Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Think Globally As You Write - Lynne Garner

For the last couple of years I've taught a variety of writing courses including two eCourses on writing picture books (How To Write A Children's Picture Book and Five Picture Books In Five Weeks). So some time ago when a friend asked if it was ok to pass my details on to a local aspiring picture book author I said it would be fine. A few days later he called and opened the conversation by telling me he’d written loads of stories and wanted to get them published. He asked if any of my courses would be suitable. I went through the syllabus and asked if he felt it was what he needed. “I’m not sure,” he responded.

Silent groan!

So I asked if he knew how the publishing industry worked. “Well, um… no,” was the reply.  “Then if nothing else you’ll gain a better understanding of what books make it to market and why. You can then edit your stories to suit the market, giving you a better chance.”  “Oh I know my books will sell because my wife and kids love them," was his reply.
  
Silent groan!

I told him it doesn’t mean they would be suitable for today’s market. To make my point I told him about my mistake when submitting my first story. The story included three celebrations, these being: Easter, Guys Fawkes Night and Halloween. I continued I’d been extremely lucky that the editor who read my story liked it. She took the time to write the nicest rejection letter I’ve ever received. She pointed out that in order to sell globally I would have to think globally. Not everyone follows a Christian faith, so would not celebrate Easter. Only England celebrates a foiled plot to blow up their government, so would never have heard of Guy Fawkes Night. Finally she pointed out that not everyone celebrates Halloween and some even find it offensive. She finished by saying that if I could make a few changes she’d be pleased to read my story again. I made the changes, re-submitted and that story became 'A Book For Bramble.' 


“Oh, but I’d only submit to an English publisher,” was the reply.

Silent groan!

I continued that gone are the days publishers only publish in their own country. In order to make a book viable the rights would be sold worldwide. My books have travelled as far as America, Australia, Indonesia, Korea and my publisher has recently sold the Hebrew rights of one of my books.

“Oh, so you’re saying I may have to change my stories slightly.”

Silent groan!

I finished by stating that unfortunately today you have to realise we are creating a product. To get that product onto the market (published) you have to think about what the client (the publisher needs) and this product is an item that must have global appeal. So today when writing my books I always have this in mind. So if you want to give your story the best chance think global appeal.

9 comments:

  1. Interesting! This shows how important the concept is. Do you have any tips for what gives a picture book global appeal?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Publishers will sometimes use animal characters rather than human, so they don't have to worry about ethnic backgrounds. Avoid festivals that are regional which is really sad as it dilutes (in my opinion) the wonderful diverse world we live in. Using regional dialects or a specific place, unless you want your story to be set in a 'place.' For example Mabecron Books specialise in publishing books with a Cornish 'flavour.' So if you write a book set in Cornwall there is a publisher with that niche need and I'm sure there are others you just have to look.

      Delete
  2. I think you showed commendable patience ;-) I tend to deflect this sort of thing by saying that it's not so much that kids have to like your story, but that publishers have to like it.
    Although not entirely true, this usually stalls them long enough to give me a chance to change the subject or run away. And it shifts the focus onto publishers, particularly onto the general perception that they get it stupidly wrong all the time, everyone knows 'they' turned down Harry Potter etc etc . .

    ReplyDelete
  3. I agree about the book having to be liked by the publisher or rather editor. Issue is even if the editor likes it there's no guarantee it'll get published. I sent in a story once about two dogs which my editor loved but we couldn't get it passed the 'gate keeper' in marketing. She wasn't a dog person and didn't see it selling, so it never got published (traditionally at least).

    ReplyDelete
  4. Occasionally I wonder if a 'global' reason cited for the rejection of a story stems from the fact that the publisher doesn't feel strongly enough about the story. I've had a story rejected because the main characters were kangaroos and the publisher said that not everyone in the world was familiar with kangaroos. No comment! Meanwhile we have the Katie Morag stories which are very specific to their Scottish locale. Plus even you, Lynne, have a hedgehog story! So I suspect that 'global rule' can be broken, but perhaps only when a publisher feels they'll still achieve good sales? So yes, I do keep the impact of 'globalisation' in mind, and when writing I think about the illustrator too, especially if there are cars in a book (left- or right-hand drive, or simply in the middle?!).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Like all 'rules' I'm sure it can be broken. Your comment about the Kangaroos made me smile. Some time ago I did a writing course and the tutor submitted a picture book story about a boy and his family. The publisher would only publish it if she allowed them to turn the entire family into a family of kangaroos as they have "global appeal."

      Delete
  5. I silently groaned on your behalf, Lynne. You are plainly very patient and just the right person to run a course! The person you spoke to did not sound as if he wanted to change his stories at all. On the global note - the Katie Morag stories are an interesting example of the exception, Paeony. They're gloriously set in a specific place, but they are universal when it comes to a child's experience. Would be interesting to know what their 'route to market' was.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Moira - I always find it interesting to discover the route to market for any book. Sometimes that route can be a nice surprise and open up a world of possibilities to other authors.

    ReplyDelete
  7. It is worth bearing the international market in mind when writing a picture book, but I try not to let it get in the way of a strong idea.

    When Walker books began looking for foreign co-publishers for 'The Pig's Knickers' it quickly became apparent that, while the book's ending (in which a male pig is shown wearing a bra) worked well for the UK market, it was unacceptable to many potential co-publishers, including those in the US. We played around with changing the ending and even considered applying an overlay to the last spread so that we could have slightly different endings in different countries. Eventually we decided to stick with the original ending (which both the editor and I felt was the funniest and most appropriate) and hoped that strong UK sales would compensate for the loss of co-publishers. Fortunately this proved to be the case, although I was asked to steer well clear of cross-gender issues when I wrote the sequel (which is out next February!).

    While it’s unusual for a publisher to accept a book without their Foreign Rights department’s approval, other publishers I work with have also told me that they occasionally accept books without foreign rights approval if they think it will sell well in the UK. One publisher recently told me that they are allowed to accept one picture book a year without foreign rights approval.

    Illustrator Christyan Fox got around the left-hand-drive / right-hand-drive issue in ‘Emergency Rescue’ and our other vehicle pop-up books by putting the steering wheel in the middle of the vehicles’ dashboard!

    ReplyDelete