Will your story cross international borders?

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This will be the last daily post from me for a while. Why – because I am now in full-time writing mode once more. In fact I’m about to begin writing Chapter Two in the first draft of a new Science Fiction novel in my successful ‘Age’ series of eBooks. 

Unlike Captain Lawrence, Edward, Grace (“Titus”) Oates, a member of the ill-fated British Terra Nova expedition of 1912 to the South Pole, who famously walked into oblivion saying, “I am just going outside and may be some time,” I will be back from time to time to annoy some and intrigue the rest of you dear people who read my posts.

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When writing your latest story, have you even considered that you may be subconsciously writing with a specific geographical reading public in mind, or has the idea never occurred to you?

Quite a while back before I went independent, I was involved in a discussion on this very subject with my former editor. In particular we were talking about one specific book written by an American in the same writing stable as myself at the time. It involved its main character living in nineteen fifties America with a sci-fi element thrown in for good measure.

I put forward the argument that while I could see it doing very well within the borders of the US, whether its success there meant it would travel into the world at large was debatable. Undoubtedly it would sell some copies in Australia. It may even sell a few in New Zealand. Why – because both countries share similar outlooks and way of life to the US. Needless to say the other party in the discussion agreed with me.

I have a Facebook friend who sets his stories here in the UK. Given the title of this post it will come as no surprise when I tell you that his UK sales far outweigh his overseas ones.

Love stories, thrillers, espionage and murder, even pure science fiction, find acceptance across the world always providing they are universal in appeal, in other words non country specific. But if your story has some kind of geographical connotation peculiar to where you the writer lives, will it automatically appeal beyond the borders of the country it is centered on? Sadly, in a lot of cases the chances are that it will only be purchased and read by your fellow countrymen.

Fantasy appeals across the world, it knows no boundaries – think of J.R.R Tolkien’s highly readable novels. The same goes for tales like the Harry Potter books (J.K. Rowling), historical epics based upon ancient Egypt (Christian Jacq and Wilbur Smith). Stories set in previous centuries like the highly successful Hornblower (C.S Forester) and Sharp (Bernard Cornwell) series sell well, no matter which country they were written in.

Very occasionally a work transcends all geographical barriers, finding readers throughout the world, but these are few and far between – think Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code”. Love or loath his style of writing, there is no denying that Dan hit on a magical formula with the series of novels featuring his eponymous hero Robert Langdon. Of course success like his guarantees unwelcome attention from the acid tongued.

Personally I love his books…

It is a fact that the average reader is still consciously or unconsciously parochial in their literary tastes, preferring to read works by their own country’s authors, written in their own specific form of language, to the detriment of countless others worldwide.

To illustrate this point, while Amazon advertise my books written in English in the combined US/ India market, which also includes sales to countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa etc, plus from their outlets here in the UK and in Canada, they also persist in advertising them in Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Japan and Brazil. None of these markets are predominantly English speaking countries, therefore it will come as no surprise to most people that a book written in English fails to sell in them – something that Amazon simply fails to comprehend.

While I choose to publish my books only in the Kindle format, they do not appeal to my own countrymen as they do elsewhere. Most Brits still prefer to hold a real book in their hands rather than read the same thing on any kind of electronic reader (a subject for a future post). My countrymen and women, like our Canadian cousins seem loath to adopt anything modern when it comes to books…

To give you an example, this month, one of my sci-fi adventure novels has sold two hundred copies so far, while the UK and Canadian sales are zero. Thank god for the enlightened electronic reading public in the US and beyond! Without them I would hardly sell anything. After the US, India is the next major market for my books, coming a close second. Occasionally an American will complain because of my use of UK English. If that is all they have to object to, I can live with it.

So take a moment from your current work in progress to consider what I have just said. Will your story cross international borders? If you want your sales to build, universal appeal is essential.

8 thoughts on “Will your story cross international borders?

  1. I was just looking at an Australian publisher’s website that was suggested to me as a posible publisher for my novel. The thing that put me off was it had to be written in “Australian English.” Since I live in New Zealand and the story is set in NZ, I think converting from NZ (which is British English) to Aussi (near enough to American) would not only be a waste of time, but a huge turn off to New Zealanders.

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    • Take it from me Peter, stick with UK English as the standard. Re the Aus English (Strine) thing, its to be expected from America’s South Pacific 51st state. The other thing to point out here is that Nzed English does have some slight differences from UK English. But its a lot closer to the original than any other. As for US English, its fast becoming a separate language altogether lol 😉

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  2. Jack, you might find that a lot of Canadian readers, like myself, prefer to keep buying at the US site. I actually prefer to see Canadian readers buy my titles from the American site because it doesn’t fragment the sales numbers. Those Canucks buying your titles through the US store are also less likely to complain about your use of the language. We grow up with a British slant to our English, while learning the American version through television. While in the Army, I served in a recce unit, rather than a recon unit. I later remustered into an Int unit, as opposed to an Intel unit, even though the word intel flows off the tongue far more easily.

    As for separate languages, the last time I hailed a taxi outside Heathrow, I spent five minutes working out what the driver was asking me. I think every country has it’s own impenetrable dialects.

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    • While I can understand your countrymen using the far cheaper main US link to purchase from Amazon Andrew, when viewing the sales figures from the Canadian Amazon link its a big fat zero. It makes me wonder why Amazon opened it up in the first place. Still, a lot of what Amazon does is unfathomable to normal mortals. LOL 😉

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