International Author Series: Nalini Singh

During the last couple of months, I read several books written by authors who live outside the U.S. I know from our contests that there are many international readers but I didn’t quite grasp the breadth of the international author. But authorial success and continued contracts rely primarily upon sucess within the U.S. The NYTimes, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Oprah, Starbucks, Daily Show and all of those other book power brokers, are U.S. entities.

It got me to thinking about the challenges that international authors have in reaching the US audience and writing for the US audience. I cajoled a number of international authors to share their thoughts with us about what it is like to write for US audiences and market to US audiences in the face of geographic and cultural barriers.

First up is Nalini Singh national bestselling author of Slave to Sensation. Her sequel, Visions of Heat, is released tomorrow.

Do you have modify the language in the books to exclude colloquialisms from your native tongue?

Yes and no, depending on the book. For example, if New Zealand as a country is a part of the book, then I'd leave the colloquialisms in to flavor the story, making sure they were easily understand. Otherwise, I would probably change certain things, but given that I naturally write fairly colloquialism-free, it's usually just a simple word swap ie. “car trunk” for “car boot”, that sort of thing.

One thing I do change is the spelling – I try to stick to American spelling no matter what. It's easier than trying to switch back and forth. I have a dictionary that tells me both types of spelling and it's one of my prized possessions.

Where do you prefer the books you read to be set?

For me, as long as the setting is done well for the book in question ie. dark and moody for a dark paranormal, it doesn't particularly matter where it's set. And I think you would agree that each writer sees the world through different eyes. For example, before LKH got hold of St Louis, how many of us thought of that as a vampire-worthy place? If the author can convince me the setting works, I'll go with it.

How does living outside the U.S. affect your ability to research your books?

It doesn't, not with the internet, photo-blogs, instant access to people living in the area. With the connected world, the skills I utilize to learn more about an American location are probably identical to skills someone in another area of the US would use for the same task.

And let's not forget &emdash; books are still a great research tool, especially if you're looking for a contained (vs scattered across the net) source of information about a location. I love guidebooks, use them as research tools.

I've also traveled across the US, which has helped tremendously. It's given me a sense of the country that I might not otherwise have got. (I do think some travel to the States is necessary to give you that sense, that base.)

Because of the expense of travel, you can’t do many book signings or in person appearances at American bookstores or meet in person with American readers. The cost of mailings is also more expensive. Do you find these to be disadvantages? If so, what can you do to ameliorate that disadvantage?

I think because I started out being outside the U.S., I've always just taken the extra costs as part of the cost of my work. In terms of ameliorating the disadvantages of not being able to do in-person signings etc, I personally have done a couple of things.

First, I've started working with a publicist in the U.S. Obviously, this is also a cost but balanced against taking lots of trips to the U.S. it's the better option. Second, I've tried to become a lot more net-savvy than I was previously. And after Jane's example with the StS viral blogging last year, I've been trying to think up unique ways to use the net. With Visions of Heat, I started up a meme, where people can go into a draw to win an Amazon voucher just by answering a few fun questions.

I also do other things to reach readers &emdash; for example, I can't go to a bookstore and do a signing but I'll soon be offering signed bookplates on my website. I've already sent these out to bookstores that have requested them.

As a writer who lives outside the US, do you attempt to make the characters to suit a more US based audience? Are there cultural differences that need to be addressed in a book?

No, I've never really had that problem. My natural voice has often been said to be American. Sometimes people don't like this if they want a NZ-flavored book, but writing for the market that I do, I think I'm very lucky.

What promotional efforts have you found to be most successful in reaching the US audience, other than writing an appealing book?

This is a giant learning curve for me, especially with my single titles, but I think that getting my books into the hands of booksellers, reviewers and readers prior to release has been important. I've given away a lot of ARCs, some from the publisher and some that I had made up. I don't have a huge promotional budget but this is where I choose to focus a lot of it. Any bookseller who wants an ARC, I get one to. Same for reviewers (including reader sites like this one).

Also, for StS, the viral blogging experiment undoubtedly got my name and the release of the book out there &emdash; the blogging itself might not have convinced people to buy the book, but at least they knew it was being released, which is a major thing, especially with the first book in a series. I am incredibly grateful to Dear Author for that exposure. It's difficult to judge how it impacted on sales, but I think name recognition definitely went up.

If there is one thing that you could change about the publishing industry, what would it be?

Truthfully, I don't feel like I know enough to answer this question yet. And I'm not dodging the question &emdash; I really think I need more time to process all this stuff that I'm learning every day. And esp with single title, I'm seeing a whole different world, all these things I never came into contact with when writing category alone. Things that I thought I knew, I find I didn't at all.

What is your biggest challenge as a writer living outside of the US? What have you done to overcome it?

The lack of face time – there are situations in which I wish I could somehow arrange a personal meeting. As to what I've done to address this &emdash; I'm going to the RWA conference this year and plan to attend further conferences relatively regularly. Between those visits, I'll try to continue to stay as accessible as possible, using technology to the fullest.


17 comments on “International Author Series: Nalini Singh

  1. It’s the tattoos right? And no, I haven’t seen any evidence of this book being an ebook. Penguin’s decisions regarding digitization seem a bit odd (ie. doing up JR Ward’s Lover Awakened but not the first two books in the series) so who is to say what will happen for Singh’s books.

  2. Throwing the question out into the atmosphere:

    For readers: Do you think, wrt contemporaries, that having an American ‘voice’ is important in your choosing the book? Is it that, if the main character(s) are Scots or Australian or Indian or Belgian etc etc that your mindset would be ‘I’m going to read a ‘foreign’ book’ as opposed to ‘I’m going to read a book’.

    For Nalini: What if you didn’t have a natural American voice for your characters, do you think your readership would be less in the States?

  3. Nalini, first I wanted to say how much I loved Slave to Sensation–which I bought as a result of all that great online buzz, generated, I learned later, by Jane’s viral blogging experiment. Will definitely be picking up Visions of Heat.

    Re the “why isn’t it an ebook” question. I think at this point print publishers are often holding off on ebooks until they’re sure the audience will be there. As a result, they’re often behind the curve, picking up on a great author after she’s already got a series going and then, instead of printing the series backlist, just starting at the current release and going on from there. At this point, print publishers aren’t focusing on ebooks. I’m figuring they’ll catch up on this. In time.

  4. That too bad that publishers don’t see the POTENTIAL of ebook sales when there is virtually no overhead costs. I can’t believe that’s the only reason for why they don’t support ebooks right now is for lack of audience. The same audience that’s there for the print version ought to be there for the ebook, too. You would think but I’m just a reader with a PDA device and who prefers ebook format over print any day of the week. Everybody has a smartphone, a PDA device, they just need to know that they can read books on it too.

    I’m gone. Later.

  5. Dammit, my comment disappeared. ::sigh::

    Interesting interview, especially the answer re: colloquialisms and place. I’m wondering if the effort not to confuse readers isn’t a little detrimental, though, sometimes. In a couple of Singh’s Silh. Desires, the NZ setting was mentioned by the characters as the plot progressed, but the books lacked a distinctive feeling of place, IMO. The setting of one could’ve been any large city; the other could’ve been a ranch in Texas or Colorado or Montana, despite references to MacKenzie country. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Personally, I like reading colloquialisms and I like settings to have roles in the story. To each her own. ::shrug::

  6. Heh. I am used to readers (and edtors) assuming I am American. Some detect an unextinguishable “accent” in my writing and henceforth assume me to be British. There are a few other countries out there peeps 😉

  7. jmc, our spam blocker just thought you were spamming us. I retrieved your comment and it’s showing up under Jane’s rant — I mean opinion – post.

  8. For Nalini: What if you didn’t have a natural American voice for your characters, do you think your readership would be less in the States?

    Dalia, IMO not necessarily. I would say it would depend upon the type of book. As jmc pointed out, there are readers who prefer more colloquialisms etc. I know of several recent Sil Desire authors who have been picked up because of their strong NZ voice. In some cases, they have even been given leave to stick to British spelling vs American. So as always, it’s a case of finding where your natural voice fits.

  9. [quote comment=”24168″]That too bad that publishers don’t see the POTENTIAL of ebook sales when there is virtually no overhead costs. I can’t believe that’s the only reason for why they don’t support ebooks right now is for lack of audience. [/quote]
    Probably they’re afraid of piracy. Kristin Nelson from Nelson Agency discussed it, but there are people who put the entire ebook on websites…not just ebooks, but scanned copies of print books as well.

  10. Ebook versions of print books have been around for a while. Not putting your book in ebook format doesn’t prevent piracy; it prevents legitimate sales of ebooks as individuals who want the ebook version go to great lengths to obtain it. Witness the people who are buying the illegal ebook version of JK Rowling’s books. People clearly want to pay for their preferred format, but lacking a legitimate source turn to one that is not.

    Make the ebook version available for sale and you are going to capture sales, not lose them because if people want a pirated version, they’ll get it regardless of whether the book is in eform or not.

    So publishers who don’t get in the ebook game are losing out. Certainly S&S, RandomHouse and Harper Collins feels strongly about the digital publishing venture. The rest of the publishers need to wise up.

  11. Pingback: Wednesday Web Wanderer « Milady Insanity

  12. Pingback: In My Books » Willing Slave to Sensation

  13. First of all, Nalini, I love your books. I read that piece in the Dom on Romance writers in NZ and went from there.

    I also really like a sense of place in the books I read. I don’t really care how accurate they are as long as I can firmly see them in my mind.

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