1. AgathaChristie

    AgathaChristie New Member

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    Publishing fiction in English as a non-native speaker not living in an English-speaking country

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by AgathaChristie, Aug 5, 2018.

    Hi everyone,

    first off - I'm new to this forum, so nice to meet you all !

    I was just wondering if any non-native English speakers here have successfully managed to find an agent and publish their English-language work of fiction, and if anyone has any advice on this.

    I live in Germany but write in English. Strangely, I feel more comfortable expressing myself in this language as compared to my mother tongue - probably owing to having read almost exclusively English-language literature for many years. I'm also in love with its sound ! I'm currently (not unexpectedly) having huge trouble finding an agent in an English-speaking country for my completed debut novel. So far I only got rejections, dozens of them...


    Curious to find out if there are other people who are or used to be in this situation !


    Cheers
     
  2. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Member

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    Wellcome!

    Just yesterday I found out that one Finn with ALS have written with his eyes (can't move, can't speak) a book.

    Google Riku Mattila and try Google Translator to everything you find. If it does not work well, I'll help.

    Riku: "I have nothing to complain."

    In my understanding he does not have an agent.

    https://www.iltalehti.fi/terveysuutiset/201711022200482348_we.shtml
     
  3. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    Are you mentioning in your letters to agents that you are German, writing in English? If you are, I wouldn't; it's not something they need to know. And if you aren't, then probably you're just running into the same problem native English speakers encounter: it's really hard to get an agent.
     
  4. AgathaChristie

    AgathaChristie New Member

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    Hi, thanks for your replies !

    @BayView - yes, unfortunately I did mention that in every query, in the bio part. Your comment made me reconsider, I think I'll delete this sentence.
     
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  5. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Are you sure your MS meets SPAG standards? Even native speakers have trouble proof-reading their MS so, as a non-native speaker, you should probably have a native speaker read through your stuff.

    And yes definitely delete the part where you tell people you're German. The truth is, the agent shouldn't be able to tell you're foreign from your MS. Telling them you're foreign is going to predisposed them to looking for mistakes. Precisely because you're questioning if it's because you're foreign that you're getting rejected, it got me immediately wondering about your English and actively looking to see if you made any SPAG mistakes in your post. You don't want that sort of attention when querying :)
     
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  6. AgathaChristie

    AgathaChristie New Member

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    About drawing attention to the wrong questions - that's another good point, right !
     
  7. Jenissej

    Jenissej Member Supporter

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    Welcome!
    I'm in a similar situation as you are, for the same reasons. Only difference is, I haven't managed to finish anything novel-length yet so I can't really give input on your question. However, what I can confirm is, if your command of the language is good enough (and I'd assume yours is) people most likely won't notice you're not a native unless you tell them. Even native speakers make mistakes - think about the seid/seit issue, it's so common it is really not an indicator of whether someone is a native or not. So, good luck with your publishing. Ich drücke dir die Daumen. ;)
     
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  8. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Member

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    There is a barrier of assumptions.

    If your native language is anything else than English, you are supposed to be well know and sold in your home country. If you are not, "there must be some reason for that”.

    German markets are big. Why don't you translate your book to German language and offer it over there?

    If you can get it published and if it sells enough, it could be easier to get an agent.

    Now you kind of drop between different assumptions and it is not good place to be.
     
  9. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    But if he stops telling agents that English isn't his native language, then there's no reason for them to wonder that.
     
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  10. Jenissej

    Jenissej Member Supporter

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    I cannot follow your reasoning here. Why should that be? If they've only ever written in English, why would you assume they'd be published in their native language?
    The reason they are not well known and sold in Germany, I assume, is that they've never written anything publishable in German.

    Again, why? It's written in English, it would be a tremendous amount of work to translate it to German. And be aware, a translation will never be the same as the original, even if the author does it. Some things work in English but don't in German and vice versa. The tone will be different, jokes won't work as well and as @AgathaChristie mentioned, they feel more confident writing in English. (Which I can relate to. If I weren't fluent in English, it's likely I wouldn't be writing at all.)
    The German market may be big but it is no less competitive, so I don't see how trying to get an agent with a translated (and likely inferior) product would increase the odds.
     
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  11. VM80

    VM80 Contributor Contributor

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    Hi, welcome. I live in the UK and can confirm it can be very hard to find an agent. Lord knows I tried when I was actively pursuing 'this writing thing'.

    The market is simply over-saturated; more so than other European countries (that's been my experience).

    By all means keep on trying.
    I agree with keeping any query letter short and not giving too much infos.
     
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  12. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, certain mistakes are "native speaker's mistakes" - something like your, you're and the like. Or the extra comma between things that certainly look like clauses or where it's a matter of judgement whether it should be there. And other mistakes are distinctly "foreigner's mistakes", say, singulars and plurals. Those things do stand out. Preferably there should simply be no mistakes ;)

    That said, (I'm NOT published yet) I'm a believer that one or two typos or simple, non-consistent grammatical errors won't really harm your chances. It's pretty much a given there will be something. I'm a pretty darn good proofreader even of my own work and I still found 2 typos (out of 80,000 words, so that's quite all right). You're only in trouble if you have a mistake every page, or every other page. I once read someone's work where he had something like 15 typos out of 30 pages or so. It was too much. I was getting pissed off towards the end even though the writing was otherwise good. And this was an English native speaker :D
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2018
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  13. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Member

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    Agents are businessmen. They think money, markets, brand, scales....

    If it looks like some author is overlooking some big markets, it raises questions. And often businessmen don't buy given answers but rely answers of their own.

    It is a bit like this:

    "I have this car. I don't wan't to sell it anyone I know or anyone that lives around. I want to sell it to someone who lives thousands of kilometers away. I don't want to sell it near even if I get more money. And there is nothing wrong with the car."
    "Yeaah... Right. Sorry. I'm busy. I don't have time for THAT."
     
  14. Jenissej

    Jenissej Member Supporter

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    Fair enough (though I'd argue selling a physical object versus selling a clump of data is only comparable to some extent. Still, I see your point.)
    But as @ChickenFreak pointed out, if they don't mention where they're from, it won't matter.
     
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  15. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    So you just say "I have this car" and leave the rest of it out.

    Your solution is like having a perfectly good car, taking it completely apart, reassembling it into a totally different car, painting it, changing the seats and the upholstery and everything else, and THEN trying to sell it to the people close to you. A lot of work for no good reason.
     
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  16. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Your reasoning doesn't make sense. While it's true that, with a car, you'd question why you'd wanna sell it far away before selling it closer to home, that's just not the case when it comes to books. To start, you're basically asking, "Why would you wanna write in English rather than German?" 'Cause that's what it comes down to. Why don't you sell it in Germany where you are? Well, because the book hasn't been written in German. It's written in English. So why did you write it in English?

    The answer? It doesn't matter. What matters is: how good is your English? If it's native level and no one can tell the difference reading it that you're foreign, why would it matter? It doesn't say anything about the writer's writing skill level, and if it does, it can only be a positive. Here's someone who's mastered a second language to native level and written a book in it - it's nothing short of impressive.

    Nabokov did just fine publishing in English... While I'm aware we're not all Nabokovs, publishing directly in your second language (as opposed to having something translated) has certainly been done before.
     
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  17. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Member

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    Yeah. You can sell physical object only once.

    "Where you are from" will rise to topic. Timezones, distances, ability to meet someone when needed...

    When it is 14:00 in Finland, it is...
    13:00 in Berlin.
    12:00 in London
    07:00 in New York
    04:00 in Los Angeles

    Or something like that.

    You need to meet your agent few times? 500km or 7 000 or 9 300 is a big difference - in time, in money, in every way.
     
  18. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    But by that point, the agent will have decided to take you on as their client, so the fact that he'll know you're foreign wouldn't matter.

    There's also such a thing as Skype... You won't have to travel every time - and it's likely it'll be the author travelling, not the agent, so it's all out of your own pocket anyway. Timezone differences can be tricky but hey, international companies manage to have meetings between America and Europe all the time.
     
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  19. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    My agent has sold six books for me, including two to a Big Five publisher. We've never met in person.

    And we're not saying the author should never tell her agent where she lives. There's just no need to talk about it in the query letter.
     
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  20. Jenissej

    Jenissej Member Supporter

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    I'm aware of the concept of time differences.
    By the way, the time difference between London and Berlin is only -1 hour and it takes less time to fly between these places than it does to drive from Berlin to Munich. This is a weak argument since we're not necessarily talking about publishing in the US.
    And even if we are, you realize I don't have to know where you are to communicate with you? Every day business gets done without the involved parties seeing each other in person. It's not such a big obstacle. Face-to-face talks aren't needed if there's shared data to work on.
     
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  21. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    They're not overlooking big markets. This author writes in English. Germany is not an ideal market for an English-language work.

    The answer, whether given or researched, is that this author writes in English and therefore an English language market is the logical one to sell it to.
     
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  22. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Member

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    My point:

    An agent is a busy man. It is possible that he is not interested about how things are if he can do his job by assuming that things are easy only if proven easy.

    Barrier of assumptions is before reality and facts. You don't get to the facts if your letter goes to bin before that because of impressions, assumptions, imagination or false belief.

    Not one of these have anything to do with barrier of assumptions.

    I don't have anything more to say to this conversation.
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2018
  23. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    There's no "assumption" to be made if the agent doesn't even know the author isn't a native speaker.

    (Also, the majority of agents are busy women, but... carry on teaching us about the publishing world, please.)
     
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  24. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    A submission comes in, online, in English, with a cover letter in English. The cover letter stops mentioning that the author's native language is German.

    There's no data for making assumptions.

    In case it's not clear: The agent has no reason to assume that the author doesn't live in the US or England. None.
     
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  25. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    Or CANADA!!! (Or Australia, or...)
     
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