Mar 12 2007
During the last couple of months, I read several books written by authors who live outside the U.S. I know from our contests that there are many international readers but I didn't quite grasp the breadth of the international author. But authorial success and continued contracts rely primarily upon sucess within the U.S. The NYTimes, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Oprah, Starbucks, Daily Show and all of those other book power brokers, are U.S. entities.
It got me to thinking about the challenges that international authors have in reaching the US audience and writing for the US audience. I cajoled a number of international authors to share their thoughts with us about what it is like to write for US audiences and market to US audiences in the face of geographic and cultural barriers.
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Continuing with the Interational Author Series, we present Canadian author, E.C. Sheedy. E.C. Sheedy writes romantic suspense novels in the vein of Sandra Brown and Karen Robards. Her latest romantic suspense release, available in trade paperback now, Without A Word, explores the concept of parenthood and what some parents will do for their children, or won’t do, as the case may be. Sheedy resides in Vancouver, British Columbia, but you would never know it by reading her books which are almost always set in the United States.
Do you have modify the language in the books to exclude colloquialisms from your native tongue?
Yes, but only somewhat, because really I've grown up with American TV, American friends, and American spellings. Canadians are squeezed by their British heritage and close border ties with the US, so there are those odd spellings to watch for: labor instead of labour, center instead of centre, and of course our weird cheque instead of your check. I once had an editor delete the word “bloody” from one of my books (as in “that bloody jerk.”) because she said, ”It's too British and Americans wouldn't get it.” That was news to me.
Where do you prefer the books you read to be set?
I'm a sucker for historicals, so old England jumps to mind immediately. As to contemporary settings . . . Gee, I'm not sure I've ever thought about it that much, nor have I ever not bought a book because of its setting. If the idea of the book intrigues me and the characters are appealing, the writer can put them in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan (There's a Canadian setting for you!) and I'd be a happy reader.
I live on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, really only a short drive and ferry ride from Washington state, so I often set my books there. We share the same weather–"wet!–"close proximity if I need to check out something specific, and I love our shared edge on the more northern Pacific Ocean. It's moody, changeable, and generally cast in wonderful shades of green and blue-gray (in Canadian that's grey, by the way J) As settings go, it's damn near perfect for the kind of books I write, romantic suspense.
How does living outside the U.S. affect your ability to research your books?
Not that much really. I've traveled extensively in the United States–"often desperate to borrow some of your southern sunshine during our cooler, wetter winter months. And if I come up with an odd enough question, like what is the correct spelling for y'all (Ya'll?), I ask my writer sisters on the lists. And there's always the Internet–"could not live without it!
Because of the expense of travel, you can’t do many book signings or in person appearances at American bookstores or meet in person with American readers. The cost of mailings is also more expensive. Do you find these to be disadvantages? If so, what can you do to ameliorate that disadvantage?
I've struggled with the need to self promote my work since I started writing. Frankly, I'm lousy at it. Signings scare the sap out of me, and unless it's a group thing, I seldom go. My kneecaps start sweating when I think about sitting at a table with a pile of books, a pumpkin smile carved on my face, and a group of readers whispering to each other, “Who the hell is she?” I'm weak, can't you see? But you're right, mailings are expensive, so I pretty much limit those to sending ARCs to reviewers, and books or cover flats to whatever reader/bookseller oriented conferences I come across. I do some workshops on occasion–"not sure whether those qualify as promotion–"and I'm really looking forward to going to Omaha in October to take part in the Kiss Of Death retreat. I'll be on a panel and giving a talk on writing romantic suspense–"and I'll get to visit Nebraska, a state I've never been to.
As a writer who lives outside the US, do you attempt to make the characters to suit a more US based audience?
or Are there cultural differences that need to be addressed in a book?
Generally my characters are American. And they are American because that's expected–"as a general rule–"by American readers. This is not a problem for me, and when writing fictional heroes and heroines, there really aren't any huge cultural hurdles to jump. I never think, “Oh, God, an American wouldn't do this” or “a Canadian would do it this way.” Falling in love south of our five thousand mile border, or north of it, is pretty much the same the way I see it. It makes crazy-happy fools of us all.
What promotional efforts have you found to be most successful in reaching the US audience, other than writing an appealing book?
I've put most of my effort into writing as good a book as I can. My editor at Kensington, the wonderful Kate Duffy, has said to me more than once, “It's all about the book.” I cling to that, although I'm in awe of authors, American or Canadian, who expand their careers and readership with kick-ass promotion. I'm also grateful to the internet because it at least gives me a presence that I otherwise wouldn't have. My webpage has always been a rather quiet one, but I'm in the process of updating it. It probably still won't roar its head off, but I do intend to give it more of my time than I have. Truly though? I really do want my books to speak for me.
If there is one thing that you could change about the publishing industry, what would it be?
One thing! Whoa, aren't you the optimist? Well, I guess if you nailed my feet to the floor and shot me with truth serum, I'd say I wish they would publish fewer books–"which would allow time for more editorial input–"and promote individual authors more. (Me being one of them, of course. J)
What is your biggest challenge as a writer living outside of the US?
What have you done to overcome it?
You are such a big bouncing country! It's hard to keep up with you and write books that *might* appeal to such a large, diverse audience–"one of the reasons I've become so tuned in to reader blogs. Even though I have no idea whether the participants are American or Canadian, the opinions are fascinating to me. And it's great to discover first-hand that there are readers as committed to the romance genre as the writers are.
Still, I'm constantly challenged by what's hot, what's not, when it comes to current reading tastes. I try to overcome it by sticking to the basics. Canadians and Americans don't just share a continent, we share the same freedoms and common values–"so that's a powerful help. I also believe that good love stories are universal in appeal. The real challenge lies in writing one that will reach out and touch a reader's heart, whether he/she lives in New York, NY or Bella Coola, BC and make that heart pound–"in the best possible way. And although a writer aims to please many, many readers–"if they want to keep writing–"I like to think of a book as kind of a one-on-one experience between me and *a* reader. That thought helps me stay sane.