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over the past couple of years and thought he must have just been plucked from obscurity when Warner Brothers saw the unpublished manuscript of American Blood and optioned it.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

Thornspell
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

Book Review: Us, by David Nicholls

cv_usUs arrived with the fanciest packaging I have yet encountered as a blog editor. The box was a corrugated cardboard suitcase, covered in stickers for each city visited by our main character. It included a travel pillow, and a packet of English barley sugars. The review proof copy of the book has a slipcase and a great, understated cover design that I didn’t look at closely until I realised at the end that it may have given me a clue as to what would happen over the course of the book. No expense has been spared for this expected bestseller by David Nicholls, the follow up to One Day. And at the time I received it, it was still in the running for the 2014 Man Booker Prize.

This book absolutely deserves to be a bestseller, and I would expect it to be a hit for the Southern Hemisphere summer sales. But I will say it wasn’t a huge surprise to see it knocked off the Man Booker list when it came to the shortlist time, if only because it is too straightforward, less experimental and certainly less grand in scale than most Man Booker prize-winners of the past few years have been (including The Luminaries).

Nicholls proves in this book that he is an expert observer of family life. Our narrator for this book is a 50-something year old scientist, who has had his ups and downs career-wise, regarding as the greatest period of his life as the moment he realised his now-wife was his perfect match. Unfortunately, the book starts with his wife shaking him awake in the middle of the night to inform him that it is time they went their own separate ways. This news comes as their only child, Albie, prepares to go away to Art School to study photography, and as they are about to embark on a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe as a family.

The depiction of Douglas is so detailed you feel as though he is a great friend, somebody you know everything about and love despite his occasionally despicable actions, generally involving his son, who he has never understood, nor felt understood by. This relationship hits home as a parent as well as as a child. There is so much as a child that you cannot possibly ‘get’ about your parents, no matter how much you know of them. And as a teenager, so often you are so wrapped up in your own concerns, how can you possibly be expected to care what your parents are going through?

The book is as much about the interaction between chaos and order as it is about human relationships, and this is where the subtext lies. He says, of Connie’s superior parenting ability: “…she never seemed resentful – or only occasionally – of the hours and days and weeks that he consumed, the attention he demanded, the irrational tears, the trail of destruction and spilt pain and mashed carrot that he left behind, never repulsed or angered by the vomit that stained our new sofa, the poo that found its way into the cracks between the floorboards…”

Douglas’s own reaction to this chaos of childhood was to try and force it to be ordered, through gluing together lego sets (I recently watched The Lego Movie, there are echoes of the dad in this with Douglas’ actions), through trying to encourage his way of thinking in his child. As an only child, I can understand this imbalance of parenting between two parents, and I felt I understood a little more about my own father’s reactions to my own life choices from this.

This is a wonderful trip through Europe and a family’s relationships, which is funny, truthful, and very well written. I recommend it to anybody as a great read this coming summer.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Us
by David Nicholls
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN 9780340896990