Canongate has sped through the publishing process of its recent acquisition Sick, a "remarkably courageous and highly topical" memoir by Iranian-American author Porochista Khakpour, to capitalise on the swell of international interest the title has received. We spoke to publishing director Francis Bickmore about the decision-making behind this process, which the publisher refers to as a 'crash'.
Can you tell us a bit about Sick and why you decided to acquire it?
I was aware of Porochista’s previous fiction but it was only when our sales operations manager, Jen Wallace, flagged up the pre-publication buzz in the US for her memoir, Sick, that I called the book in from her agents (Seth Fishman at Gernert and Caspian Dennis at Abner Stein).
At a time when memoirs exploring illness, medicine and health are selling well, Porochista’s tale felt like an interesting and timely contribution to the debate about illness and identity, specifically speaking from a female point of view, and from a writer of colour. Sick is movingly raw and honest about the author’s years of living for years with chronic pain, an illness which was only latterly diagnosed as Lyme Disease. Born in Tehran, Khakpour moved to live in America, and in the book she explores what it means to feel at home in one’s body and also one’s country. And what it means not to.
How did you decide on the publication date?
In our ever-more interconnected world it seemed essential to capitalize on the US sales success. Slate, Buzzfeed, Oprah Magazine, the Millions and the New Yorker had all covered the book and we anticipated that our UK campaign would do best riding as soon as possible after that wave of press.
As an independent publisher we pride ourselves on our ability to be reactive and light on our feet when necessary, and consulting with our brilliant production and sales departments we concluded we could turn the book from acquisition to in-store in 6 weeks. The book is out 2 August.
What were the opportunities and the challenges of publishing in such a short time?
The opportunity with a crash is to capitalise on a specific moment, and a fast-selling US book which was bringing a very talented American author the attention she deserves. The challenges were the obvious: crashing the production schedule, setting up UK press interviews at breakneck speed and finding slots in stores where buying decisions may have been set for some months. Thankfully Waterstones’s Non-Fiction Buyer read and loved the book instantly and has been really supportive.
How have you capitalized on the international media attention?
The US coverage enabled us to fast-track the campaign, and our head of publicity, Anna Frame, nimbly set up a lead interview with Alex Clark in the Observer. The US publication also sparked a lot of support from significant authors in the twittersphere including Cheryl Strayed, Susannah Cahalan and, last week, Nigella Lawson, whose enthusiasm we have been able to amplify in the run-up to publication.
What media coverage have you got planned in the UK?
The reaction from the press has been incredibly positive in the UK already, and despite the short turnaround we’re expecting a strong selection of reviews across the broadsheets and women’s press, with both the FT and Sunday Times set to run in the next ten days. The Observer interview really helped raise awareness of the book, and there are quite a few conversations ongoing with both print and broadcast media around the possibility of further features.
What other books have you crashed?
Our critical path commits for completed manuscripts to deliver 13 months pre-publication, and there are good reasons for that. Added to which if we pushed through crashes all the time everyone would keel over from stress. However occasional crashes have worked well in the past for us, such as with Go the Fuck to Sleep and our runaway bestseller last autumn, The Beautiful Poetry of Donald Trump.