This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
INTERVIEW BY AMANDA KEATS
Many articles have said you “ceremoniously dumped” your publisher but it did seem that you were still grateful to those who helped you and worked with you on the book.
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Absolutely! I really don't want it to be a personal battle because it's not. It's a problem with a huge number of author's books. The perpetrators are not the particular editors I worked with, it's an industry problem. The big machine does things in a certain way.
The perpetrators are not the particular editors
I worked with, it's an industry problem.
Do you think they have to, given the recession?
There is an air of desperation. They have titles that are going to be their big sellers, as opposed to really trying to nurture and work on each author and title and make the best of it they can – which is a sort of old-fashioned way of doing it. Overall, their way may be the more financially successful now but it's risky and not long-term. Apart from anything else, somebody would pick up a book based on its appearance and then be confused and disappointed when they realise it isn't what they thought it was. Then they won't go back and buy that author again. If they think about what's inside, what the writer is trying to say – then they would have a long-term sellable commodity in the author. Author back-catalogues are incredibly important. I love Nick Hornby and I will buy anything by him, even in hardback, just because it's him.
It feels as though the retailers are squeezing their margins because they can. They are the only ones left. The publishers want to get in with them so they'll do what they have to.
So did they offer you a new contract when the three-book deal came to an end?
It was a three book deal with an option to continue, which as you know I declined. I didn't think the news would be ground-breaking to them in all honesty [Polly announced that she would not be continuing with HarperCollins at the book launch]. They were the ones involved in those lengthy email correspondences where I was battling with them over covers and such. I know that my Editor said I was a dream to work with but in terms of this I was not a dream! They should have realised that it wasn't the right match and I can't understand how it was surprising to them.
Was it a battle from the very beginning?
What I found with my very first book “Golden Handcuffs” is that all the editors were coming back and saying “good style but this whole office, city thing – can we change it to shopping? They've got loads of money, can we see them spending it?”
I didn't want to glamorise it. It was meant to be an exposé on the NON-glamorous side of it. They didn't want to do anything new or different because it might not sell. I am interested in what it takes for them to that risk and make the leap. Maybe it's the small ones that are happy to take the risk on a small print run while the big ones are just churning them out as mass market.
Are you against the idea of working with publishers again then?
I don't see myself as being the writer, editor, publisher all rolled into one. I would rely on an editor to tell me bluntly “that's too waffly” etc. The only thing is whether I fund it or go with a small publisher.
To be fair, my books have sold reasonably well. I don't have qualms about that. In response to the channel 4 interview, people picked up on me saying “the wrong readers” were reading my books. It's not either chick-lit or army [as they showed in the interview] – there's a whole mix in between. There's a spectrum. Everyone has different tastes. Mine don't fall under heavy literary or the male side – they're not Andy McNab – but I do think they're different to chick-lit on the spectrum.
I don't see myself as being the writer, editor, publisher all rolled into one.
Do you think your books are better than chick-lit then?
I don't think in terms of a quality scale, I think in terms of people’s preferences. The only quality aspect I consider is whether or not the book is well-written. As long as it's well-written, I think most books are worth reading if it suits you. It's all about what you like!
Do you think the term “chick-lit” has negative connotations?
I think the term is really overused so it engulfs women's fiction and has grown bigger than the genre it sits in. I don't know that it has negative connotations but it does have connotations. As a rule, they are light, easy reads with humour about women looking for love and happiness. In my books, there are relationships involved (and hopefully some humour!) but they are small strands within the overall plot. I hope they have stirred up thoughts about inequalities, minorities or societal issues.
Do you read chick-lit?
I read a variety of books. I read some like Jane Green, Marian Keyes, Lesley Lokko but I also love Nick Hornby as I said and Ben Elton and PD James style books. I suppose a lot of it would be called lad-lit?
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
I would consider myself a feminist. If I were to explain to someone what I meant by that I would say I am all for equality. In the same way that chick-lit has connotations, so does feminism. What I mean is that women and men should have equal rights, not that women are better than men. There should be very few differences in terms of their rights, their roles and their place within society. Obviously there are some undeniable differences but apart from them, there shouldn't be inequalities. Putting gender specific covers on books is a whole new level of irony when it's on a book that's about trying to bring to light the inequality in media, especially with a sexy image all about how the woman looks, not what she's doing. She looks a bit ditzy and confused.
I would consider myself a feminist… I would say I am all for equality.
Why did you decide to go so public with your disapproval of the way the publisher handled your books?
I campaigned, HEAVILY, to my editors for each of the three books at the point when they showed me the cover design (and title) they intended to use. Frustratingly, they responded each time with a somewhat patronising “thanks, but no thanks” so my voice was lost. THIS is why I have felt the need to make the situation public. And now I have done, it would appear that a huge number of other authors are coming out of the woodwork declaring that they have experienced something similar. Some quite high profile names have contacted me to say “Bravo, I've been suffering in silence for years”.
I realise that I'm going to get come-back from those on the side of traditional publishers, that I risk being seen as bitter, but I'm willing to be the scape goat / whistle-blower because I believe strongly that this is a situation that needs to be exposed.
Photo by Rachel Ellis
You can follow Amanda on Twitter @filmvsbook