Wednesday, July 19, 2006

British author submitting to a US market?

A little while ago Wendywoo and I found ourselves giving advice to a new British writer who wanted to sub to US publishers. As I responded to the writer's questions it made me think about all the little things I do to present my subs in a way that will appeal to an international readership, and not jar for a US editor. I give some general thoughts about subbing to the US on my “tips for writers” page, but I’d never really gathered my in-depth strategy on this subject before, so thought I’d post my tips here, too. This is only what has worked for me, but it has worked…

The writers main question was about the necessity of changing words or phrases to American versions, for example changing “pavement” to “sidewalk,” or “handbag” to “purse.” Valid question. I have always made a conscious effort not to include things that will jar, however, I don’t change things to sound American rather than British (although this sometimes happens in editing, and compromise on behalf of the author at this point is essential.) So, I try to get around it by compromising as I go along. Instead of saying my heroine walks along the "pavement" or "sidewalk," I might say she "walks along the street." There's always a simple, valid alternative that covers both cultures, your job is to find it.

US publishing is WORLD publishing. We have to remember that if our subs are taken they will be sold worldwide, so a British writer trying to sound American is going to turn off a good proportion of the international readership. Also, I think it's important to remember that it is the difference that appeals. US readers who choose to read a British/European set book want an authentic flavour, and we have a duty to give them that, but in broad terms. Avoid colloquialisms, and think about what appeals in international terms. Consider popular film, and the British books that sell on both side of the pond -- James Bond, Four weddings, Notting Hill, authors such as Carole Matthews or Katie Fforde, to name just a few examples.

So, don't compromise the British flavour, but don’t include anything so local it’s going to throw the reader. At the sub stage it comes down to how accessible it is to the editor. Editors are busy people; we don't want to give them extra things to do if we can possibly avoid it, because that might be the make or break of getting that contract. If they take your story/novel they are going to want it in US spelling because it’s going to be a US publication (wherever it’s set) so, the first thing I do is put my Word docs into the US spelling option. Easy. One big worry taken care of, for me AND the editor if she/he wants to publish my work. Beyond spelling, speech marks are double in the US “like this,” instead of ‘like this’ with most UK publishers. Do it straight away, don’t give your editor anything that will seem like an unusual hurdle as they read. Always try to see it from the editor’s point of view.

The hardest aspect is that some words genuinely have different meanings Stateside, and this is where it’s hard to know in advance. If your work is bought the odd word or phrase can be queried, but I try to learn all the time, remembering what words or phrases may cause problems. Erotica in particular seems to be littered with differences! “Knickers” are “panties” in the US, and US editors have consistently changed that term in my work, so I tend to put my heroines in G- strings nowadays, if they are wearing undies at all. :-) “Suspenders” are called “garters” in the US, so since I’ve learned that you’ll mostly find my heroines in hold up stockings, likewise, this avoids the tights/pantyhose dilemma. The “arse”/”ass” problem I often sidestep (with the utmost sophistication) by opting for “derrière.” :-) The list is seemingly endless. The cultural difference that makes me laugh most is what we would call a “bum bag” is called a “fanny pack” in the states. Given that a “bum” is a “tramp” in the US and a “fanny” is a “front bottom” not a “back bottom” in the UK, my advice is just don’t go there! (as if you'd want to ;-))

One day I’ll do a full list for my site, for fun. But let's get back to serious advice now. If you're truly serious about cracking the US market, get yourself a US critique partner. Maybe someone who (in return) is looking to publish a British set historical, who needs that British eye to point out anything that might make their work even more authentic to the place and time. I’ve travelled and lived all over the world, and I know that has helped me greatly, but I would never have had the level of acceptance and the understanding of subtle differences I have, without my wonderful critique partner, Zaz. I hasten to add, even though I work hard, my own margin for error still seems to be far too HUGE. :-)

In conclusion, don’t compromise the British/European flavour of your work, but look to spellings and learn about difference in meaning to ensure your story holds broad and instant appeal. As ever, my personal advice is to have fun with the challenge, and you can’t go wrong. Good luck!

PS: I am always willing to answer questions about crossing the pond with your work, so do mail me saskiawalker @ (no gaps.) I'm always happy to help if I can.


wendywoo said...

What a fantastic post!!!

I've found myself automatically doing some of the things you recommend in my US aimed attempts, but there are some pointers that are new to me and *extremely* valuable! I'll be printing this one off!

Thanks, mate!

Saskia Walker said...

Excellent! Glad I said something useful. :)

Jordan Summers said...

Great post, Saskia. :D Thanks for sharing.

Saskia Walker said...

Thanks, Jordan. :)

Nikki said...

Thanks very much for that Saskia - very useful advice. I never understood about the ' always getting changed to " before!

And it's a good point about keeping the UK sensibility intact too - it's such a seductive temptation to slip into an American twang, I have to remind myself sometimes I'm not Raymond Chandler...

ZaZa said...

Aw, you're too sweet. You are so well-travelled that you know most of what we'd consider Anglicisms by now. And readers here, I think, are getting pretty used to a lot of terms because of movies and books. As you say, though, you don't want to lose the British flavour.

See, I learned the "our" ending and things like two ls in travelled and "re" for theatre, or litre. Of course that's because my teachers in my formative years were ancient, and they did it the way we used to do here, before we got so modern. It still bugs me to have to take out that extra l or change "re" to "er" etc. Hmmm. Maybe why I didn't have too much getting things right for Kerri way back when. Of course, then I had you, Miss Saskia, to check my work for consistency when subbing to a UK publisher.

It's a fair exchange.