories, author EL James republished the stories on her own website. Word-of-mouth publicity soon saw the book take off and two sequels were quickly made available to download. The trilogy was then picked up for normal publication by Vintage Books. The series has sold more than 65 million copies.
A look at the Kindle bestselling list, however, shows the traditional novel is going strong. Capital crime author Ian Rankin’s Standing in Another Man’s Grave is among the books topping the charts.
SELF-PUBLISHING THE FUTURE?
MARION Sinclair, chief executive at Publishing Scotland: “Self-publishing is here to stay. The thrill of getting into print (or into e-books) isn’t going to disappear anytime soon, but will it change the publishing industry?
“In Scotland, we haven’t seen any noticeable effect yet, but the industry here is taking notice. The technology that gave birth to the self-publishing phenomenon also makes it easier to reach readers directly and sell books, through using social media to gain a following. It’s a very crowded, competitive marketplace, and the rules of the game have all changed – £20 hardbacks co-exist with the same book in a 20p e-format. Will anyone make a living out of it? Some undoubtedly will, but our worry is if publishers’ revenues drop, it makes them less able to do the hard work of nurturing authors. Publishers have always been a quality filter, and removing that isn’t a great prospect.”
Parallels with Rowling
SAMANTHA Young’s rags-to-riches story has echoes of Harry Potter creator JK Rowling, who famously wrote the first book in the series in cafes around Edinburgh.
Rowling, who had a baby and was staying with her sister after splitting with her first husband, said she felt like “the biggest failure”. However, she added: “Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged.”
In 2004, she was announced to be the first author to become a billionaire. She has donated £100 million to charity.