An interview with Steffanie Edward
Most of us dream of closing a publishing deal on a book– and for author Steffanie Edward, that dream has come true, twice over. We’re lucky enough to call Steffanie one of our success stories, after she received our very first Self-Edit Your Novel course bursary in 2018 and went on to secure a two-book deal with Bookouture. I chatted to Steffanie again, almost two years after first interviewing her. We talked about how things have been since, and her experience writing a second book with the existing expectation of a publisher to satisfy.
Below, you’ll find out more about what it’s like to write the second book in a two-book deal, and how you yourself could apply for our life-changing bursary.
Esther (JW) : Hi Steffanie! Please could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your history as a writer?
Steffanie: My name is Steffanie Edward. I was born in St Lucia, in the Caribbean, but brought up in London. My writing career is a common one, I think. I started off writing short pieces that I considered to be stories, until a tutor at one of my earlier writing classes explained that due to their structure and POVs, they were only short pieces. After mastering that, and getting some of my short stories published, I moved on to have a go at novels. Following numerous rejections, I was offered a two-book deal with Bookouture in August 2020. My first novel, ‘This Other Island’ was published in May 2021 and ‘My Mother’s Gift’ in March 2022.
Esther: Were there any notable differences between writing your first and second book?
Steffanie: The first novel I wrote was a good 30 years before I was offered the publishing deal. That novel ended up in a box. When I submitted my first published novel, ‘This Other Island’ to agents and publishers, my main worry was, of course, whether it would be good enough to attract an agent or publisher. My added concern was that a couple of my characters were not ‘mainstream’ characters. They didn’t speak standard English, and I wasn’t sure how easily an agent or publisher would warm to that. Thankfully, Bookouture did.
The offer of a two-book deal from them was something I wasn’t expecting - or prepared for. When I was asked whether I had anything else, I thought straight away about the novel I’d previously written. It was practically polished, but it, being a magical realism novel, wasn’t the right genre for the two-book offer. So, thinking fast, I pitched a story idea I had only written a few notes on. After submitting a synopsis for that particular story and having it okayed by Bookouture, the main pressure for me was making sure I delivered on time and that the quality of the second novel was as good as the first, if not better. The wonderful thing with working on the second book after signing the contract is that, unlike when writing the first novel, I could now work knowing that this book was going to be published. Questions and anxieties around finding an agent or publisher were removed. I found that a very motivating factor.
Esther: How much of a brief were you given for book two? Did the publishing house have certain expectations?
Steffanie: There wasn’t much of a brief for book two, except that it had to be in a similar genre to the first. That second novel ended up being ‘My Mother’s Gift’.
"The offer of a two-book deal from them was something I wasn’t expecting - or prepared for."
Esther: Were there any surprises?
Steffanie: One of my biggest surprises was having to change the title for my first novel. It was a title I’d grown attached to but, according to the contract, the publishers had the final say on this. Fair to say, I soon grew to love the new title and found it very fitting. I also had to accept that there was a team of experienced industry experts working behind the scenes, who wanted my work to be as successful as I wanted it to be. Having learnt that lesson, I gave my second novel a working title, which I knew was very likely to change before publication.
Esther: As you were locked into the deal, to what extent would you have been prepared to make compromises on the second book?
Steffanie: Apart from the change in the title of the books, I was never put into a position where I felt I had to compromise. I had submitted ‘This Other Island’ to an agent who suggested I made all my characters speak standard English or closer to it. Needless to say, that was a no go for me because it would mean making my characters less authentic. Fortunately, Bookouture was happy with my characters the way I wanted them to be.
Esther: How does your writing routine help you keep to deadlines?
Steffanie: When it comes to deadlines, the first thing I try to do is give myself extra time so that I can deliver on the agreed date. I hate being late and feel disappointed with myself, if I am. Once the editing process begins with the publisher, there are quite a few deadlines to meet. Whilst writing my two published novels, I had been taking care of my mother who had Alzheimer’s. That added an element of uncertainty to my writing routine. I’d make up for any time lost during the day, by putting extra hours in in the evening. My mother, sadly, passed away in June this year. Amongst the sadness and sense of emptiness that has brought, I do now have more than enough time, and flexibility, to enable me to focus more on my writing.
Esther: What’s next for you?
Steffanie: Before having ‘This Other Island’ and ‘My Mother’s Gift’ published, I had written a novel – working title, ‘Whispers from the Soursop Tree’ – a magical realism novel set in the future, in the Caribbean. I’m in the process of polishing this novel up before submitting to agents.