My journey through the world of writing and everything that lies in between…

International Fiction

So, I’ve been thinking about this lately and I wonder: why is it that publishers shy away from books set in other cultures?

I know it’s not a completely closed market. There are some books out there with settings different from your typical America and England settings, but I don’t know of too many.Β  I’ve also heard it’s difficult to get any interest in it because of the locale of the book. But it’s not impossible, as my good writer friend Jeannie Lin has proven with the sale of her historical romance set in China.

Is it because it’s a small number of readers? I somewhat doubt that because most everyone I talk to says they would love to read a book set in another place besides the usual American and Regency England setting. I could be wrong though since I’m not in the book industry at all.

If it is because of the lack of interest–well, why? I know people like what’s comfortable and what not, but doesn’t that get boring after awhile? πŸ˜› Perhaps it’s my unsettled nature in reading. I have what I like to call “Reader’s A.D.D.” meaning I’m constantly looking for something different. Sure, I tend to stay in my comfort zone of historicals, though I am willing to read a good contemporary story as well as fantasy, YA and maybe a mystery. But I love looking for a different time, a different place…

Perhaps it’s the part of me that longs to travel, or the history geek in me, that loves learning about as many different cultures as possible. The only way I can do that is by reading, and well, when most of the books out there are about the same culture and history that I’ve learned about my entire life, I get bored. πŸ˜› Don’t get me wrong–I still love me a good Regency romanceΒ  or Victorian era book in America. But sometimes I want MORE.

I think that’s why I write about cultures completely different from my own. I’m not finding it out on the market so I have to create one πŸ™‚ I’ve got stories planned for all different parts of the world. Obviously I have passion for Asian cultures a little more than others, yet I’m still open to reading and writing about other ones too. In fact the novel I worked on in college took place in the Middle East during the time of Christ. I’ve also worked on one set in Egypt (although it never got very far) and part of me really wants to write something set in India. I’m just all over the world, aren’t I?

Anyway, feel free to leave me your opinions in the comments. I’d really like to know what you honestly think–I won’t hold it against you πŸ™‚

Comments on: "International Fiction" (6)

  1. I’ve seen a few set in India lately, (Meredith Duran) but its the British colonies.

    I agree, I’d like to see more international flavor.

  2. bigwords88 said:

    The same accusation could easily be levelled against film or television, with the number of WASP producers in the business. I always thought that the number of ‘big events’ books (Ghengis Khan, the Boxer rebellion, etc.) outnumbered the ‘street level’ books, but it seems to have improved a bit in the last decade or so. The number of translated works is growing in the UK due to the diversity in population, and a number of odd settings have appeared in recent years.

    Have you picked up the Mamur Zapt novels yet? They are a good indication of publishers being willing to try new things.

  3. I don’t know why publishers are reluctant. It has to be sales though.
    I like reading things set in different places, but I will also get annoyed if there’s too much detail or I can’t relate to any of the characters. You never know who will pick up your story though. A great story will get interest, no matter what, I think.

    • I asked Rachelle Gardner this question and it is sales. It makes sense, and I understand why they don’t want to risk anything in this market, but maybe, just maybe the numbers will surprise them πŸ˜›

      I get annoyed if there’s too much detail or I can’t relate to characters in ANY setting. There needs to be a balance of world-building and story so as not to overwhelm the reader (and have enough detail so the reader can picture it in their head).

      Writers of foreign cultures need to also be careful if they incorporate any foreign words. I used to be one who was overly liberal using all sorts of foreign words–but they really did nothing but confuse the reader. So I’ve limited that and only use words that I can explain in the surrounding dialogue or narrative without going overboard πŸ™‚

  4. Yeah, I keep hoping the publishing industry will make some introductions:
    “Courage, this is brain. Brain, meet courage.”

    And no, I’m not making an oblique reference to my book’s title! LOL As you know, I ranted about this a few days ago. I want the publishers to show some backbone!

    There’s nothing different in writing about China or Middle Earth. They are both places that need history, description and grounding. They are both places that require living, breathing characters to populate them. The rest is a lot of gravy. (Or if you’re me and you prefer desserts: icing.)

    To assume that the reading populace doesn’t want to read anything outside of the standard is 1. insulting to the general public. 2. Just as racists a belief/stance as Justine Labalastier’s publishers putting a white girl on the cover of a book about a black girl.

  5. Well, the truth is I think publishers are shying away from books set anywhere right now. Publishing is hard and it’s a tight market.

    But that’s a cop out answer. πŸ™‚

    Asian fiction is hitting it big in the literary market and there has been a place for it for a long time. I truly believe that. I agree with you that the difficulty is accessibility. How do you make something exotic enough that it’s different yet write it in a way that readers don’t struggle over names and cultural gaps? It’s a tricky balance.

    I just read Kite Runner and the beauty of it makes you forget it’s a book about Afghanistan and makes it a book about humanity. Amy Tan is the same. Jade Lee penetrated the romance market, which is notoriously tough on unusual settings, long before I ever gave it a try. As a reader, I see the books out there. It makes me believe that the market will accept unusual books if…they’re…AWESOME.

    Take heart and make the writing awesome. πŸ™‚

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