Author Interview: Michele Gorman

Single in the City was published in June 2010 by Penguin (UK) across their markets in the UK, Europe, Asia, Canada and South Africa, selling quite well in those areas to make it a bestselling debut. London-based American writer Michele Gorman decided to self-publish Single in the City in the US, rejecting American publishers’ views about chick lit fans and flying in the face of criticism of the genre. The book’s universal theme about taking a chance and building a new life is something she knows about first-hand. Michele was born and raised in the US but has lived in London since 1998, and in 2006, she obtained British citizenship.  

Single in the City is available today in the US. In our interview with Michele, she explains more about her decision to self-publish and her views on chick lit.

Your novel, Single in the City, was published by Penguin in the UK and became a bestseller. Why did you decide to self-publish it in the US?

My publishing team at Penguin (UK) was great. They recognised that the book’s universal themes would appeal right across their markets in the UK, Europe, Asia, Canada and South Africa. They were right. The book has sold well both in the UK and abroad. But the US publishers we approached claimed that chick lit readers around the country couldn’t identify with a book set outside their borders. I think they’re wrong, and that’s why I’m self-publishing.

If they were right, then Single in the City should sell only to Americans living in London. After all, the main character, Hannah, is American and there’s a strong theme about seeing London through her rather baffled eyes. But the book has sold well to many nationalities worldwide. Single in the City is about taking a chance. It’s a fish-out-of-water story. And it’s about finding your feet in life and love. Penguin (UK) was right; those are universal themes. I think some US publishers are selling chick lit fans short by claiming they have only a narrow range of interests.

Other UK based bestselling authors of chick lit, like Sophie Kinsella and Hester Browne, have had their novels published in the US by traditional publishers. Why do you think your novel is being treated differently? 

It’s worth saying that originally Penguin (UK) offered me a global deal that included the US, but my agent and I declined and held back the US rights, because we wanted a US publisher for the book.

I’ve chatted to several friends about the way our market has changed, and I think there’s a feeling among chick lit writers that those of us who have managed to get published by traditional houses sneaked in just before the door closed. Unfortunately, as relatively new writers, we’re actually only inside the front hall. The big names are profitable for publishers, so they’ll get traditional representation. It’s trickier for less well-established writers.

My decision to self-publish Single in the City though, isn’t a rejection of traditional publishing by any means. It’s the right decision for this book. My agent and I will offer my next book to publishers because there are lots of advantages to that model. Plus, I had a great experience with Penguin (UK), so I believe in the partnership between writers and great publishers.

Why did you decide to self-publish your book in the US with an illustrated cover that is typical of British chick lit? Do you worry that people will judge your book by its cover?

I want readers to judge a book by its cover! I think too many books are misrepresented by their covers, which aim to the widest possible audience regardless of whether the cover represents the book. There’ve been a few high profile debates about that recently in the UK (Polly Courtney’s decision, for example, to fire her publisher, HarperCollins, for misbranding her books).

I’m very proud to write chick lit. More than that, I’m proud to write chick lit that stays true to the genre’s light-hearted, humorous roots. I want my covers to reflect the book’s contents. Even if that means that it’s criticized by chick lit detractors. I don’t write for those critics. I’d much rather have a woman sneer at my cover and pass it by than see her buy it because she doesn’t think it’s chick lit. A wise reader once pointed out that if you market cheese as chocolate, all you do is miss the cheese-lovers and disappoint the chocoholics. I want the cover to proudly declare that this is fun, funny chick lit. I’m happy to forgo some sales to ensure that I reach the women I’m writing for.

American publishers aren't publishing as much chick lit now as a few years ago. They are looking for serious women's fiction. Do you see British publishers leaning the same way or are they still actively pursuing chick lit?

Yes, we’re seeing the same trend in the UK. I think publishers are finding it difficult to know which direction to take next. The amount of negative press here about chick lit doesn’t help. Chick lit (and its fans!) are often targets for contempt in the media, but those critics don’t speak for the fans. Yet publishers see these articles. They look at their sales data and they’re worrying. Most publishers focus on physical distribution for many of their books, and the sales data like Nielsen BookScan only captures that physical distribution. We know that eBooks have taken off, but there’s no reliable data about eBook sales by genre. So, it may very well be that chick lit is as popular as ever but that women are downloading it more instead of buying a physical book.

What do you think about all of the criticism of the chick lit genre? Why do you think chick lit is singled out and often portrayed negatively?

I think that fans of the genre should consider the source of the criticism. These critics cite many reasons in their dismissal of the genre, reasons that ostensibly aren’t rooted in literary snobbery. But it is literary snobbery. “The problem” with chick-lit, we’re told, is that it doesn’t deal with the real issues that women face. Well actually, some of it does. 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.

I can’t help but notice that we don’t hear this criticism levelled at any other genre. Why insist that chick-lit reflect the issues facing its readership when no other genre is measured by the same yardstick? It isn’t expected of science fiction, or crime, mystery, historical fiction, or even most literary fiction. Women didn’t flock to buy We Need to Talk About Kevin thinking, ‘Gosh, my son is in prison too for picking off his classmates with a crossbow. That’s the book for me.’

And they needn’t fear for the malleable minds of chick-lit fans. Our poor little female brains aren’t going to turn to mush because we read light and breezy books. We don’t all sit on the sofa eating cakes and waiting for the next reality TV show. In fact, many of us even have quite intellectually challenging jobs. Is it any wonder we crave a little escapism? And it’s not as if women who read chick-lit read it exclusively. Most of us enjoy chocolate cake, but we don’t eat it every night for dinner do we? As you can probably tell, I don’t think much of these criticisms!

Why did you decide to move to London? What do you love about the city? 

I followed my heart but fell in love with the city, so I’m still here 15 years later. It would be a shorter list to say what I don’t love about the city! But I won’t. I love that so many nationalities and cultures are here. I love that no matter what your interests, you can do it here. I love that Brits take a nuanced approach to everything – there is no black and white – and they treat all information with suspicion, preferring to figure out for themselves what they believe. I love the easy pace of the city (yes even with 10 million people living here) and the fact that no matter how much work there is to be done, everyone will leave their offices to go to a pub and stand outside if the sun is shining. It’s a tremendous city. I think that love comes through in Hannah’s attitude too.

The main character of Single in the City, Hannah Cumming, moves to London to start over. Did you base the character and the whole novel on your own experiences?

Yes and no. I moved for very different reasons but the fish-out-of-water experience is one that all newcomers to London face. In fact, it’s something everyone faces when they move into a new life. It might be moving to a new country or new city, or learning to fit into your boyfriend’s family or starting college. I’ve had many comments from women who’ve read the book that Hannah’s experiences were theirs too. I love that her story is a universal one.

When will Single in the City be available in the US?

Thursday, October 27th! It’s available for Kindle and Nook, and will eventually be available for iPad/iPhone once I read the 54 page instructions about how to upload it properly!

If your book is not as successful in the US as it is in other countries, will you be satisfied with your success outside of the US? If it is successful in the US, do you think US publishers will take note of that and possibly be reminded that US readers still want chick lit?

I’m extremely happy with how the book has done in the UK and elsewhere. Doing well in the US would be the icing on an already very tall, very tasty cake.

Regarding the US publishers, I think they are carefully watching the eBook market and will be taking note of any book or subject area that seems to be getting a lot of attention. But we really need reliable sales data for eBooks soon!

Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you, your novel, or your publishing journey?

I love connecting with readers and social media is giving me the means to do that. So please don’t be shy, send me a Facebook friend request, a follow on Twitter, or drop me an email. There are exciting plans afoot for the next book and I’d love to let everyone know about them.