It’s Independence Day in the USA this coming Friday; 4th July. I’m no history expert (isn’t that what Google’s for?) so I had to look up the year (1776) but I did know that it was the date the Declaration of Independence was signed declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. With such strong links to the US today, it’s quite hard to imagine that the UK and US were once not on the best of terms.
For a while now, the USA has held a fascination for The Write Romantics. Not because we want to go on holiday there (although most of us do) but because we’ve become increasingly aware of America as a huge and exciting market for our writing. As members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA), we often read on the online community about writers who have written for both the UK and US markets or who write exclusively for the US market and many of us have submitted our manuscripts to US publishers. While we await the verdict, we’re anxious to know more.
Rhoda Baxter always wanted to be a writer, but her parents told her she needed to get a ‘real’ job and write in her spare time. So she became a scientist and now works in technology transfer. She writes contemporary romantic comedies in whatever spare time she can find around her day job and her family. Which means her parents were right all along. How irritating.
Her novel Girl On the Run (formerly Patently in Love) is released by Choc Lit Lite in June 2014. Her first paperback novel, Doctor January will be published by Choc Lit in August 2014.
Over to Rhoda …
Writing for the American market
My first publication was with a US publisher. It wasn’t planned that way, it was just the luck of the draw.
My experience is a familiar story. I had written two books, but couldn’t find an agent. I was lucky enough to get some feedback along with my rejections. They all said ‘it’s good enough, but we don’t think we can place a book with so many emails in it’. The trouble was, I’d chosen to tell the hero’s point of view entirely in emails. It was part of what made the book so much fun to write. I mentioned this at an RNA lunch and Christina Jones suggested that maybe ebook publishers might be more willing to take on something that was a little unusual. It was a good idea, so I set about doing my research.
The market for ebooks was (still is!) biggest in the US. The next biggest will probably be South East Asia. There were a few well established ebook publishers at the time (and a whole load of others that arose and disappeared within a few years). While I was going through this, someone posted a submission call on Romna – it was from a small, but established epublisher. They wanted non-erotic romance (yay), between 50 and 100K (hurrah) and, crucially, the person posting recommended them highly.
So I emailed my submission off to Uncial Press and forgot about it. Less than a fortnight later, I had an email offering me a contract for 2 years. Ebook wasn’t my first choice for a debut (not many people in the UK read ebooks at that time – ereaders only became popular here about two years ago), but hey, it was a start. So I signed up.
Editing for the US
I was lucky in that Uncial are happy to use UK spelling and, provided it’s not too confusing, UK idiom. There was still the odd dispute about ‘a herb garden’ should really be ‘an ‘erb Garden’, or whether someone could look round or whether they had to look around. All in all though, it was a fairly painless process. The only thing we could not agree on was a suitable alternative to “Phwoar”. There must be one, but we couldn’t find it. So I had to delete it. If you figure out what it is, please let me know.
As a British reader, I take Americanisms in my stride – although the phrase ‘khaki pants’ makes me snigger like a pre-schooler. It turns out some Americans aren’t overly bothered about British-isms either. I’ve had feedback saying ‘what’s an MOT? ’ and discussions about whether tea should be served cold in a tall glass, but for the most part American readers don’t mind the odd British quirkiness. I’ve also met lots of readers who say ‘I like British Fiction’.
A few months ago, I did some research – if you can call asking a bunch of people on Twitter ‘research’ – on why some American readers liked to read British books. Overwhelmingly, the answer was that they enjoyed seeing another country through the books. Readers who enjoy historical novels especially liked the authenticity that the British voice gave. In some undefinable way, they felt it ‘fit’ better. Readers of contemporary romance liked the bite and cynicism in British dialogue. Those of us who grew up watching Blackadder have a certain pace of dialogue that’s sunk into our collective psyche. It’s not easy to write purple prose when you really want your heroine to be a girl called Bob.
A word on Copyright
Copyright in your work arises automatically and it belongs to you. When you sign a publishing contract, you will nearly always be giving the publisher an exclusive licence to publish your work – the right to be acknowledged as the creator of the work remains yours.
In the UK there is no formal register for copyright works. In the US, you still have the same rights, but if you want to claim damages for copyright infringement (that’s where you sue someone for pirating your work and get back money for the income you lost), it’s best to deposit a copy of your book at the Library of Congress (http://www.copyright.gov/eco/) and pay a small fee. Most publishers will do this for you, but some small presses may not. It’s worth checking.
Any advice for new novelists on writing for the US market?
Have a look at the best seller lists in both countries over a length of time, you’ll see that, generally speaking, both lists are very similar. Don’t write for the US market or the UK market. Write the best book you can. If it’s good, people will read it. That is all.
If you’d like to know more …
Thank you, Rhoda, for joining us and sharing such a valuable insight. And the advice about the US market doesn’t stop there. On Monday and Thursday, we’re joined by Lynne Connolly, prolific writer and fellow-RNA member. Then, on Wednesday, we’ll have our usual Wednesday Wondering but it will be – you’ve guessed it – USA-themed!