Monday, August 29, 2016

How Australian should I make my books?

By Narelle Atkins 

Manly Beach, Sydney, Australia

I recently received a rights reversion for my six Heartsong contemporary romance books that were published in 2014 and 2015. These books were traditionally published in the USA, and all of the stories have Aussie characters in an Australian setting. I'll be independently publishing the six backlist titles in print and ebook.  

I also have a new Aussie Christmas novella releasing soon in an Aussie-themed box set. My novella is currently with my freelance editor, Iola Goulton, for copyediting. (As an aside: Congrats to Iola for winning the ACFW Genesis Contest in the Novella category on the weekend!) 

The copyediting stage is when the decisions are made regarding grammar and spelling. For my books that were traditionally published, the final decision was made by my publisher. My target audience was primarily North American readers, and as a result my books contained American grammar and spelling. I also used a number of American rather than Australian terms and phrases that were familiar to American readers. For example, an Australian footpath became a sidewalk.

For my upcoming Aussie box set, our group of authors have chosen to use the Australian spelling of 'mum' instead of 'mom' in our stories. If you've ever heard an Aussie talk, you'll recognise the strong 'u' pronounciation in our accent when we say 'mum'.

There are a few Aussie phrases that don't translate to an American audience. In 2014 I wrote a post for our blog on writing for a North American audience. The post covered many of the common words and phrases that could trip up an unsuspecting international writer.

As an indie author, I have the final say over the copyediting of my indie books. This is both liberating and a little bit scary. I'm going to revamp my Heartsong books and potentially make a few changes to enhance the Aussie flavour in my stories. I'll change 'mom' to 'mum', and update the spelling in my other two indie novellas. 'Harbour' instead of 'harbor' is another change I'm considering because I mention Sydney Harbour and the Sydney Harbour Bridge landmarks in many of my books.

Last month ICFW blogger Patricia Beal wrote an insighful post on foreign settings in Christian fiction. The reality is the large majority of Christian fiction books (both traditionally and indie published) are set in the USA. Christian fiction readers are used to reading American stories rather than stories set in exotic locations.

Do you like reading foreign setting books that have a strong local flavour? Do unfamiliar words and phrases distract you from the story? I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences.        



A fun loving Aussie girl at heart, NARELLE ATKINS was born and raised on the beautiful northern beaches in Sydney, Australia. She has settled in Canberra with her husband and children. A lifelong romance reader, she found the perfect genre to write when she discovered inspirational romance. Narelle's contemporary stories of faith and romance are set in Australia.

Twitter: @NarelleAtkins https://twitter.com/NarelleAtkins

15 comments:

  1. Yay for Mum! And harbour. And favourite. And prise. And blonde. And...
    I love to see Aussie books reflecting Aussie spelling. I find it challenging writing novels set in England where my spelling is Americanised because the target audience is there. But that's the way the market works- and the way my publisher wants it :)

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    1. Hi Carolyn, It's exciting to have the power to make the call on the spelling. But also challenging in terms of getting the balance right. My primary audience is North American readers, and I want to provide them with the best possible reading experience.

      I've read a couple of regency romances over the years that have sounded more American than British. It's possible I've noticed the subtle differences because I've also read many historical romances set in England by Australian and British authors.

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  2. I don't mind reading either but I suspect that it's because as an Australian, I read many US books. I do wonder if our US friends would think the same?

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    1. Hi Kathy, yes, this makes sense. We're also exposed to American culture via tv, movies, internet, social media, etc. As a result, our familiarity with the American way of life is likely to be significantly larger than their awareness of our Aussie culture.

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  3. I like it so much better to read a book set in Australia using Australian language and colloquialisms. It is so frustrating having to read the Americanised version of the book. Why is it that we have to absorb American culture, but they are not willing to do the same with ours? Much of the Christian fiction that I read comes from America and is set there, but it isn't re-written for an Australian audience, so why should Australian fiction be re-written for an American audience?

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    1. Hi Beth, When I read books by my Aussie author friends Andrea Grigg and Nicki Edwards who have been published in Australia, I really notice the differences between American and Aussie books. It's great to read books that reflect the authentic Australian voice with all our unique colloquialisms.

      In answer to your question, we can't ignore the fact that the book market in Australia is very small. Even the general romance market that Nicki writes for in Australia is tiny when compared to other international markets eg. USA and UK.

      I understand why Australian publishers and authors are taking steps to seek a wider international readership. As an indie author, I couldn't cover my basic publishing costs (editing, cover art, etc.) if I was only relying on sales in Australia. The small press publishers have higher overheads than I have to cover before they can break even.

      I'm not sure I agree that the reluctance of Americans to absorb our culture plays a big role. Yes, patriotism can influence our reading choices, but I see the Americanisation of international Christian fiction as primarily driven by financial necessity.

      The very large majority of international Christian fiction readers who buy books (English language) are North American and therefore the primary target audience for most authors and publishers. The economics of book publishing, and the difference in population size between the USA and Australia, are the largest influencing factors.

      These are the questions and challenges that international Christian fiction writers have struggled to answer and overcome for many years. We're still searching for the answers, and the right cultural balance in the books we set in international locations.

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  4. I don't mind reading either. I've been reading books by American authors for ages. However, I agree with both Kathy Smail and Beth. Would readers in other countries be happy to absorb our Aussie culture? And I also say - why not? I am originally from New Zealand, now a proud naturalised Australian, but you'll never wipe the 'kiwi' out of me. In recent years, especially since I had the dream to take my writing somewhere, I've been more drawn to reading books by Australian authors. I love the laid back culture, and I like the way we do things ... not too dissimilar to how we do things across the ditch. I appreciate that with traditional publishing the publisher would have final say on these matters. While this is somewhat frustrating, I can also understand the scary aspect of being 'true blue'. I love that you are going to 'Aussiefy' your books Narelle, and I'll be rushing to read them.

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    1. Hi Josephine-Anne, I've touched on your questions above in response to Beth's comments. Publishing is a business, and market size needs to be taken into account when authors choose their target audience. I also like to see writers receive reasonable and fair remuneration for their work and effort, in the same way people who work in other occupations are remunerated for their work. I know many authors write with ministry goals in mind, but if the market they're targeting is too niche then they'll likely earn less money and have a smaller number of people reading their book.

      The scary aspect is definitely how to find the right balance. I don't want to alienate any of my readers, and I also know I can't please everyone. The challenge is to find the middle ground (the sweet spot in my genre) and write Australian books that meet the expectations of my target audience.

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  5. I always laugh at the implication any non-US setting is somehow "exotic". To me, cowboys and Navy SEALs are exotic. New Zealand is home, England was home, and Australia is next door.

    I love books with a strong local flavour, whether that's a US or "exotic" setting. And I'd love to read more books with different settings.

    And thanks for the Genesis shout-out! I'm thrilled.

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    1. Hi Iola, yes, 'exotic' is definitely in the eye of the beholder. I love how Marion Ueckermann's books are set in exotic locations all around the world.

      I prefer a stong local flavour to a 'vanilla' setting. Many of the international Christian fiction books that I love have the setting featured as a character in the story. Lisa Harris' books come to mind. It's a pleasure to go on a holiday to a faraway place with the characters in the story.

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  6. Go for the Aussie spellings! That's my vote as a Canadian. My WIP is set in beautiful British Columbia, and I'm struggling to keep the story true to Canada while making it possible for Americans to understand it. I love stories that use wordings true to their location.

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    1. Hi Kathleen, It's definitely a challenge to keep the unique cultural aspects in our stories. British Columbia is a beautiful setting, and I've enjoyed reading Valerie Comer's Riverbend series set there :)

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  7. Because my main target audience is in the USA, I have chosen to use US spelling, not British. But, it's definitely a challenge, Narelle, especially when Americanizing a story set in a storyworld that would use British English. It was so difficult for me to accept the change from trunk to boot in my Aussie story (maybe I need to put a glossary in the back for that word LOL). I often get called out by my crit partners on writing things the South African way instead of Americanizing them, but I'm so grateful for my American crit partners who help me get it right.

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    1. Hi Marion, Yes, it's definitely a boot, not a trunk, in Australia! If you wrote trunk I'd still understand what you meant. We do get used to Americanizing our stories, to some extent. I've found I also speak American phrases without realising I'm doing it. eg. asking for coffee 'to go' instead of saying 'takeaway'. I remember one of my kids saying 'cellphone' instead of 'mobile' - I think they watch too much YouTube, lol :)

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  8. Nice column! This column raises a lot of things we need to keep in mind when writing a book review. Book critique writing has always been demanding, because good book critiques are not easy to write.

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