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Author Chat - Michele Gorman

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I've decided to revive the Featured Author idea, but a little differently, calling it Author Chat. I've invited Michele Gorman to come along and help out - I 'bumped into' Michele on Twitter, when she posted a blog post about paid-for reviews. Her blog has some interesting discussions on it, and so I thought there might be some interesting things to chat about on here.

 

Michele is originally from the US, but she now lives in London. Her 2 chick-lit books are Single In The City (paperback and kindle) and Misfortune (kindle). She's also just released Little Sacrifices under her pen name of Jamie Scott, which is historical fiction.

 

I'm sure Michele would be happy to discuss her publishing process, why she chooses kindle etc. She's discussed cover design, paid-for reviews and blog tours on her own blog, so I'm sure there's plenty we can talk about.

 

Bear with us whilst I get Michele registered, and please think of some interesting questions.

 

I'm going to start by asking her why she chose to leave the US and move to London? :)

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Thanks for inviting me, and your question is an easy one!

 

I followed a boyfriend to London.

 

We were, as my Dad likes to say, geographically unsuitable. He lived in Miami and I was in Chicago. He got the chance to move to London for work, so I spent two years flying over when my grad school schedule permitted. After graduation he suggested I might like to move to London and I jumped at the chance. I figured that whether things worked out romantically or not, an adventure awaited. I was right, and I'm still here fifteen years later. So the main character, Hannah, in Single in the City and Misfortune Cookie, isn't entirely fictional in that sense :smile:

 

Has anyone else moved to a new city for a boyfriend/girlfriend?

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Nope, he and I are long over. And after we broke up I met the love of my life, a wonderful English man who I couldn't have conjured more perfectly if I'd written him myself! We live together in London's East End, writing books and generally enjoying life.

 

I don't miss the US (except for my family and friends there), but find that I am nostalgic sometimes. This comes to light especially when I'm with other nationalities, and they ask me questions about America. I enjoy my role as mouthpiece for a nation (apologies for speaking for everyone!), and when talking about Thanksgiving or the 4th of July or high school proms, I think fondly about the customs and traditions there.

 

In 2006 I became British, so London is definitely home for me. That means I get to meddle in two countries' politics and always stand in the short queue at immigration.

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Hi Michele, thank you so much for joining us and allow us to grill you! :)

 

How do you think the modern chick-lit genre has changed since the days of the first books from Helen Fielding, Marian Keyes and Jane Green, and has anyone in particular influenced your writing of chick-lit books?

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Thanks, chesilbeach!

 

That's an interesting question because chick lit has definitely changed since the early days. The early books were so fresh because they were a new genre. Though some might argue that Jane Ayre was the first chick lit book, I disagree because, to me, chick lit is defined by tone. It's funny, sharp and irreverent, like talking with your best girlfriends over a bottle of wine. It is contemporary and has a woman/women protagonist(s) dealing with the common issues we all face when it comes to jobs, friendships, relationships, family, etc.

 

One way I think the genre has changed is that it has expanded to include books that aren't funny, sharp or irreverent. I think this is a mistake that publishers have made, by branding lots of books written by women for women as chick lit. It's confused the genre. What could be classed as women's fiction (for those who don't object to that title) is branded as chick lit, because chick lit sells. I'd like to see more honest branding in the market. Many writers who find their books pinkified aren't happy about it. And it confuses the market for those of us who do write funny, sharp, irreverent books. It's also, of course, unfair on readers, who may buy a book expecting light and fun, only to get something very different.

 

My early inspirations are the classic chick lit writers: Sophie Kinsella and Marian Keyes. I also love Anna Maxted. Among my favourite writers in general are John Irving and Maya Angelou.

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Hello Michele,

 

Welcome to the forum, and thank you for opening yourself up to our questions :)

 

In our Writer's section, there is a thread called "Why do you write?" - it's one my favourite threads - as it gives me a glimpse of the mind that likes to put words on paper.

I'd like to ask you the same question:

 

Why do you write?

 

And as an add-on to that :

Who would you recommend your books to?

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Thanks, chesilbeach!

 

That's an interesting question because chick lit has definitely changed since the early days. The early books were so fresh because they were a new genre. Though some might argue that Jane Ayre was the first chick lit book, I disagree because, to me, chick lit is defined by tone. It's funny, sharp and irreverent, like talking with your best girlfriends over a bottle of wine. It is contemporary and has a woman/women protagonist(s) dealing with the common issues we all face when it comes to jobs, friendships, relationships, family, etc.

 

One way I think the genre has changed is that it has expanded to include books that aren't funny, sharp or irreverent. I think this is a mistake that publishers have made, by branding lots of books written by women for women as chick lit. It's confused the genre. What could be classed as women's fiction (for those who don't object to that title) is branded as chick lit, because chick lit sells. I'd like to see more honest branding in the market. Many writers who find their books pinkified aren't happy about it. And it confuses the market for those of us who do write funny, sharp, irreverent books. It's also, of course, unfair on readers, who may buy a book expecting light and fun, only to get something very different.

 

My early inspirations are the classic chick lit writers: Sophie Kinsella and Marian Keyes. I also love Anna Maxted. Among my favourite writers in general are John Irving and Maya Angelou.

 

 

I'm so pleased you've said that, as I've always thought chick-lit was the book equivalent of the romcom in films, which I think is a more appropriate term as it obviously shows it includes the romance and the comedy.

 

I started reading chick-lit when I was in my twenties, at the time Bridget Jones's Diary came out, and one of the developments I've noticed is that originally, the main focus was often just about finding Mr. Right, while now there is more about being a women in today's society, whether it's as a girlfriend, wife, mother, divorcee etc., but often also about having a career or finding a more fulfilled life, however, I've read some authors who have been writing since the early days have not developed their characters from their first books, whereas others have allowed their characters to grow older as they have themselves. Do you think you will continue to write chick-lit books in the long-term, or have you not thought that far ahead yet?

 

Also, you're obviously already writing in the historical fiction genre as well, do you want to write in any other genres?

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Hi Bree, thanks for your questions. I'm a commercial writer, which means I write to support myself (although admittedly it took 10 years of writing before I earned a penny). I also happen to love it, which is handy :-)) If I wasn't able to make a living from writing, I'm not sure that I would do it, but hopefully that won't ever be a decision I'll have to make. I do worry about the increasing level of book piracy though. Every week I have to google to find my books on pirate websites (most will take them off if the writer asks them to). Last week I found one which had had nearly 3,000 downloads. That's two months' rent that readers have effectively taken from me by illegally downloading my book instead of paying $3.99 for it (I get 70%, or $2.80 per book, less 20% agency fee, 40% income tax and 9% national insurance ... or approximately 87 cents a book). My fear is that if piracy continues to grow, because people don't see it as a crime or understand that every illegal download takes 100% of that royalty out of the writers' pockets, we won't be able to continue to write for a living.

 

In terms of who I'd recommend my books to, that's easy! My books are for women, age 18+, who want a light read to take them out of their lives and make them laugh. That's my goal: to entertain.

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Thanks chesilbeach, I love writing chick lit and I think I'll write it as long as I have good ideas for stories and women want to read the genre. Although who knows if I'll still have stories to write about young women when I'm 85 :-) There are two more books in the pipeline, one that's finished and will go out to UK publishers in the next month or so. The other is the sequel to Misfortune Cookie, a novella in time for Christmas, which I'm working on now. And I have an idea for another book after that, which I'm really excited about!

 

I definitely also like writing "upmarket commercial fiction" (that's what my first agent called it). Little Sacrifices happened to be historical fiction, and I guess my first book was historical too (set in 1920s New York and Kenya) but my third book was contemporary commercial fiction, with male characters. So I don't know that I'd stick to one genre outside chick lit. I like the flexibility that commercial fiction gives me.

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Michele, can you talk us through your publishing process? For example, you've discussed cover design on your blog, but I know many authors have told us they don't have a say in the matter. Do you have a good team, or are you given more freedom because you publish on kindle?

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Little Sacrifices sounds really interesting - I've added it to my wishlist, along with your two chicklit books.

 

 

Hope you don't mind me peppering you with questions, but I was also curious about why you've used a pen name for your commercial fiction? Did you know you would do that before you started writing the book, or was it after you'd written the book that a discussion with your agent/editor/publisher resulted in that decision?

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Michele, it must be tough to know illegal copies of your book are around the net.

Is there a reason you chose to go the Kindle route for Misfortune?

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Michele, can you tell us a little about your actual process of writing? For instance does it come easy to you, how much do you re-write, do you have set hours for writing, that sort of thing? Do you work religiously on one book at a time or do you make notes for the next book while you are in the process of writing the main one you are working on?

Thanks in advance.

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The publishing process depends a lot of whether you're with a publisher or self-publishing. When I was with Penguin UK for my first book, Single in the City, my agent sent the manuscript around to the commissioning editors at the UK publishers. They read it and if they like it, the can try to get it approved for acquisition. This happens in a committee, which meets to decide which books to acquire. It's my understanding that the "yes" vote needs to be unanimous, so the commissioning editor who wants to acquire the book for the publishing house spends a lot of time getting those on the committee to read the best bits of the manuscript, and convincing them that the book would be a good acquisition. If the book is accepted then they make an offer to the agent, which the writer decides whether to accept. There's usually some wrangling between the publisher and agent over terms, because the agent is working for the writer, trying to get her the best deal.

 

Once the ink is dry on the contract, the editor reads the manuscript again and suggests where it needs to be changed. These are called content edits. The writer makes these changes (you can refuse changes but I felt that nearly all the suggestions improved the book) and delivers the manuscript. There are deadlines for doing this that have to be kept to. There are at least two rounds of copyedits (these are edits for grammar, punctuation, inconsistencies, etc) and these have deadlines too.

 

Then everything goes quiet for a while (it generally takes more than a year from the time you sign the contract to the launch day). My editor asked me for ideas on the cover, and I gave them. But writers generally have little influence on the cover. The art department, the editor and the marketing department make most cover decisions. I did get to change a few tiny details once I saw the draft cover, but a writer wouldn't usually be able to kick up a fuss and get the cover sent back to the drawing board.

 

You're given a release date and everything gears up for that date. Behind the scenes the marketing and sales department is sending the book out to all the buyers within the distributors (i.e. the books shops and supermarkets) with a marketing pitch to try to convince them to stock the book. Buyers have very few spaces each week, so there are a lot of books competing for a few slots. I was very lucky that both Tesco and WH Smith travel (i.e. in all the airports and train stations) stocked Single in the City, and 80% of my sales came through those two outlets. There's also a publicist who works with the writer. She writes the PR and sends it out to all the newspapers, magazines and blogs, and coordinates the interviews. I had an amazing publicist called Helen Holman and we worked very closely together. This isn't always the case though, and I've got writer friends who've had a terrible time with their publicists. So it's a bit of a lucky draw.

 

So in general there are a lot of moving parts that the writer doesn't really see, which get the book from manuscript form to finished book in the shops.

 

When I self-publish, it's the exact same process, only I'm the one coordinating everything. My agent acts as editor, doing the content edit. Then I hire a copy-editor, who makes the grammatical, punctuation and consistency edits. Then I hire a cover designer who works with my agent and I to design the cover. I do all of the marketing and PR myself, which generally involves contacting hundreds of book blogs. The distribution is through Amazon, Barnes & Noble (and Apple in the future) because the book shops and supermarkets don't stock self-published books.

 

It's more work to self-publish because the writer needs to coordinate the editors and cover designer, contact all the blogs and send out books for review. But whether self-publishing or publishing traditionally, the writer is the one writing the guest posts, Q&As and interviews for the blogs, so either way it's a lot of work!

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Michelle, to answer your question - I had an excellent team at Penguin UK, and when I self-publish I have a great team too. My cover designer is actually the same designer that Penguin commissioned, and my copy editor is really good, and can edit in both English and American. My agent is a dream - we bounce around ideas throughout my writing process and she also makes sure that the book has a "hook" before I write it. The hook is the single sentence that encapsulates the the book and hopefully makes people want to read it.

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Thanks chesilbeach! I use a pen name for the commercial fiction so that I don't confuse expectations for readers of my chick lit. Using a pen name is a way to differentiate between different genres and writing styles. I didn't plan on a pen name when I wrote Little Sacrifices. It was only when I decided to publish it, after publishing two chick lit books, that I figured it'd be best to differentiate between the genres.

 

And I can anticipate the next question :-) I chose Jamie because I wanted an androgynous name, and used Scott in reference to the Antarctic explorer, Captain Scott. And the whole name had to be easy to spell and remember.

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Hi Bookworm, it is very frustrating and I hope that books don't go the same way that music has.

 

I launched Misfortune Cookie as an eBook first because it's taken me a long time to find a print on demand publisher that a) Amazon works well with, b) has low enough costs to make a paperback viable to produce and c) creates high quality books. I tried several before settling on CreateSpace, which is owned by Amazon. For future books that I self-publish, I'll launch the eBook and paperback at the same time.

 

Little Sacrifices is available in paperback in the US, and Misfortune Cookie will be available in paperback in a week or so, in both the US and UK/Europe. We're just waiting for the final proof copy to review. However, the cost to produce paperbacks is high, and when you add Amazon's 40% commission, it means that the price to readers is higher than I'd like. And CreateSpace is very US-focused, so while I can just about create a reasonably priced book for the US market, the cost for the UK is much higher, which means I have to charge £7.99 just to cover Amazon's 40% cut and get a tiny royalty for myself. Hopefully print on demand publishers can sort out cost and quality issues to allow us to produce paperbacks at a reasonable price in future.

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Hi vodkafan, I'm pretty disciplined when it comes to writing, so I generally write 5 days a week, starting in the morning. I can write for anywhere between 2 and 6 hours, depending on how easily everything is flowing. I tend to have an idea about how much I want to get done each day, and try to stay consistent between days. So now, for example, I'm working on a novella for Christmas (which needs to be done in August in order to get it edited and marketed in time for an October launch). It is 12 chapters long, and I try to write half a chapter each day. If I'm on a roll though I don't stop. So in general I have to force myself to write at least a certain amount, but let myself continue beyond that if the words are flowing.

 

I used to edit as I went along but I find that that slows me down and I end up going over the same bits over and over instead of writing. I'm great at procrastinating and "editing" became just one more procrastination tool (as if twitter, facebook, blogging, general faffing around on the internet weren't enough :-)) So now I write the book straight through and edit afterwards.

 

I would estimate that I did at least 30 full edits on my debut. Now that I'm more experienced I do two or three, then send it off to my agent. She comes back with at least one round of edits (usually two), and then it goes off to the copy editor (or if we are going to approach publishers, as we're doing with my most recent manuscript, Bella Summer Takes a Chance, then it will go off to the publishers for a chance to buy the manuscript).

 

I never have an idea for the next book while I'm writing the current one. And each time I worry that I've run out of ideas. But then, when the book is finished I take a few days to think about the next book, and an idea always comes. Hopefully that'll always be the case! So I tend to compartmentalise my writing: write the whole book, then edit, market the book for the launch, get the idea for the next one, outline it, write, edit, market, repeat :-)

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Thanks Michelle, do I prefer more control? In some ways yes, although it's a lot more stressful! I had a real love/hate relationship with Misfortune Cookie's cover. The idea that we could design anything we wanted was exciting, but terrifying too, in case we got it wrong. And I think we did get it wrong at first, which I'll be talking in detail about in August on Chick Lit Plus, Chick Lit Central and Chick Lit Club.

 

Other than the cover, it's fun being the one who decides how to best pitch the book, write the blurbs and descriptions, and approach the blogs for reviews. Having a lot of writer friends whose publicists were terrible, I do worry that the next book I publish traditionally won't get the same attention that Single in the City did with the excellent publicist at Penguin UK.

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Wow. That is a lot of work. Michele, thank you for answering in so much detail and helping us understand what actually happens behind the scenes.

And Jamie Scott has nice ring to it.

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That's awful about the piracy :( I too hope it doesn't go the way of other electronic media. Thanks for your insights into the world of publishing. That was fascinating!

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Great answers, a lot of information there Michele, thank you. There was one thing that bothered me about the self publishing side of things, I am going to go back and re-read to understand it fully before I ask my next question though.

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