Although Love By The Book is a novel, the premise comes from an experiment that you conducted in your own life, that you turned into a blog called “Love by the Book.” What made you want to try this and how did you come up with the idea?
The idea came after a year of semi-successful dating in London. I’d come out of a serious relationship the year before (a marriage, in fact) so I wasn’t looking for anything remotely serious… and yet every time I tried to convey that to a guy, they seemed to think I was trying to trick them. It was getting annoying, so when the idea came to me to try these different dating guides – and effectively turn my love life into a science experiment – it instantly appealed. I’ve always thought that dating should be fun – when I was in college, I used to play a game called “wrong or funny” with my roommate in which we’d get ourselves in slightly awkward/controversial situations with guys and then ask each other if the situation was wrong or funny (the best ones were both) – so this felt like killing two birds with one stone: making a game out of dating and also (maybe, hopefully) learning something about male behavior along the way.
Why did you decide to write this as a novel and not as a memoir?
In truth, I ran out of material! The real-life experiment was going really well for a few months. It was fun (if exhausting) and the blog was starting to get some traction… but then lo and behold, I went on a first date with one of the test subjects and fell in love. It was sort of a double-edged sword: on the one hand, I was happy to have met the love of my life (we’re now engaged) but on the other, I was kind of annoyed that I had to give up the project. I actually tried to keep it going for the first month we were together, but it was getting too weird. An editor at Penguin who had been following the blog suggested a try to fictionalize it, and here we are!
I’m actually really glad that it ended up being a novel rather than a memoir, as fiction allowed me to be more creative about what happens to Lauren. I was able to incorporate dating horror stories that my friends had told me and also invent situations, which was really satisfying. Though I have to say, real life is often more ridiculous than fiction!
You’ve worked in the publishing industry for you entire career, currently at Curtis Brown in London. Did you find that your experience has helped you during the writing and acquisition process? How does it feel to be the writer instead of the agent?
I honestly don’t think I would have written this book if I didn’t work in the industry. I would never have had the courage (or the will) to go off on my own volition, write an entire novel, submit it to agents… no way. I would have been way too nervous and self-conscious. I feel incredibly lucky that the editor at Penguin UK, Hana, approached me about the idea and that my great friend and colleague, Felicity, agreed to be my agent. I also feel incredibly guilty, as I know there are so many people out there writing away and hoping to get published one day, and I sort of fell into it. (Though the writing of the actual book was actually pretty tricky while holding down a full-time job, so I will allow myself a little bit of credit).
As for being on the other side of things, it’s actually been really fascinating! I definitely have a bigger respect for the publishing process as a whole. There are so many people involved in the process, and so much work goes into making the finished product – it’s sort of breathtaking to witness. As a writer, you’re sat at your desk pecking away at a keyboard for months on end and then suddenly you’re swept up in this huge publishing machine. It’s really impressive to see it in action.
Did any of the famous dating guides give you a tip that actually worked?
Two things really worked: playing hard to get, as per The Rules (which I was pretty bad at, because I’m impatient and also because PATRIARCHY!) and flirting with everyone you come across, as per the 1920s guide, The Technique of the Love Affair. This was so much fun and such a big confidence booster – it really proved to me that if you have your light on and you’re open and receptive, basically anyone and everyone will flirt back. And that’s really fun.
Which guide ended up helping the most? Which was the biggest disaster?
I think The Technique of the Love Affair was the most successful in that it was the most fun and definitely made me change the way I went about my everyday business. Even the morning commute started to be fun, as I’d try to get as many cute guys to make eye contact with me as possible (though this is slightly risky on the Tube, where there might be a psychopath waiting quietly behind that cute veneer).
The most disastrous was probably Why Men Love Bitches, because I was trying to shoehorn it into my life after I’d met my partner. Also, while I appreciated the sentiment – I completely agree that no woman should feel like they need to accommodate a guy’s every whim and fancy – but I thought the wording was a little off. You can be a strong, independent woman who tells men what you want and what you think (men should and do love that) without being a bitch. No one likes an asshole.
The dating scene is rough. Even with more people staying single past their 20s and a new dating app hitting the market practically daily, finding a relatively normal person who wants to spend time with you can seem impossible. Lauren Cunningham, the beautiful and intelligent—yet cursed in the dating department—heroine in Melissa Pimentel’s debut novel, faces these challenges head-on as she navigates the London dating scene with hilarious consequences.
Lauren moved to London from the States after a breakup to live the fabulous single life she’d been missing. Her ideal love life consists of fantastic, regular sex with no strings attached. But men just don’t understand it – it’s obviously a clever trick to trap them – and run for the hills as soon as they can find their boxers. By using seminal dating guides like The Game, The Art of Dating, and Not Tonight, Mr. Right (or as Lauren likes to call it Close Your Legs, Open Your Heart) and the men in her life as test subjects, Lauren tries to discover if the tips in these books will get a guy to call her after the infamous third date. Realizing that dating isn’t as simple as just swiping right, Lauren navigates her way through this perilous world with the help of her guides, and might end up finding the exact thing she’s not looking for…