International Author Series: Nalini Singh
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.
Do you have modify the language in the books to exclude colloquialisms from your native tongue?
Yes and no, depending on the book. For example, if New Zealand as a country is a part of the book, then I'd leave the colloquialisms in to flavor the story, making sure they were easily understand. Otherwise, I would probably change certain things, but given that I naturally write fairly colloquialism-free, it's usually just a simple word swap ie. “car trunk” for “car boot”, that sort of thing.
One thing I do change is the spelling – I try to stick to American spelling no matter what. It's easier than trying to switch back and forth. I have a dictionary that tells me both types of spelling and it's one of my prized possessions.
Where do you prefer the books you read to be set?
For me, as long as the setting is done well for the book in question ie. dark and moody for a dark paranormal, it doesn't particularly matter where it's set. And I think you would agree that each writer sees the world through different eyes. For example, before LKH got hold of St Louis, how many of us thought of that as a vampire-worthy place? If the author can convince me the setting works, I'll go with it.
How does living outside the U.S. affect your ability to research your books?
It doesn't, not with the internet, photo-blogs, instant access to people living in the area. With the connected world, the skills I utilize to learn more about an American location are probably identical to skills someone in another area of the US would use for the same task.
And let's not forget –" books are still a great research tool, especially if you're looking for a contained (vs scattered across the net) source of information about a location. I love guidebooks, use them as research tools.
I've also traveled across the US, which has helped tremendously. It's given me a sense of the country that I might not otherwise have got. (I do think some travel to the States is necessary to give you that sense, that base.)
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 think because I started out being outside the U.S., I've always just taken the extra costs as part of the cost of my work. In terms of ameliorating the disadvantages of not being able to do in-person signings etc, I personally have done a couple of things.
First, I've started working with a publicist in the U.S. Obviously, this is also a cost but balanced against taking lots of trips to the U.S. it's the better option. Second, I've tried to become a lot more net-savvy than I was previously. And after Jane's example with the StS viral blogging last year, I've been trying to think up unique ways to use the net. With Visions of Heat, I started up a meme, where people can go into a draw to win an Amazon voucher just by answering a few fun questions.
I also do other things to reach readers –" for example, I can't go to a bookstore and do a signing but I'll soon be offering signed bookplates on my website. I've already sent these out to bookstores that have requested them.
As a writer who lives outside the US, do you attempt to make the characters to suit a more US based audience? Are there cultural differences that need to be addressed in a book?
No, I've never really had that problem. My natural voice has often been said to be American. Sometimes people don't like this if they want a NZ-flavored book, but writing for the market that I do, I think I'm very lucky.
What promotional efforts have you found to be most successful in reaching the US audience, other than writing an appealing book?
This is a giant learning curve for me, especially with my single titles, but I think that getting my books into the hands of booksellers, reviewers and readers prior to release has been important. I've given away a lot of ARCs, some from the publisher and some that I had made up. I don't have a huge promotional budget but this is where I choose to focus a lot of it. Any bookseller who wants an ARC, I get one to. Same for reviewers (including reader sites like this one).
Also, for StS, the viral blogging experiment undoubtedly got my name and the release of the book out there –" the blogging itself might not have convinced people to buy the book, but at least they knew it was being released, which is a major thing, especially with the first book in a series. I am incredibly grateful to Dear Author for that exposure. It's difficult to judge how it impacted on sales, but I think name recognition definitely went up.
If there is one thing that you could change about the publishing industry, what would it be?
Truthfully, I don't feel like I know enough to answer this question yet. And I'm not dodging the question –" I really think I need more time to process all this stuff that I'm learning every day. And esp with single title, I'm seeing a whole different world, all these things I never came into contact with when writing category alone. Things that I thought I knew, I find I didn't at all.
What is your biggest challenge as a writer living outside of the US? What have you done to overcome it?