Thursday, October 01, 2009

Survey Says...

Okay readers, bloggers, friends, countrymen...I need your help!
Some of you may know that I am the Director/Moderator for the Beyond the Borders group, within American Christian Fiction Writers. BTB consists of those of us who belong to ACFW but happen to live outside of the United States. Most of us are not American.
Lately, we've been having a discussion (passionate at times!) about the strange phenomenon that books with a foreign setting are a very difficult sell within the Christian market. Many of us have written stories that take place in different countries, and have yet to place them with a publisher. It would seem that the majority of readers who buy Christian fiction only want to read about stories that take place on American soil.
What gives?
We know that it's possible for authors to write (and sell) books that take place in foreign lands, but most of the time these are well-known authors and not such a risk to the publisher. We also know it comes down to numbers, and the publisher will not take a chance on a new author if they don't think the book will do well. They have the facts and figures we're not privvy to obviously, so it would seem that right now there is no market for the kind of books we're writing.
But I think what I'm struggling to understand is the fact that Americans only want to read stories about Americans, in America. Really? Is this true? If so, why?
I grew up in Bermuda in a heavily British-influenced society. My reading was as varied as possible. I read British authors, American authors, stories that took place all over the world, and I loved them! Still do.
I have to wonder if there is an untapped market out there. Perhaps there are folks who wouldn't set foot in a Christian bookstore because they do want something different, and it's not there. Yet.
I wonder if someone were to create a website dedicated to giving a taste of what we 'foreigners' can write about, how would it do? Would you read the stories and give honest feedback?
So I'm curious and I want to hear from you and everyone you can possibly pass this information along to. Tell us what you're reading and why, and whether you would buy a book that had a foreign setting. If not, why not?
Let the games begin!
(This is cross-posted over at Writers' Rest).


Catherine West said...

Uh, did I say something wrong? Where did everybody go?

Colleen Shine Phillips said...

I LOOK for foreign settings and wish some of my favorite authors would try it. And as I mentioned previously, folks in other countries don't seem to have a problem reading US authors' books translated into their language and set somewhere in Montana. I don't know enough about the CBA publishing industry to opine if it is because of the $$ risk or simply a thing of taste in those who make the decisions to pass proposals on to acquisitions committees. I will say that since it is difficult to get our stuff looked at, then all the more reason to make sure we have well-written, whopping stories.
I really hope you get responses from readers. They might not even have thought of it, and now could start requesting. Do they read what they do just because it is available, or do the publishers print what the readers demand?

Joanna Mallory said...

I grew up in Canada with a mix of UK, US and the occasional Canadian author. (Not a CanLit fan, except for LM Montgomery). This was in the days before much Christian fiction.

Foreign settings are part of the fun--they let us go somewhere else and be someone else. I actually find stories set in my hometown irritating because I'm always fact-checking as I read, or trying to place exactly where the action is taking place, and it pulls me out of the story.

I'm a member of The Word Guild, and part of our mandate is raising awareness of quality Canadian writing by Christians. It really seems like there's a mindset in Canada that if it's "homegrown" it's not good. (Or if it's American it's better. National inferiority complex, perhaps?) At least in the Christian market. Or perhaps we've listened to the marketing people too long.

The thing is, of all the excellent authors published by US publishing houses, some are from other parts of the world. We just don't recognize our own because they're not pointed out. Imagine all the rich settings and mindsets we could visit if they were given their freedom to write "from home." We enjoy it in the mainstream book market.

Right now I'm reading Starfire by US writer Stuart Vaughn Stockton -- science fiction set on another planet, how's that for an exotic setting? Before that it was West Nile Diary by Canadian Kathleen Gibson.

Jane Harris Zsovan (Jane Harris) said...

I think there is a huge market for books not set in the United States. In Canada, Hot Apple Cider: Words to Warm the Soul & Stir the Heart and Warm the Soul
has been published with settings, stories,spellings that are not American. It is doing well in many, many countries. That's just one book!
I think there is often a visceral reaction in Commonwealth countries to the exclusive use of American spellings, settings, history etc. Maybe you should team up with some Canadians, eh?

Jane Harris Zsovan (Jane Harris) said...

Hot Apple Cider: Words to Warm the Soul & Stir the Heart (err, not sure where those extra words came from.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Catherine -

Personally, I've read more books lately with settings outside the U.S. than within the U.S. Two Regency Romances and two books by Catherine Palmer set in Africa have all wowed me.

I'm mystified why it should be such a tough sell.

Susan :)

Jody Hedlund said...

Hi Cathy,

I'm dealing with the same situation, but I write historicals. I personally love historicals set anywhere. But when it comes to contemporary romances, I prefer American settings. I'm not sure why. Maybe the other settings are just not ones I can relate to? But with historicals, I can't relate anyway because of the history gap, so the setting doesn't matter so much. But still, most people prefer American settings even with historicals. I'm learning that we need to write a break-in novel and usually that entails finding something that is most saleable.

Jessica said...

Hmmm. I don't remember a setting ever influencing whether I read a book. I totally go by the blurb.

I've loved some of Victoria Holt's. She set her books in England, China? (i think) and India. It was always super interesting to me. As long as it's a compelling romance, I'm ready to read. LOL

Dorothy Adamek said...

Thanks Catherine for running with this question.
During the week I have heard two very different sides.
One is to write a brilliant book and it will be gobbled up regardless of setting. It's all in the story and craftsmanship. This has come mainly from writers.
Then, the other side is from publishers who say they recognize great writing when they see it, but know it will not sell because the consumer/reader will not 'go' for the non US setting.
Two very different camps here.
As an Australian most of what I read is set outside my own country. My shelves are made up of 99% foreign settings and writers. It is the same with TV viewing. (My children can all do a pretty good American accent, as most of their favorite shows are from the US.) When I was growing up my dad read lots of missionary stories. He shared these with me and it was a natural thing to read about life and faith with a global view.
I hope you are right about the untapped market and that many readers are waiting for something set beyond their borders. The website and feedback sound like a great idea.
Thanks for soldiering on for all of us.