AMERICAN AUTHORS VS. FOREIGN AUTHORS
SF From the Rim
In my last article I talked about the differences in writing for the American/British audience and writing for a ‘foreign’ audience.
Now let’s try it the other way around and talk about the differences between American/British authors and ‘foreign’ authors.
Foreign SF authors would like to make a living in the trade, but most of them know that even if they publish successfully in their country, the SF readership is hardly ever large enough for them to earn a decent living on a regular basis.
This one fact influences how they live, how they write, how they publish, and the written prose, as we will soon see.
Writers of any kind hone their craft not only by writing, but also by discussing their craft endlessly with similar writers or with better and more experienced writers. This is true of poets, of playwrights, of scriptwriters, and of authors of any genre.
Since only rarely do the ‘smaller countries’ (in relation to the U.S.) have even three gifted writers in the field, chances are that most foreign SF authors mature on their own, without the company of others like them, without the benefit of learning personally from those who had come before. This deficiency hampers many budding authors, and we no doubt lose many potential writers in that way. On the other hand, the ones who do mature successfully are more likely to be unique, yet hardened, solipsistic, and intractable in their style and writing theory. That, perhaps, causes readers in other countries to find such stories harsh and even hard to swallow.
Today, with the easy accessibility the internet offers, conversing with ‘others of your kind’ is easy, even if they are in other countries. Therefore, this particular trend may change in the next few years.
Foreign Authors Utilize More Talents
If you’re a foreign SF author, there’s a 99% chance it’s not your way to make ends meet. So, while most published American authors settle down and write most of the time, foreign SF authors utilize more talents during their daily lives. Let’s take a quick look at some of the bios in the recently-published Apex Book of World SF, which featured only ‘foreign’ writers.
Aliette de Bodard is a computer engineer. Melanie Fazi works as a translator. S.P. Somtow is the artistic director of the Bangkok Opera. Aleksandar Žiljak is an illustrating artist. Anil Menon is in software R&D. Dean Francis Alfar is a playwright. Tunku Halim also writes non-fiction. Han Song works as a journalist. Nir Yaniv is a musician and performer. And I am a playwright and screenwriter.
On the negative side: Less time to write. On the positive side: More richness of experience.
Foreign Authors Write Out of Need
To sustain a decades-long career as a science fiction author in a ‘foreign’ country, in addition to doing ‘actual work’ for a living, the author must, by definition, be guided by a great need to express the ideas, emotions, concepts, and plots in his/her stories and books. Since money and fame are not on the table, writing for money or fame is not on the table, either. Foreign authors, as a rule, write out of a relentless need. Following the latest publishing trend is less of a factor. There are no book deals in which the author promises to deliver more of the same. Rather than following the latest publishing trend, the foreign author can follow his heart. Following your heart usually leads to better stories. Rather than delivering more of the same, the foreign author can afford to do something truly new every time.
This brings us naturally to the last point:
Foreign Authors Have More Artistic Freedom
The fact that SF is hardly a market in most ‘smaller’ countries means that when it is published, it is not published for profitability. I can only attest from my experience that when foreign publishers do publish you, it is because they find your material good literature and good art and/or a breakthrough in the genre.
Foreign authors are less limited by current publishing trends (Vampires, anyone? The next Harry Potter, perhaps?) because they are automatically outside any profitable publishing trends. Therefore, it does not matter if they take more artistic liberty and use greater freedom to write their stories and books. They will be published if and only if their publishers are willing to take a risk and find it good art, good literature, or a breakthrough in the genre.
Although foreign authors do have more artistic freedom than their English-speaking counterparts, I believe they do not take enough advantage of this rare liberty. This liberty should be used more.
The point of this article is not to say that one is better than the other, since whichever side you’re on, it isn’t by choice. Rather, I am saying that real differences exist, differences that shape the stories we all read. As ‘foreign SF’ is slowly growing more popular, it is perhaps important to delve into the question of how it is made.
I agree with the essay. It’s not easy being in Singapore, when the market is really small for SFf.
This “article” is bunk. Writer’s write, some make a living at just writing others don’t.
The author says, “The point of this article is not to say that one is better than the other…,” but in fact that is just what he’s doing in paragraphs 8, 11 and 13.
I can name just as many US/British SF authors that follow the “More richness of experience” path (Geoffrey Landis, Ian Tregellis, until recently Catherynne Valente).
It is obvious that the author has a strong bias towards non US/British authors, and that is the point the author is trying to make here.
Most published US and British authors I know have a day job — “actual work.” Earn a living just by writing SF? It rarely happens. So you’ve made some wrong assumptions . . . and what follows may not be true, either.
The main problem with this piece is the impossibility of making generalizations that are actually true about *all* countries outside of North America/UK/Australia. The situation tends to be different in different countries. Some countries have more support for a local SF/F scene and some do not–this makes a big difference whether there are many *writers* or not, as it creates community and an environment of support. Some countries have more of a traditional of supporting non-realistic fiction, and thus that makes it easier or harder. Even more than this, writers from countries with languages that are used across more than one country–English, Spanish, French–are more likely to be able to sell their work outside of their own country. Especially English, of course.
Zoran Zivkovic’s a great example of tenacity and persistence, in that he paid for translations into English for many years before he was published widely in the UK and the US. Many writers don’t have that option, alas, because it is expensive, and thus I think an effort in getting more fiction translated is extremely important to visibility–and especially because a text translated into English may then be more likely to be translated into another language other than the original language. Not ideal, but that’s the way it is at the moment.
In terms of writing careers–my understanding is that French and German writers, for example, can make careers just selling in their home countries, but I don’t know if this is true of genre authors or not.
It would be nice to stop talking in generalities about these issues, though. If Guy Hasson had said, “okay, this is the way it is in my country,” and then given specific details, that would’ve been much more useful. (Perhaps this has already been done, in which case, my apologies.)
I also, personally, am concerned about the way in which “world SF” is being used to generalize in un-useful ways. Especially the way in which it divides writers of genre from other writers within a particular country, when in fact many of those writers, whether writing realist or nonrealist fiction may share many of the same influences.
I’m beginning to not be that interested in world SF any more as a result, especially as so-called literary fantasy and other material of this nature, published by Dalkey Archive Press and others, in translation, is often overlooked because they’re not “genre” publishers.
I’m *very* interested, as always, in world fiction, period. But it’s limiting to think in terms of genre if that means being blind to non-genre fiction from a particular country.
And I would note that the best writers everywhere write out of need and desire and because they can’t not write.
Good points there. Perhaps, it’s good to have various authors from different countries (not counting the US/UK) to talk about the publishing situation(s) in their particular counties. The kind of problems they face, the genres they are limited to when it comes to writing.
Jeff, it was my understanding at Utopiales that the number of genre writers in France who made a living out of it was minuscule. A lot of French or Quebecois writers are translators in addition to writing (Elizabeth Vonarburg and Mélanie Fazi come to mind).
I would take issue with the generalization that all or most US writers make a living from writing, whereas others do not. The bulk of all writers have at least a day job or more; only extremely successful writers can make a living. There are only so many Steven Kings. And, after all, Asimov was a professor of biochemsity, whereas Borges did not have a second job (at least in his latter career).
I would take issue I like your article, if we are all aware that we live in one world,
not everyone likes to read, for sure we should make people want to read good news good, bad and worst,
also the problem of writing is also not everyone can, hope everyone like you are and what you pointed out in this article it’s was amazing I was very happy to read this blog
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I am an American living in Australia and so I have, to some extent, been able to take my work to the US where it has met with success after being constantly rejected by agents and publishers alike. In Australia, at least, the world of publishing is a closed community and many agents indicated to me that they are not taking on any new writers. Similarly, Australian publishers seem completely disinterested in any new work or works by unknown authors as they are disinclined to take any risks. If this is the case can anyone be blamed for taking their work abroad where they can at least have a hope of some sort of success.