Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The International Community and Publishing

I get a lot of questions about how anything outside of the U.S. is viewed in the publishing community. Do authors not located in the U.S. have a chance at publication, and what about books set outside of the U.S.? What are their chances?

Rather than do separate posts I’m going to try to answer both questions in one. I am absolutely sure there are some agents who don’t want anything to do with people outside of the U.S.; whether we like it or not that’s just the way the world works. There are people out there who just think that life is easier if you stick within your own world, so to speak. And that’s fine for them. It’s also their loss as far as I’m concerned.

BookEnds has a number of clients who are not in the U.S. or U.S. citizens. We have clients in the UK, Australia and Canada, and none of them are Americans. And yes, we consider proposals from all over the world. I know I’ve requested material from Spain, Japan, New Zealand, China, and France, to name a few. One of the reasons some agents might resist foreign clients is that it can be a tax nightmare. Trust me, we pay our accountant a lot of money to keep those things organized for us. However, in our mind a good client and a great book are more important than a few tax headaches. If you live outside of the U.S. and are seeking representation in the U.S. I would go at it as if you were in the U.S. Don’t let your locale injure your chances. If an agent rejects your work simply because of where you live the agent is too short-sighted for you to want to work with anyway.

As for books set outside of the U.S., these can be a little more tricky because, let’s face it, Americans tend to stereotypically be a little internationally challenged. That being said, I think we can all look at the bestseller lists and see a number of genre and literary authors who have written fabulous books set in locales outside of the U.S. and obviously found a market. I suspect that writing literary fiction allows you a little more leeway when it comes to international settings. Genre can be trickier, primarily because I think readers often come to them with certain expectations. However, if you really feel that you want to break the mold in your genre writing and set your thriller in a foreign land or your historical romance somewhere outside of Regency England, go for it, just make sure that there’s a real point to choosing the setting and that your point is not that you used to live there (a common answer when I ask writers why they chose a certain setting). To make an international setting work in genre fiction I think the locale itself almost needs to become a character. The reader needs to be transported into another world and not feel like the book could have just as easily taken place in Houston, Omaha, Reno or Scranton.

When it comes right down to it, most agents don’t care where you’re from or where you’re book is set, we want a really terrific book. But if you are going to set your cozy mystery in Ireland then Ireland really needs to shine through and not just be another Cute Town.

Jessica

23 comments:

Nadia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nadia said...

I agree re: querying agents in the States. My nationality and country of residence never came up when I was querying. When my agent offered, she already knew I was an ex-pat.

However, if you really feel that you want to break the mold in your genre writing and set your thriller in a foreign land or your historical romance somewhere outside of Regency England, go for it, just make sure that there's a real point to choosing the setting and that your point is not that you used to live there (a common answer when I ask writers why they chose a certain setting).Thank you for saying that. It really annoys me when people who do not understand the culture, history or language set their books in another country just because. I really don't want to read about Japanese or French or Chinese who act and think JUST like Americans.

Amy said...

Thisi s really encouraging to me - I live in the UK, and it's difficult over here to find agents who handle fantasy novels. However, my question would be, though you take authors from other countries, do you think that their not living in the US harms their promotional power, and thus reduces their sales and success?

Gary Corby said...

It can be done, so if you're outside the US don't let it stop you.

I'm an Australian in Sydney writing historical mysteries set in Classical Greece with an agent in New York (Janet Reid) and a contract with St Martin's.

Physical location is so last millenium. As far as the internet's concerned we're all in the same room.

Melanie Avila said...

I'm really glad you addressed this. I'm a US citizen but live in Mexico. I plan to query US agents and have wondered if my location could hurt my chances. I do plan to return to the US (it's a long story why I'm here) so I've hoped it won't make a difference where I am now.

I have wondered how agents feel about making international phone calls, and if it would be presumptuous in a query to indicate that email is the best way to contact me.

Also, if an agent requests a full MS and want a hard copy, that's very expensive to ship from here (roughly $40 for a letter). Would it be tacky to ask/beg/plead to send it via email if they ask for a hard copy?

Dara said...

Thank you so much for this post! I've been wondering if there was a market for anything I write since most of my WiPs take place outside of the U.S. (actually, they all do now...)

I also realize that it makes it harder for me because I need to make sure I get the culture correct. I know I'm "internationally challenged" since I've never really traveled outside of the U.S.--or even much farther West than the Mississippi River. But I love culture and history and I'm not afraid to do the research. At times it does get incredibly overwhelming, especially when I discover something that will completely alter a certain aspect of the plot because I was making it a little too "American".

I know as an avid reader of historical fiction, I crave good stories set outside the U.S. and Regency England. I do love a good story set in those places and times but I think it's always interesting to find a book set somewhere else--which is probably one of the main reasons I've decided to set my stories outside of my culture.

ryan field said...

This was an interesting post. I've always been curious about how this works and you hardly ever see it mentioned.

Kats said...

Thank you for this post, I've been wondering about this as I'm in the UK but feel my story might suit an American audience better. And thanks to Gary Corby for sharing his story -- it's great to see examples of how it can work.

Juliana Stone said...

Where I live didn't even cross my mind when I began to query agents. I knew the book I had was written for the North American market so it just made sense to query agents that dealt there. And even though some people think that only NY agents can deal the the houses, there...um, NO. My agent is amazing and lives in San Diego. she has authors who are Canadian (moi) and an author that lives in Mexico. Because of the internet the world is a small place my friends! If the book is for the market in America, by all means query there, no matter where your based!

Karen Mahoney said...

I agree with this 100%. I live in the UK (and am a Brit), but my agent is Miriam Kriss in the US. The Irene Goodman Literary Agency has clients from all over, including UK, Australia, Canada, etc.

When I was querying, I agressively targeted New York/US agents, because I write YA urban fantasy and it's still not as big over here. Actually, it's really exploded in the last year, but even a year ago that wasn't the case. Out of my 10 UK queries, I received one request for material. The rest were rejections. Out of 50 US queries, I received a LOT of requests.

Definitely don't let where you live hold you back.

Re. Amy's question about promotion, I'd say with the current internet age of blogs, twitter, etc. there is no problem. I have a huge network of friends and contacts through LiveJournal and Twitter, and it's growing all the time. Even authors based in the US do a lot of their promotional work online - it's cheap and direct.

Yamile said...

Thank you for this post! For some reason, my best stories are set in Argentina, where I'm from. I write in English though because the American market has always been my target audience. I feel what I have to say about my country, my countrymen (and women) already know. I'd like for the world to see my insight into my culture.
And I agree to what others have already said, if you're going to set your story in another country/culture, you better do it right. I just read "The Good Earth" by Pearl Buck, and I'm blown away at how an American woman could write with such an insight into the Chinese people.
Thanks for you post again!

gringo said...

"...let’s face it, Americans tend to stereotypically be a little internationally challenged."

There is so much truth in this statement, I could write a novel about it ;)

Luckily, I am close enough to the border where it hasn't been an issue thus far.

Arjay said...

It has been a while, but thanks for answering my question.

Kylie said...

Another non-US writer wanting to add that it shouldn't matter... my first novel, set very distinctly in Melbourne, Australia, where I live, and not Melbourne, Florida has recently been picked up by a wonderful US agent (Stephanie Abou at Foundry) and had offers at auction from Doubleday and Hachette. I must say I was a bit surprised because the setting is definitely Australian- but I think (and hope!) that as long as the story is universal it shouldn't matter. Nice to see others experiencing and believing the same.

Anonymous said...

On a related subject, I have read elsewhere that I should translate my entire manuscript into American English when sending it out to American agents. Is this really necessary?

I'm happy to change the query letter, but I'm not sure it's even possible to do the full ms properly. I've tried, and it just comes out a mess. It isn't just the obvious spelling issues, like realise/realize and colour/color, but there are so many other differences, like behind/in back of, that a spellcheck wouldn't pick up and I may not even know about. I suspect American English may be as different from British English as Swedish is from Danish - mutually comprehensible, but writing in the other language is, literally, writing in another language!

Surely a consistently British manuscript would be better than a muddled one?

Vicki

Elissa M said...

I wanted to be insulted by the "Americans tend to stereotypically be a little internationally challenged" comment because I am American and was born a world traveler. Yet, I must admit some of my countrymen (and women) don't even know New Mexico is in the U.S., let alone which Mexican states it borders. Move farther abroad, and they really get lost.

That said, as a reader I want books set in locales that are anything but local. I've traveled (and lived) on many continents, but there are plenty of places I've never been. Books take me where I can't go. I would really hate it if all the novels published in the U.S. were set there. Bleh.

Nadia said...

>>I have wondered how agents feel about making international phone calls, and if it would be presumptuous in a query to indicate that email is the best way to contact me.<<

I've never had agents call to request partials / fulls. They'll reply back to you via email or SASE.

>>Also, if an agent requests a full MS and want a hard copy, that's very expensive to ship from here (roughly $40 for a letter). Would it be tacky to ask/beg/plead to send it via email if they ask for a hard copy?<<

$40 for a letter? That's really expensive. You mean $40 for the entire ms?

If they're asking for a hard copy, there's a reason for this. (That's their preferred method of reading or whatever.) Just suck it up and mail the hard copy. Or don't query agents who do not accept ms via email. Postage is nothing more than a cost of doing business. Or you can wait to get an agent until you're in the States, since you said you plan to return.

BookEnds, LLC said...

If material is requested hardcopy and you'd prefer to email it doesn't hurt to ask. All they can say is no.

I've addressed non-American English in another post. I wouldn't bother changing it if that's the way you've written it. Unless of course the book is set in the US.

--jhf

Melanie Avila said...

Nadia, thanks for responding. The postal system here is horrid so anything important needs to be sent via DHL. I sent something two months ago and it cost 485 pesos which was between $35-40 US. I can't imagine what an entire MS would cost.

I'm sticking with agents who accept e-queries for this reason, I just hate to limit myself.


JHF, thanks. That's what I figured, but I appreciate your point of view.

J.M. said...

From Canada... thanks for this post!

How I wish you represented YA, Ms. Faust:)

J.M.

Emily Cross said...

Thanks for this post, similar to other writers here, my current WIP is a fantasy and there is only a handful of agents in UK (and well none in ireland) who deal with fantasy!

So this post definitly helps (cause it thought it was a big 'no-no' to query US

Maria José Bayford said...

This posting does not address books written in a foreign language that have been translated into English. Does that limit the interest of a potential agent? Thanks

C M Meridian said...

I am very glad to have read this, as liveing in SOuth Africa, I have often been told I cannot apply to US agents, or they will not even consider me. So this really boosted my moral.