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over the past couple of years and thought he must have just been plucked from obscurity when Warner Brothers saw the unpublished manuscript of American Blood and optioned it.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

Satirist With Good Sense Of Humour Seeks Kindness and Lies, at Dunedin Writers and Readers festival

ODWRF imagen stage there were three chairs, three tumblers and a glass jug that would be a weapon in the wrong hands. Up they came, a pair of satirists bisected by a crime writer. The wall behind them was bare and white. In the absence of background colour (which tone would readers match to satire?) they would be forced to rely on wit and anecdote. On personal charm and vitriol: on revelation.

Lisa Scott spoke first, of Feedback from Readers. At one end of the continuum: a box of chocolates. At the other: a drawing of an appendage. (Hard to know, she said, if that was positive or negative feedback.) And a copy in the mail of a column of hers, with errors marked in red pen, a score of three out of ten and in capitals SEE ME.

pp_steve_braunias‘Always in capital letters’, commented Steve Braunias (left), then he spoke too of feedback. There have been communications that have stood out, he said. An invitation to use a private house and pool in Fiji. He’s going in October. (Anyone who reads Braunias will not be surprised by such an offer. He’s quite explicit and unembarrassed in his solicitations.) But on the darker side, a letter writer in a prominent public position “crossed the line” by labelling him ugly and questioning if this trait will pass on to his daughter. Braunias went after the letter writer, strongly enough to be fired from his column- writing job by the national publication’s recently-arrived editor (“a weakling and a nincompoop”– the audience gasped) “Columnists come and go,” wrote the editor. “Editors come and go,” wrote Braunias. They were both correct. Five minutes in and we had already received our money’s worth.

Lisa-Scott-portrait-640pxVanda Symon, with an ongoing excellent sense of when to place questions and how to maintain momentum, asked the two writers what they regarded to be the role of satire. “A fire starter,” said Scott (right). “A mirror held up to naked emperors. If you’re going to bare your ankles at me, I’ll bite them.” Braunias: “Satire is good for evoking situations and people as they really are. If you want to depict John Key, satire might be more effective than the positive descriptions chorused by most political commentators.” Symon asked if satire might have an effect on the behaviour of politicians and other subjects, to perhaps keep them honest? “God no, terrible question, three out of ten.”

The session moved on, following a certain rhythm. A question would be asked. If it was a tough one, Braunias, his untucked shirt rumpling before our eyes, would say “Lisa…?” and Scott would answer first. She spoke of her terror of deadlines, of hate mail, of the regret at hurting people’s feelings, of the women who have helped her along the way. She said that it was a pleasure and a privilege to be a paid writer, to have a national and in particular, a local audience. Braunias agreed that this was a wonderful thing. That he, too, owed his breaks to “really nice people.”

He said that he crossed the wide line between satire and slander rather too easily; he has been sued successfully any number of times. “It’s just a path you stumble along and next thing you know you’re fucked.” He was weary and laconic about his lapses in taste and judgement, about his column that took as its subject the otherwise heroic Julian Assange, who tweeted hostilely in response. “Oh Julian,” sighed Steve and reached once more for his long-empty tumbler.

The satirists and the crime writer had drunk the jug dry, drawn deeply from the well of personal experience, hit us with humour, honesty and talent. And a fair amount of grace. Amazing. It had been a revelatory hour, yet another one in an autumn festival filled with excellent hours.

Satirist with GSOH seeks Kindness and Lies: Lisa Scott and Steve Braunias, with Vanda Symon
Saturday, 9 May

Reviewed by Aaron Blaker

Check out  WORD Christchurch Festival and Auckland Writer’s Festival for future events featuring Steve Braunias.