East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Non-native speaker authors on the English market – a few myths


shutterstock_globalizationA few days ago I took part in a discussion about non-native speakers of English publishing in the English-language market.

Being one myself, the topic was quite interesting to me.
I heard opinions and ideas from a number of colleagues – from authors that are making a living on the English and have been for years (such as my friend Andrea Sfiligoi of Ganesha Games) to Italian-language bestselling author/publishers that have weighed pros and cons and decided to stay clear of the English market (such as my friend Alessandro Girola) to people that are still observing and making plans.

As I was listening, I collected a series of myths that in my opinion are widely circulated and accepted, but deserve some deeper consideration, based on my limited experience.

Here they go…

  • You can’t make it in the English-language market without an agent and a proper publisher.
    Not so sure about this one. About agents, I heard everything and the exact opposite, ditto for proper publishers – the choice between traditional publishing and self-publishing involves a lot of factors, but I am not sure at all that going solo will mean no sales.

  • Publishing in English is expensive.
    This is true if you are paying a good translator. The only alternative is writing in English (which is not an option for many in my country) and then get a masterful editor.

  • The English-language market is so huge, your work will disappear.
    This is a problem everybody faces in a huge market – the fact that I am not a native speaker is ininfluential. It’s all a matter of marketing. Speaking of which…

  • Doing marketing for the international market is different.
    I can’t see why.

  • The competition on the English-language market is fierce.
    True, but can be seen as a bonus. It’s a darwinian process, and competing with the best you can only get better.

  • You need a big catalog to emerge.
    Possibly true.
    It is certainly true that a good catalog grants higher sales and fatter earnings.

  • The English-speaking readership is not interested in foreign authors – that’s why so few foreigners are translated.
    I think few foreign authors are translated because translations are expensive.
    As for the interest, hopefully in any language a good story sells independently of the native language of the author.

  • You should get an English-sounding alias.
    Ah, c’mon…
    It is true that some rules seem to apply – you write romance, you need a female alias – but apart from some very market-specific choices… really? An alias would make me sell more copies?
    I doubt it.

  • The tastes of the English-reading public are too different from our own.
    This is highly dubious – especially in genre fiction, there exist a set of modes and styles that are globally accepted and understood. And a bit of exoticism can actually be a plus.

  • You should try and conform to the tastes of your foreign readers.
    Up to a point – when we write, we always have a reference readership in mind, but we should not be conditioned by those imaginary readers, or pursue their tastes instead of pursuing writing quality.
    And formulas like “put more sex and violence in it, the Yanks love that!” are dangerous.
    Or silly.
    Or both.

  • You have to push on your national style to hook them with exoticism.
    Again, up to a point – my Italian publisher, Acheron Books, is certainly leveraging the appeal of the Italian style (and the history and culture of our country) as a major selling point of its catalog. But the single most important selling point remains the quality of the story.

And this is more or less it as far as my notes go.
Any ideas, suggestions, diverging opinions or myths I missed?
The comments are open…

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “Non-native speaker authors on the English market – a few myths

  1. It would be interesting to see what the myths about publishing abroad are for the English language writers.


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