Saturday, March 5, 2011

Big Fish, Small Pond? Or Big Fish, Wrong Pond?

So, the last time I emailed you, I had the hype but not the trophies. Now I’ve got both. Why is it that American editors ignore writers from New Zealand who aren’t Margaret Mahy or Joy Cowley. Down under, our buyers (readers) are piranhas. But, unfortunately for NZ authors, they are tiny piranhas.

I also review the YA books which that come out of the US and the UK and most of it, which, yeah, I know, sells, is actually formulaic which my students (I’m a high school teacher) turn their noses at – preferring to read ADULT literature.

Is this a ‘mam, this is a gentlemen’s club…’ kind of thing? Cos it sure does feel like it.
If you mean actual 'gentlemen', then no. The majority of publisher staff is female. 

If you mean 'we just don't like New Zealanders', then no. We're seeing a lot of very talented and very profitable novels coming from the southern hemisphere, and there's no prejudice that I'm aware of, unless it's a prejudice for Australia/New Zealand, not against.  (And while I realize that Australians and New Zealanders do not see themselves as in the same category, to US publishers, you are.)

If you mean 'Americans are just stupid and you can't sell anything smart to them', well, I can't say for sure, can I? We certainly can't match you for sheep jokes.

With an award under your belt and great reviews, I would start to wonder if your agent is sending the book to the right people.  Authors over here sometimes have to leave their agents because things just aren't working out.  You may be in that position, too.

At the same time, sometimes a book that can make a big splash in a smaller publishing market would be in danger of disappearing in a larger one.  Without having read your book, I can't hypothesize, but good luck.

84 comments:

Timothy Power said...

That sheep joke comment was baaaad!

catdownunder said...

And of course if you cross a sheep with a kangaroo you get a woolly jumper.
I am agent hunting and the general view is that it would be wiser to find an agent in the northern hemisphere and seek publication there. I have been told the odds on getting published are about the same but the end result is likely to be a much wider market.

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emay said...

"I also review the YA books which come out of the US and the UK and most of it, which, yeah, I know, sells, is actually formulaic which my students (I’m a high school teacher) turn their noses at – preferring to read ADULT literature."

I don't quite understand this comment. Do you mean, "My students, having read every single YA book published in New Zealand, all of which are stellar, are now disappointed in the uniformly low-quality YA books they see from the UK and US"? Or do you mean that they prefer adult literature to YA, regardless of where it comes from?

If the latter, they are exactly like high school students in the US. Generally, YA is read by kids in the 11-14 age range. Older teens move on to adult books, until they're old enough to go back to YA (and MG, and picture books) and appreciate those as well.

If the former, I would like to hear some titles of the "formulaic" YA books you've been reviewing.

Melinda Szymanik said...

It's a very different story with an overseas agent but as a New Zealand children's author with several titles published here it seems very few titles published in New Zealand ever get picked up overseas, yet many, many overseas titles are distributed in NZ. Getting picked up in Australia can be a springboard but it is rare and i would love to know (if the quality of my work is not the issue)what the barriers are?

JS said...

Melinda, the key barrier is market size.

Doing well in a market of 4 million people is a fantastic achievement, and kudos to you. But America is a market of 300 million people--heck, New York has twice the population of New Zealand.

And then, US publishers generally want North American rights, so add in another 30 million for Canada (distribution of English-language books in Mexico generally isn't a huge factor).

So US publishers are never going to be looking to New Zealand for The Next Big Thing.

JS said...

Which isn't to say that US publishers wouldn't be open to The Next Big Thing if it came from New Zealand, but saying that someone has to put it in front of their eyes first--they're not reading the New Zealand publishers' lists in the hope of acquiring something awesome.

Agents are key to international sales. If your NZ agent doesn't have a good partnership with a US agency, that's going to limit your access to the US publishing market.

Melinda Szymanik said...

Hey thanks JS. I think the bottom line is visibility. I don't have a NZ agent. With a population of 4 million they are thin on the ground and overworked and the one I had wasn't the right fit for me. Can i get a US agent with the books i already have published or do I need to find one with new material??

Sherryl said...

Some of my books have been sold on to the US, which was a foot in the door. But last year I sold a middle grade novel to a US publisher I met at a conference, and this was a book no Australian publisher was interested in. I think it is about how you can get your book in front of US publishers, and an agent is a key element.
I've found SCBWI has been a big help, especially in terms of the up-to-date publisher and agent information they provide to members. The US pool is huge so it's much harder to get noticed.

Anonymous said...

@emay. Gosh, didn't I sound arrogant? It was the latter I was meaning in that my students read anything good but I have to say my juniors are now putting aside the vampire, zombie, angel looking books (which I bring in because I haven't time to read and review them and try to get my students to do it) but they grab the mythology works or the social realism or dystopia books.

I am sorry my comment seemed to make a criticism of American titles because that was not my intention at all (I have so many books on my shelf which I adore and who have come out of the US) but I have read a number of UK and US titles these past months and 3/4 of them left me cold - as a reader, as a teacher and as a writer.

My NY agent is as frustrated as I because my main character is 21 when the trilogy begins and the other key characters are 17-21.

I was advised to take out any sex scenes by my wise representative and though, in the first book, I really did enjoy the wee tussle in the meadow, the deletion of it has not harmed the story.

It's now been two years that my agent has been trying to find this trilogy a home in the US. During that time, I've received hundreds (that's a big number here in New Zealand) of letters and emails from people from ages 12 to 82 who loved the first two books (book three is currently being written)

EA has some good points but I do know my agent is passionate about this story and has been 'on the case' to get it published in the states.

Afterall, isn't the sequel to Macbeth an appealling idea?

JS said...

Can i get a US agent with the books i already have published or do I need to find one with new material?

Do you still have the North American rights to any or all of those books? If so, then I would definitely approach US agents, leading with the top-selling title (or the one that is most likely to have appeal in the US and Canada--if your top-selling title is one about a teen who realizes her dream to be the assistant equipment manager for the All Blacks, that probably isn't going to be the best one to lead with in the North American market).

Melinda Szymanik said...

JS you can check out one of my titles - The Were-Nana in the Boston University Libraries

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