Every summer brings with it a highly buzzed about beach read—this year that book is The Knockoff , a modern-day tale about fashion, technology and the ever-changing world of print magazines. A collaboration between authors Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza, the novel tackles the fast-paced digital world and how much it’s changing the journalistic landscape. The book’s heroine is Imogen Tate, the EIC of fictional publication Glossy (think Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar), but unlike The Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestly, she is kind, fair and sensitive. On the other hand, the villain in this must-read is Eve Morton, the young, just-out-of-Harvard-Business-School know-it-all who has turned Imogen’s precious magazine into an app. Cue the backstabbing, excessive selfies, angst-ridden confrontations and over-indulgent Instagrams.
We caught up with the authors of this summer’s hottest read to talk career advice, find out the inspiration behind the story and to see what they think of the ever-evolving world of digital media.
Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza. Photo: Grace Chang
TZR: What spurred the idea to write this book?
Jo Piazza: Here’s the thing: We all need to come to terms with the fact that our next boss will probably be half our age, and they will be smart as hell. And that is scary, but true. We wanted to be able to tell that story in a fun (and very fashionable) way with characters who wear great shoes.
Lucy Sykes: Imogen Tate was the inspiration. I worked in fashion for a long time and then I worked in tech and everything changed. We wanted to create a strong, powerful female character who was going through that kind of change.
TZR: As co-authors, what did you each bring to the table? Did you tap into each of your own, personal work experience in terms of your time in print and digital?
LS: Oh yes—big time. I am 12 years older than Jo and she is the most uber “TechBitch” I know. I am a Tech-Glitch. I came from old-school print magazines. I worked at Hearst and Conde UK/US from the age of 20 to 37. I knew nothing about digital, but was desperate to try and get it. I was a work in progress.
TZR: You wrote a really modern book that many women can likely relate to. What do you want readers to take away from the book?
LS: I have received emails from mature women who feel they have been passed over in the workplace and have similar stories to Imogen. They have told me that Imogen’s story inspired them to switch careers or reinvent themselves. I have also received many emails from young women who embrace the most important lesson of the book: kindness. There is no easy answer to ageism, to fitting in to a new world, but just talking about it is to me empowering.
JP: We want women of all ages to feel empowered by the book. Sometimes I feel like a complete Tech Imbecile. I can’t figure out Snapchat for the life of me. I wake up almost every day thinking about whether today will be the day I finally figure it out. It never is. We want to convey the message that it is ok to feel like that. These days all of us feel left behind when it comes to something.
TZR: Obviously this story revolves around the transition from print to digital. How have you both weathered that transition in your everyday lives and careers?
LS: Every day I seem to learn something new. The lesson for me was being open to change and not giving up. I am very good friends with the Apple Help Desk on 14th Street. They are tech rock stars.
JP: I still think there is room for both. I don’t think glossy fashion mags should ever go away. There is something magical about touching a magazine and looking at a beautiful photograph off of a screen. That said, you can’t argue with the convenience of digital. The more companies realize how the two can complement one another the more I think everyone wins.
(Read more insights into making the transition from print to digital here.)
TZR: In the novel, Imogen is suffering through a toxic work environment. What would your advice be to women who experience toxicity in the workplace?
LS: Deflect—it is never about you. Always be professional. Toxic situations are usually made up of toxic people. Let them go. They are not your business.
JP: This is where I become an Eve. I say confront. You have to deal with a toxic situation before it gets so out of hand you lose you mind and ultimately your job.
TZR: Do you have advice for someone on how to navigate the current work landscape if she isn’t very savvy digitally?
LS: Where there is a will there is a way. Find people who can help you. I had a story I wanted to tell with The Knockoff. But I’m not a writer—so I went out and found the best one!
JP: Find a mentor younger than you. There’s no shame in that. Ask for help. Be honest about what you don’t know and surround yourself with good people who can help you figure it out.
TZR: On that same token, what about someone obsessed with tech—what should someone like that do to avoid being so caught up in technology that it’s to her detriment?
LS: Take a break from social media. It’s not good for anyone to be online for hours and hours either mentally or physically. Leave your phone in your bag when you go to dinner. It is disrespectful to your companions.
JP: I second that. I took an eight day break from social media and met my husband. True story. And no one loves the Internet more than I do.
TZR: If you could pick one item of clothing and an accessory that epitomizes your two main characters, what would they be?
LS and JP: For Imogen, a black vintage Chanel jacket. For Eve, an Herve Leger bandage dress in lemon.