Hi folks. Lisa Joy, author of Yes, Chef! has been kind enough to write a guest post for us today. I thoroughly enjoyed reading her thoughts on how traditional publishing is a partnership and I think that you will too, Kathryn.
Traditional publishing is a partnership - Lisa Joy
Two years ago, if a psychic told me my debut novel would be chicklit, I would have dismissed them as a charlatan. I wrote fantasy and read literary fiction, but when I began writing Yes, Chef! there was no doubt in my mind that the voice was chicklit.
When you begin writing a book in a genre you’re not overly familiar with it’s difficult to know what readers will expect; what notes in the story they’ll want you to hit. As a new writer, I tried not to get bogged down by this. When I wrote Yes, Chef! I didn’t have publication in mind. Of course, I thought it would make a nice added bonus but I honestly just wanted to prove to myself that I could finish a book and I had so much fun achieving this goal.
I was surprised and ecstatic when Penguin picked it up so quickly for their Destiny Romance imprint. I didn’t think of myself as a romance writer but I was well aware that publishing was a business and, like it or not, we all must fit in to a package readers will recognise (at least in the beginning). The number one question a publisher asks when reading your manuscript is - will it sell? The sales team wants to hear things like – It’s a little bit Devil Wears Prada and a little bit Bridget Jones’s Diary, and even though I knew this before I submitted, I had no idea just how much these comparisons would impact on the finished product.
One of the first hurdles my editor and I tackled was making my heroine, Becca, more likable. I struggled with this in the beginning because I’d never considered whether or nor she was likeable. To me, she was just herself. I was writing about a good-hearted but selfish young woman who was unsatisfied with life. She worked in a stressful, thankless environment that brought out the worst in her. Yes, you want to slap her every now and then but, in my mind, that’s what made her growth throughout the story more rewarding. My editor, with all her experience and wisdom, knew that a heroine that was too negative was more likely to make readers put the book down and not pick it up again.
The next major point we worked on was the ending. My editor wanted a ‘happily-ever-after’ moment and again I struggled with this because I still didn’t believe I’d written a romance. I didn’t see this so much as a compromise but more as a learning curve. I knew my book was more about friendship and work-life balance and dealing with dissatisfaction, but if I thought about it, I too cheered when Mark Darcy kissed Bridget Jones in the snow, lifting her off the ground so her underpants were on show to the whole street. During the whole editorial process I was assured that these were just suggestions; some I compromised on and others I stuck to my guns on in order to preserve the authenticity of the world I had created.
When it came to the cover, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I had ideas of a London skyline. I wanted readers to know they were in for a bit of armchair travelling when they read the book as there are also scenes in Istanbul and Florence. The original eBook cover is illustrated and stylised; you immediately know it’s chicklit. I’ll admit the paperback cover is slightly more girlie than I would have liked but I trust in Penguin’s knowledge of the market and what’s selling and it does depict the sense of fun in Becca’s story.
I think being originally published under a romance imprint impacted on the way my book was marketed, which is understandable. And yet, I still struggle to know how to label it. It’s not romance as Becca’s romantic trysts are really more of a sideline than a main event. I’m also not sure if it’s strictly chicklit as I’ve had a number of men say how much they enjoyed the book. Foodie fiction is the term that sits best and I’ve enjoyed exploring this genre in my second book, which, fingers crossed, will be release by Penguin this time next year. I’m still discovering who I want to be as a writer and I have no doubt that with the support of my editor this will become clearer over time the more books I write.
As with any good partnership, traditional publishing is partly about compromise in order to reach your common goal. And yet, I wouldn’t be without it. I have no doubt that Yes, Chef! is a better book for their experience and skill, their knowledge of the market and enthusiasm and support for my writing. In the end, letting go of a little control in order to produce a better finished product seems a small price to pay.