So, you’ve finished the backbreaking work of writing, polishing, and packaging your novel for release. Then, you got through the soul-crushing process of pushing through the agenting process, before you finally find the publisher of your dreams. Happy ever after? Hardly.

If you’re investment-banker-turned-writer, Polly Courtney, your frustrations have just begun.

Thanks to mismatched expectations, battles over titling and cover design, and being pigeonholed into a genre the author did not intend to be stigmatized for, the release of Miss Courtney’s latest book, It’s a Man’s World, gave way to a moment in the spotlight that wasn’t entirely a happy one. Publicly ditching her publisher, HarperCollins, Polly Courtney decided to stand up to what she perceived as unfair treatment.

Here’s her story.

CQ: You’ve gained a whole lot of attention for ditching your publisher, HarperCollins, at your latest book’s launch. Can you tell us about what led up to this decision? Did you make it spur-of-the-moment, or was this something you were considering doing before?

I felt very strongly that the mis-selling of my books through the clichéd, inappropriate designs and titles was something that needed to be brought to light – not because it was news in itself, but because it is an example of a bigger problem that appears to be inherent in the publishing industry, and one that needs to be exposed.

It was not a spur-of-the-moment decision; it was the culmination of three years’ pent-up frustration as a result of repeated errors in packaging and marketing. Of course, I had considered the possible consequences in advance. I knew that the result would be a backlash from the traditional publishing industry, but I don’t regret my decision. If the emails I’ve received from other authors, readers, designers and even small publishers are anything to go by, it would appear that this is indeed an industry-wide problem and that many are suffering as a result.

CQ: Your book, “It’s a Man’s World“, was allegedly given a degrading title, cover, and “chick lit” label. How would you have called, covered, and categorized it if you had full control?

I would have liked to call the book Harmless Banter. Two-word titles suit the style of my writing. On the design front, I have been disappointed with the way my publisher has jumped on a different bandwagon for every title, with no continuity. I would like to see bold, block-colour imagery that is consistently branded – not a clichéd, ‘me too’ design that has been cloned from a movie poster. In terms of categorization, that’s a difficult one as my writing doesn’t fit neatly into any of the ‘mass market’ genres that exist. It’s not quite chick lit, it’s not literary fiction and I’m not sure why male readers should be excluded from reading it either. I am happy to simply call it fiction and make sure the visual representation is appropriate.

CQ: What inspired the story of your novel? Do you perceive any parallels between your own experiences in publishing and Alexa’s in the world of lads’ mags?

I have worked in media, as Alexa does in the novel, but I’ve never worked for a lads’ mag. The inspiration came more from the organisations that oppose lads’ mags, and their tireless campaigns to expose the harm that they do to society. I didn’t want to write a ‘feminist rant’, however – my novels are written to entertain. So, I deliberately wrote the book in a way that presents both sides of the story and lets the reader decide what he or she believes.

CQ: What do you believe is the role of women’s literature in the publishing world these days? Does it benefit writers in pursuing this niche, or is it too narrow and sexist to make it worthwhile?

Many books heavily target women, just as some are specifically aimed at men. This makes sense, to some extent, given the need for readers to empathise with the characters and scenarios. However, I feel that this segregation has become exceedingly heavy, with ‘women’s fiction’ taking on a highly feminine form that seems at odds with the equality we are supposed to be moving towards. I am a big fan of books that appeal to both men and women, regardless of the gender of the author.

CQ: What will happen to “It’s a Man’s World” now? Will HarperCollins continue to sell it, or are you making other arrangements? What’s the best way to obtain it today?

It’s a Man’s World is published by HarperCollins and will continue to be published and sold as such. It’s available in all the usual places such as Amazon and W H Smith.

CQ: You mentioned that a lot of writers are experiencing similar conflicts with their publishers. What’s the best course of action to reconcile this, in your opinion?

It’s difficult for authors who feel that their work is being mis-sold. They have to make a decision: grin and bear it, putting their trust in the publisher, or make a fuss and walk away. Of course, very few authors walk away because it’s a step into the unknown. However, if past experience shows that the publisher is doing more harm than good to an author’s brand and they are not open to discussion with the author, then I’d say that the best course of action is to seek an alternative way to publish – either with an independent publisher or by going it alone – before too much damage is done.

CQ: You are returning to self-publishing – however, Amazon, Smashwords, and other self-publishing venues are referred to as “the new slush-pile”. How do you intend to make yourself noticed among the throngs?

For me, it’s about getting the right readers to notice my work. With my first novel, I was writing about the City, so I targeted the people, venues, media and organisations that were centred around the square mile. It became a cult read for junior bankers and wannabe bankers. With Poles Apart, I wanted to appeal to the Polish community, other expats and anyone associated with the world I was writing about. Once you hit the target, word will spread to a wider audience – it’s a halo effect.

CQ: How did you get started as an author? With an engineering degree and investment banker background, what experiences led you to try something else? Was it a difficult transition?

It was certainly an unusual transition and I took a while to adapt from equations and spreadsheets to the world of words, but I’m glad I did. At the time, I was just desperate to get my story out to other junior bankers and people who were trapped in that world. I rushed headlong into the book, probably too quickly, if my friend’s words were anything to go by. “Are you sure you want to go into writing?” she asked, when I handed her my first draft. I think that book took seven drafts!

CQ: You write about strong women overcoming adversity. Who is your favorite MALE character in literature, and why?

Adam Dalgliesh – I was brought up on P D James.

CQ: What advice would you offer young writers just starting out on their journey?

Think about your potential readers. If you’re passionate about a theme or story, think about who else might share that passion, and write it for them, as well as for yourself. When you get to the publishing stage, think about what is right for your work. If you’re in a conversation with a publisher, look at the other novels they have released and try to find out what they have in mind for yours. It may seem arrogant for an unpublished writer to ask what a publisher has in mind for his or her work, but it’s critical for success. If your intentions are different then it’s better to find this out now than a year and a hundred thousand words later.

Where Can We Find You?

Where Can We Find Your Books?

For some crazy reason we can no longer find “It’s a Man’s World” on Amazon, so here’s a direct link to Polly Courtney’s page about it. And here are several of her other books:

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Defying Gravity

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About the Author

Lisa Gus
I am… a mother, a wife, a daughter, a granddaughter, a slave to a very persnickety cat, a writer, a foodie, a shoe hoarder, a people watcher, a conservationist, a screenwriter, a reluctant (but apparently prolific) blogger... So who am I, really? Still figuring that one out. Update as I go along ;-)