WORD: Making it Overseas, with Ben Sanders, Tania Roxborogh and Helen Lowe

Event_Making-it-OverseasAll New Zealand authors dream of making it overseas – these three have. Tania Roxborogh has her historical novel (set in the time of Macbeth) Banquo’s Son in the UK, USA and Asia. Ben Sanders is Auckland-based, and his fourth novel, American Blood, is in the Australian, NZ, US and European markets. Helen Lowe is Christchurch-based, and all of her fantasy books have been published overseas, rather than in New Zealand. They are in the USA, UK, Australia and NZ and European markets.

Lowe was told straight out of the gates, that nobody in New Zealand would publish a fantasy series. After trying to sell her series to publishers in Australia and the USA herself, she gave up (she stopped counting rejections after 15) and realised a full series from an unknown author was too much of a gamble for any publisher to take at that point. She needed to write a stand-alone book. An Australian editor she had spoken to with her series advised her that she should try the US market, and find an agent. In response to a later question about how she found her agent she said – I looked at who the writers who wrote in my genre used: this triangulated at The Writer’s House, so that’s where I started and lucked out. Her new agent sold Thornspell in just three weeks, and the series sold after that, after about 4-5 months. Being published in the US opened up the world.

I had seen Ben Sanders’ rise over the past couple of years and thought he must have just been plucked from obscurity when Warner Brothers saw the unpublished manuscript of American Blood and optioned it. Oh no, it was a bit deeper than that! He had an agent offer to represent him after his first three books were published through HarperCollins NZ, and checked them out before accepting (note to readers: if somebody is offering to sell your book, always check them out first). His agent is through Wordlink. It took three years to get a book accepted, and happened mainly because he met an editor at Pan Macmillan personally while on holiday in New York. He had to set this book in America – hence American Blood, which was published last year in the US.

It took Tania Roxborogh seven years to be an overnight success. Her super-enthusiastic agent came on board in May 2009. It took until October 2014 to have any luck placing the novel with a publisher: by 10 January in 2015 she had a contract, with an advance of $10,000 US. It took a lot of persistence, and a lot of trust on both her agent’s and her part; but she got there!

Things she has learned: the Australian market is more accepting if NZ writers come via the UK publishing houses. And the sales are so much bigger than the NZ market: by the end of its run in 2015, Banquo’s Son had sold 5,600 copies. Internationally within 2 months in the UK market, 9,500 copies had sold. Vanda quipped, “You have finally harnessed the machine.”

All three of our guests have found having an agent essential, though none have experienced the ‘dream agent’ experience. The most helpful things with agents is they know what is being pitched, and they know what is being published by whom. Sanders said his agent was essential to get him contacts in New York. “Having an agent is like any business relationship, you have to go into it with your eyes open”, says Helen Lowe.

Vanda then asked whether being an author from a small country was an impediment to being published overseas. Not really, was the general agreement. Sanders’ Auckland crime novels weren’t picked up internationally until he agreed to ‘Americanise’ them. He is currently doing this, changing ‘petrol stations’ for ‘gas stations’, and the bonus of this is that he can change any errors he finds along the way. Sanders adds, “It’s not just a matter of if the editor says ‘yep I like it’ – that person needs to talk to the Editorial Director, and so on all the way up the commissioning chain.”

For Helen Lowe, she never had to worry about where they are set: she writes Fantasy, set in different worlds. And Thornspell was set in Middle-ish Europe. The US doesn’t even change the language in her books, they just change the spelling. Her UK publisher simply publishes it, US spelling and all, knowing their market doesn’t mind.

Lowe also addressed the idea of self-publication in the Fantasy genre. She thinks this only really works if you already famous: the main thing traditional publishing has over self-publishing is distribution. “And if you are doing it yourself, you will be locked into Amazon’s rights model, possibly not in favourable circumstances.”

This was a fascinating discussion, about something I’d long been curious about. In my day job at Booksellers NZ, I frequently post up announcements about the sales of US / UK rights: now I understand exactly why this is such a fantastic achievement for those hard-working authors that it happens to. Well done to Helen Lowe, Ben Sanders and Tania Roxborogh for being Olympic-class writers!

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Making it Overseas – Ben Sanders, Helen Lowe and Tania Roxborogh

Daughter of Blood
by Helen Lowe
Published by Orbit
ISBN 9780356500058

by Helen Lowe
Published by Random House
ISBN 9780375844799

American Blood
by Ben Sanders
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781760291570

Banquo’s Son
by Tania Roxborogh
Published by Thomas & Mercer
ISBN 9781503945821

Author Helen Lowe talks about the Wall of Night series, and Daughter of Blood

One of our most successful fantasy writers, Helen Lowe, has recently released the third in her Wall of Night series, Daughter of Blood. We have a copy to give away, and our reviewer Tierney Reardon has provided us with these questions for her. Fantasy fans, enjoy.


1. What originally inspired you to write the Wall of Night series & who do you consider your biggest influences?
The Wall of Night series emerged from a convergence of moments. The idea of a twilit-to-dark, barren, and wind-blasted world had been with me for many years, before a chance heard remark, describing someone whose life had been lived like “a race along the edge of a precipice”, called up my first image of Malian of Night, scaling a precipice-like wall in a ruined keep. Malian is the main character in the series, and besides that initial image, the overheard remark also sparked a great deal of reflection (on my part) as to what a person whose life resembled a race along a cliff’s edge, might be like.

cv_eyeless_in_gazaI was also a Fantasy and Science Fiction lover, so had been reading extensively in the genre since childhood—and what you enjoy reading tends to influence the sorts of stories you wish to tell yourself, I suspect. In my case I always point to the “seminal” influences of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien (of course!), as well as a swathe of myths, fairytales, and legends, but also to writers from other genres. For example, historical fiction authors, Rosemary Sutcliff and Dorothy Dunnett, dystopian authors such as Aldous Huxley (Eyeless in Gaza, in particular) and Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale), as well as classic writers such as Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy – to name just a very few among many.

2. Which of the three Wall of Night books have you found most enjoyable to write?
They have all been enjoyable, just in very different ways that reflect the differences between the books themselves. The Heir of Night had the magic of being the first, with all the wonder and mystery of a story opening out. cv_the_heir_of_nightBut I loved the expanded world of The Gathering of the Lost, and the adventurous nature of the story, with its assassins and rooftop chases, tournaments and armoured knights. Daughter of Blood worked me very hard in terms of getting the story to the page, and although it has its duels and battles, the nuances centre on treachery and political intrigue. But if I had to pick one, I would probably opt for The Heir of Night because of the delight of beginning and then further exploring something new, which in Heir’s case was both the story itself and writing my first novel.

3. You’re best known for your fantasy works but you also write poetry. Are there other genres you’ve written in or considered writing in and, if so, which?
So far, when I’ve had an idea for a novel, it’s always been Fantasy. However, I’ve also had a number of short stories published, in a range of genres that include contemporary realism, recent historical (e.g. World War 2 settings), and legendary history, as well as science fiction.

4. Wall of Night is a complex and carefully constructed series. How do you keep track of
the characters, storylines, the lore and the geography of Haarth?

wallofnight_map_small-300x237Mainly in my head, although I do have a number of tables where I record key facts, particularly about the Derai. I have also have a folder of sketch maps of the world—all very rough and as much scribblings as sketch, but useful when I need to provide locational clarity in the text. I also include a comprehensive glossary with each book, which is a cross between a compendium, a gazetteer and a dramatis personnae. I include it because I love glossaries myself, but also to assist readers since the series is complex—and when circumstances require, I consult it myself.

5. Would you say that in your latest book, Daughter of Blood, Kalan and Malian are faced with their greatest challenges in the series so far?
I had to pcv_daughter_of_bloodause for reflection regarding this question, because of course Malian and Kalan have already faced some steep challenges in The Heir of Night and The Gathering of the Lost. I think, though, that the circumstances in this book are a significant step up for Kalan, in particular. I shall leave it to readers to decide whether he meets the tests set before him, but believe it is not too much of a spoiler to reveal that single combats, military assaults, and large armed conflicts are in his cards. With respect to Malian, although she faces significant challenges in Daughter of Blood, it is more her realisation of the immense undertaking that still lies ahead that shadows her path through the story.

6. Without giving too many spoilers, what would you say readers can expect from Daughter of Blood?
In view of where readers left Malian and Kalan at the end of The Gathering of the Lost, I believe it would be reasonable to expect a return to the Wall of Night. I have already mentioned single combats, military assaults and large armed conflicts in Kalan’s cards, but believe readers could also expect Malian to be grappling with the implications of her new alliance with Raven and the House of Fire.

Readers can expect plenty of intrigue arising from the enmities between the Derai Houses, but there is also a four-hundred-year-old mystery to be solved – and of course the last of Malian’s inheritance of three legendary weapons to be found. I can also promise at least one truly glorious cavalry charge that beta readers would not allow me to cut from the book; the return of at least one character from The Heir of Night; and the introduction of two central characters, Faro and Myr (the titular Daughter of Blood) who are new to this book.

7. What are you currently working on in terms of writing projects?
That’s a very easy answer: The Chaos Gate, The Wall of Night Book Four, which will also conclude the series. I’ve also written a novelette in the past year, although it’s still very much a work in progress (and likely to remain so until The Chaos Gate is done.)

pp_helen_loweRecently, too, I’ve had three poems accepted for a new anthology, Leaving the Red Zone … poems from the Canterbury earthquakes, edited by James Norcliffe and Joanna Preston, that is intended for publication on February 22nd, the fifth anniversary of the February 22nd, 2011, Christchurch earthquake. As a Christchurch person who has lived through 2010-2011’s eighteen months of “awful”, and the subsequent five years of “recovery”, I do feel honoured to have my work included in this book.

Thank you to Helen Lowe, and to Tierney Reardon for providing the questions. You can buy Daughter of Blood now at any bookshop. And enter to win a copy by emailing info@booksellers.co.nz, subject ‘Daughter of Blood’ and tell us who you most enjoy reading from the Fantasy and Science Fiction section of your bookshop. 

Supernaturally – Laini Taylor and Elizabeth Knox, WORD Christchurch, 31 August

Laini Taylor is one of my writing idols. When her attendance at the WORDword-LainiTaylor
Christchurch festival was announced I was absolutely delighted. I would like to think I was among the first to purchase my ticket for this event − in which she and Elizabeth Knox discuss the supernatural world of Young Adult writing. This discussion was hosted by local speculative
fiction writer, Helen Lowe.

I enjoy the panel-style format such as this, where it rather resembles a friendly discussion, to which I am a welcome eavesdropper. The camaderie between Elizabeth, Laini and Helen was open and friendly, and it was
wonderful to see that each participant was familiar with the other’s
work. Neither dominated the discussion and comments bounced back and
forth in a lively, animated manner.

Helen’s questions were insightful, both to readers and aspiring authors. She began with asking why they create supernatural/fantastic worlds – in which Laini admitted to tricking people into reading high fantasy (her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy starts from an urban fantasy
perspective). Elizabeth attributed it to her older sister, who made the world magical. Other topics took us through the laws of magic, the hero’s journey trope (which elizabeth_knoxneither author follow consciously), and other such popular Young Adult themes as strong female characters, insta-love and love triangles. Elizabeth Knox (left)  described the latest trend towards paranormal romance as “the cuckoo laid in the nest of fantasy”.

I also learned that the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, one of the
best I have ever read, began when Laini was seeking relief from a
challenging novel and began with free writing and discovery of the
characters of Karou and Brimstone. Certainly a most serendipitous
occurance, and one that I (and I imagine many others) am most grateful
for. Writing a novel, she informed us, is a little like swimming from
buoy to buoy, capturing spontaneity in short bursts.

Overall, a very rewarding discussion that both intrigued me as a reader
and inspired me as a writer. I could have listened to the two of them
all day!

by Angela Oliver, writer, artist and reviewer for Booksellers NZ

Email digest: Monday 18 June 2012

This is a digest of our Twitter feed that we email out most Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Sign up here for free if you’d like it emailed to you.

Question of the day
Can anyone name a memorable book they’ve seen recently that was self-published? Email info@booksellers.co.nz if you do.

Join poet Paula Green at Auckland Central Library Tues night

Keen to read more by indigenous authors? Sign up for ANZ Lit Lovers Indigenous Literature Week

Two days until our winter read 2012 begins. I’ve just set up our Good Reads group if you care to join

Book News
A Monster Calls wins first Carnegie and Kate Greenaway prize double

Congratulations to New Zealand author Helen Lowe who has won the 2012 Morningstar Award by popular vote

Quote 15OFFJUNE to take 15% off MILK Tailor Made Books – a new print-your-own book service from PQ Blackwell

Book reviews
Blood Brothers by Carole Wilkinson

Stonemouth by Iain Banks

Email digest: Tuesday 21 February 2012

Meet Barbara Ewing at Marsden Books, Karori (Wellington) tonight

Fiona Farrell reads from THE BROKEN BOOK as part of the Christchurch Earthquake commemorations tomorrow

New releases
Introducing Lonely Planet’s new-look phrasebooks

I whānau au ki Kaiapoi by Te Maire Tau

A Commemorative Edition of Christchurch 22.2: Beyond the Cordon has been released

April release for The Gathering of the Lost by Helen Lowe

Book reviews/interviews
Author interview with Madeleine Tobert: The Sea on our Skin

NZSA Mentor Programme Applications close – Next Monday

From around the internet
A list of Young Adult fiction you must read- what would you add to the list? 

All I’ve ever wanted is a library with a ladder!

On the anniversary of the big Christchurch earthquake Jonathan King has coloured and posted a comic he did last year

Tuesday poem
Cardboard Crowns by Selina Tusitala Marsh