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Interview: Michele Gorman, author of Single in the City

single in the city US cover 195x300 Interview: Michele Gorman, author of Single in the City


Michele Gorman photo 300x235 Interview: Michele Gorman, author of Single in the City

Best-selling author Michele Gormans debut novel Single in the City'is about new beginnings, bridging cultures, and stepping out on ones own, and Gorman has found that life is very much inclined to follow art. After learning that US publishers were hesitant to take on her book, citing concerns that American'chick lit fans couldn't understand the culture-specific humour, Gorman has decided to step out on her own, bringing her book directly to her US readers.

Its not that US publishers'won't accept a book set in the UK, because there is a lot of excellent chick lit coming from here, says Gorman. Rather, they didn't think US women would 'get' it because many haven't been to the UK. And its this that she disagrees with. After all, she adds, if this is truly the case, the only American women living in London would have bought the book when it was published year.'But not only was the book a bestseller in the UK, but it sold strongly in many other countries as well. I dont think theyre giving the readership enough credit.

So what exactly is it about the book that will apparently miss the mark? It is the'fish out of water element of your book, which sees fun being poked at the American protagonist? On the contrary, I think we Americans like to laugh at ourselves, says Gorman. I think we''I also think we get a chuckle from characters that remind us of embarrassing situations we've found ourselves in. That 'Oh my gosh that's me' feeling is fun. And everyone can identify with the discomfort of an unfamiliar social situation.

Though the publishers liked the self-deprecating humour that runs through the book, it was the cultural differences fish out of water scenario that posed a problem. Though they like this element of the book, they didn't accept that being thrown into an alien situationwhether that's moving to a new city, or country, or starting a new job or going to college or fitting in with your boyfriend's familyis a universal theme. I think their belief that most US women won't get the humour of the cultural differences overrode all the other things they did like about the book.

Going it alone

Like her protagonist Hannah, Gorman knows that stepping into unfamiliar territory is far easier when youre accompanied by someone else. Fortunately, Gormans agent, Caroline Hardman at Christopher Little, is on her side. She's been a constant support in my writing career, and the US launch is no different.'She's worked really hard to help me launch the book, from finding out how to go about the logistics to advice on the cover and the marketing.

Though Hardman didnt suggest that Gorman make changes to the manuscript, Gorman opted to revise the text before putting it on the market. I was lucky enough to have a year of reviews from bloggers and readers, which allowed me to see what they liked and didn't like. For example several readers would have liked to see less drinking. Although the odd tipple is a popular past time in the UK,'she acknowledged that Hannahs liberal approach to alcohol wasnt a hugely important part of the story, so she opted to tone down this element.

Hannah is also a bit more of a rounded character now, and I've deepened the scene settings to give a stronger sense of placeit's now a bit more descriptive. She has also removed the footnotes that were used to help explain some of the differences between American and British culture.

Publishing rights (and wrongs)

When Gorman points out how widely her book has been enjoyed, Im curious to learn about her opinion about publishing rights. As an Australian-based reviewer Ive had publishers decline to send certain books my way, even though I could easily pick up those books on a site such as Amazon or Book Depository. Ive also seen moves to purchase more wide-reaching rights. Are territorial rights still relevant?

I hate to think that publishing rights are irrelevant, says Gorman, noting that such a move would be bad news for her as an author. If those rights aren't observed then distributors will sell my book in territories where they do not have the right to do so. As it is, the UK version of the book is listed for sale on Amazon by distributors who don't have the right to sell the book in the US.

Authors lose out in such a scenario, adds Gorman, which is why the careful management of rights is vital.

When we sold publishing rights to Penguin UK we held back the US rights, so I owned them. This is also true for the English language rights in many other countries such as Brazil. I also own the foreign language rights in every country except for Russia. Russian rights have been sold to Atticus, which is publishing Single in the City in Russian.

On covers and conceptualisation

Though immensely popular as a genre over the past few years, and particularly so in the UK, chick lit has been getting a bad rap in the media of late, with reports of sales slumps abounding. Gorman suspects that rather than a reconceptualisation of the genre, which has been touted as the way to address this issue, that chick lit novels need to simply be accepted as such.

There's no doubt that the genre is maligned, but we should consider the source of these judgments when deciding how much credence we give them, says Gorman. Often, she says, those who speak poorly of the genre dont necessarily have any experience with it, but'are making their proclamations based on what they've read about it.

'The problem with chick-lit, they tell us, is that it doesn't deal with the real issues that women face. Gorman is quick to point out how far from the truth this is. From sibling rivalry to infidelity, addictions to poor body image, a woman can take her pick within the genre if she wants to. And the rest of it? It's meant for pure indulgent enjoyment, and there's nothing wrong with that.

In fact, Gorman suspects that its this indulgent enjoyment that grates with some. I think it's a reaction to popular culture from a particular part of the population. There will always be people for whom anything with mass appeal, whether in fiction, film, music or fashion, is a Very Bad Thing. These critics have been present through the ages. By definition, if they're against mass appeal then they are not part of the mass population and therefore must be in the minority. Let them have their opinions. We'll enjoy our reading.

So chick lit isnt in need of reconceptualising in order to make it more palatable to the mainstream? Not at all, says Gorman. In fact, thats needed is integrity and honesty in branding and marketing. Part of the issue is that books are being inappropriately branded as chick lit when theyre patently not, or as something else entirely when theyre clearly chick lit, she says. The latter is a particular issue in the US, she adds, although the issue has blown up in the UK media as well, with the firing of author Polly Courtney being one such case.

The recent case with Polly Courtney was to do with the fact that'her publisher has branded her books as chick lit when that's not what she writes, says Gorman. There are a lot of books out there with 'chick lit' covers when they're not chick lit.

As noted above, the opposite is true, as well: many chick lit books are given photographic covers that seem to indicate that the book sits within another genre altogether. When doing research for her US cover, Gorman says that she was surprised to see so many covers that did not make it obvious at all that the books in question were chick lit.

Most chick lit in the UK has illustrated covers, but in the US there seems to be a broad brush approach taken for the covers of books written by or for women. Gorman muses that this may be to do with the negative press that chick lit sometimes receives, pointing out that she has seen many'comments from women who say they wouldn't be caught dead reading a book with a pastel cover. To her, though, this means that the women in question simply dont like chick lit, and arent the market that the publishers should be chasing.

Perhaps the publishers see these comments and think that'if they put a different cover on the book then those women will buy it. This may be the case, but it could well risk ending up with an unhappy reader at the end of the transaction. If you market cheese as chocolate you just disappoint chocoholics and miss out on the cheese lovers.

Bearing this in mind, Gorman'made the decision to brand my book with an illustrated pastel cover that signals that it's fun, funny chick lit. I'm very proud to write chick lit and I want my book to be bought by chick lit lovers. After all, I am writing for them. I'm more than happy to forego sales to women who don't like the genre. I don't want to trick anyone into buying my book.

And for those who do object to the cover, she adds with a grin, having it'in eBook form is the 21st century equivalent of the brown paper bagno one can see what you're reading.

On visibility

Gormans mention of the invisibility of an ebook is an interesting one, and its an idea thats particularly relevant now that shes stepping out without the support of the marketing and media networks of a publishing company.

Traditional publishers do two important things in terms of getting a book in front of potential readers. First, they're great at getting the physical book into sales outlets.'The second thing traditional publishers do is to publicise the book through their in-house PR department. Gorman benefited from both of these when working with her UK publisher, where she had an excellent experience. Her book ended up in supermarket chain Tesco and on the sales table at WHSmith, and she had an extraordinary PR agent working tirelessly on her behalf. So she believes in the partnership between excellent publishers and writers.

I was extremely lucky to have Helen Holman, she says. She wrote my PR and sent it out to dozens of newspapers, magazines and blog sites. It was very much a partnership for us. For example I also came up with a very long list of chick lit blogs to get in touch with. When the requests came in, I set about writing up the interview or guest post.

Its these book blogs (like, er, this one) that Gorman is looking to when promoting the US release of her book. Im very grateful for them, she says.

Since the US edition of Single in the City is an eBook it won't receive the physical promotion the UK edition did, meaning that the review blogs even more important. Gorman is following the same path used for the UK launch, except this time around shes not working with Helen. I'm sending the PR as well as doing all of the interviews and guest blogs. For the US launch I sent PR to 80 US newspaper book editors and around 40 chick lit blog sites. It's through word of mouth that Single in the City will become a success in the US.

Gorman also sings the praises of social media, which are not just great procrastination tools, but are great for getting the word out as well.

As a writer, I am thrilled for the chance to connect with readers, so please do send me a facebook friend request'or follow me on Twitter'and I'll follow you back. Shes also blogging about her self-publishing experience on her website, and will be writing her next book interactively. I'll post the book as I go and ask readers for their opinions on storylines and characters. This is very exciting for me, and I hope many many readers will want to take part!

See our review of Single in the City

Purchase Single in the City from Barnes and Noble | Amazon

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  1. Thanks Steph and Michele for an interesting interview. Im particularly impressed that Michele edited her novel for re release based on reader feedback.
    I wish you success with it!


  2. Stephanie /

    Thanks for stopping by, Shelleyrae! I agree with you about the revision processits always great to see an author so intent on truly writing for her audience.

  3. Thanks Shelleyrae, It was a very long process, but so rewarding! I never feel as if Im 100% finished with a book (my agent generally pries it out of my hands eventually :-)), so to get the chance to rewrite was wonderful. And I enjoyed thinking about the book from a completely different point of view, anticipating how a whole new audience would see it.

    It was just the darn spelling and vocabulary that kept tripping me up!


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