Ask Alice: How do Australian young adult authors get published overseas, and is it happening more?
Ask Alice is an online column produced by the #LoveOzYA team, and written by our Secretary, Alice Boer-Endacott, who has published several young adult fantasy novels and a non-fiction essay.
Ask Alice is designed to unpack all aspects of the Australian young adult literary scene, so if you’ve got a question, go ahead and Ask Alice!
Frank Sinatra famously sang in reference to New York: “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere.”
If you prefer a more contemporary and pessimistic approach, there’s also Jay-Z: “It’s a pity half of y’all won’t make it.”
Although New York isn’t necessarily the epicentre of the world (although I don’t think it’s a good idea to submit that claim to a New Yorker), there does seem to be a pervading belief that if you can ‘break in’ to the American market as a creative person from Australia, you’ve actually ‘made it’.
There are a few reasons for this. A lot of them make sense, like the fact that America’s population of 359.5 million sliiiightly outpaces Australia’s 25.7 million, meaning you’re immediately in touch with a far larger audience if your work gets a run on US soil.
It’s a principle that holds true for a lot of overseas territories: the United Kingdom has 67.22 million people, Germany, 83.24 million.
There are also reasons beyond the obvious economic benefit as to why Australian authors would want their books to be published in foreign markets.
Among them is also the fact that while we here in Australia are practically swimming amid a plethora of overseas titles, it’s rare for stories that are the product of a lived Australian experience and voice to be part of the literary landscape of overseas bookshelves.
If you manage it, you’ve got a good chance of standing out.
This all said, the how and why of getting Australian books into overseas markets is a bit of a mystery (I mean, all of publishing is a bit of a mystery).
And I love a mystery, especially when I can solve it.
To answer this month’s question about Australian authors’ experiences in overseas territories, I reached out to several lovely figures within the #LoveOzYA community to draw upon their knowledge and experience.
First of all, the how. . .
How do Australian young adult authors get published in overseas markets? How does it work?
Tobias Madden, author of Anything But Fine and forthcoming Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell, both of which have US publication rights, can help answer this one.
“The two most common ways to get an Aussie book traditionally published in the US are 1) the way I did it, where an agent sells into the US and Australia separately, and 2) when an agent sells ‘world rights’ to an Aussie publisher, and that publisher then sells the North American rights to a US publisher (which usually only happens if the book finds a reasonable amount of success here first),” Tobias says.
“There’s also a third option, which is selling world rights to a US publisher, who will likely be able to sell the rights to their Australian or UK counterparts, who will then sell into those territories.
“For this to happen, a book would likely need to be set in America (if it’s contemporary) or in a fantasy/speculative world.”
For others, it was a matter of deliberately seeking a US-based agent to try to ensure overseas publication.
Ellie Marney, author of New York Times Bestseller None Shall Sleep (the sequel for which I personally am awaiting with great excitement), and forthcoming The Killing Code, explains:
“I got a publishing deal in the US market the only way I know it’s possible to do it: by pitching a [None Shall Sleep] to a new American agent.”
This tactic was echoed by Hayli Thomson, author of recently released The Comedienne’s Guide to Pride, which is set in America.
“My agent, Bridget Smith, is based in New York, and with the story set in Salem, Massachusetts and about an American teen who is named a finalist for a Saturday Night Live internship, the U.S. was the first market we approached with the manuscript,” she says.
“After securing the deal for U.S. rights, we held onto Australian rights, and Australian rights found the most wonderful home at HarperCollins Australia.”
However, a US (or UK) agent isn’t a must.
Australian literary agent powerhouse Alex Adsett, whose agency represents authors such as Isobel Carmody, Lisa Fuller, and Jodi McAlister, says – like so many things in publishing – it all comes down to the merits of the individual book.
“Australian publishers and agents continue to try to break into the US, UK and translation markets, and as they always have, do a remarkable job placing titles into those markets,” Alex says.
“I’m seeing some great wins from publishers, but these are more standalone books, rather than part of a trend.
“The books I’m seeing do best tend to SFF YA, not contemporary or strongly Australian, but it sometimes just takes the right book to start a new trend.”
It’s worth pausing here to take a quick aside and note that getting an agent doesn’t automatically guarantee publication.
Agents can have clients on their lists for quite some time before they find the right home for a project.
“It was difficult to get some of the US editors to consider an Australian YA novel for their lists, but I eventually found a fantastic editor to champion my stories,” Tobias says.
And on top of that, an additional caveat: being published in an overseas market isn’t a silver bullet for international success.
Alex says it’s imperative to find a publisher overseas with a passion for your book and a brilliant marketing strategy, so your international release is a successful one.
But getting the publishing deal isn’t where the work ends.
What happens after you’ve secured an international publishing deal?
First, the homegrown book needs to be prepared for its specific, non-home market.
Tobias says he’s heard some “horror stories” about this part of the process, but thankfully didn’t have this experience with his work.
“I’ve heard . . . of Aussie authors having to make drastic (and unnecessary) changes to their work when preparing it for the US market,” he says.
“My story stayed exactly the same, and we only made minor changes to Aussie slang, plus the usual Americanis(z)ations.”
In a similar, yet distinct vein, is the importance of the author acknowledging that they are working in a different cultural environment.
“There are work culture differences I wasn’t expecting (different holidays, summer work hours etc),” Ellie says.
“It’s a lot more than simply converting Australian spelling to American spelling, and sending the book on its way.”
Ellie says the “machinery” of publishing is much larger in the US, and the prep work that goes into a book’s production is done a long way in advance.
As is the case with all books, the next step is working to ensure the product gets into the hands of readers.
How do you build a readership in an overseas market?
According to Tobias, getting lucky and receiving endorsement from well-known writers in the foreign market can be really powerful.
“I was lucky enough to have some truly brilliant US authors read and endorse Anything But Fine, and their support was instrumental in getting the book into the hands of the right US readers,” he says.
Social media is also a vital part of the promotional machine.
Hayli says: “I was so surprised by the power of social media in opening up conversations with the very generous international book-loving community […] from the moment I stepped onto socials, I’ve been welcomed to chat [with people] from all over the world.”
“There are zero barriers between continents when it comes to Booktok and Bookstagram.”
So does this all mean we should expect a huge surge in Australian titles being published in overseas markets?
Not necessarily, says Alex.
“While we have some incredible Australian YA making a splash overseas, I’m going to be a little pessimistic and say that I’m not sure there is an overall swing in Australian YA titles overseas,” she says.
“There are some incredible breakout books like Ellie Marney’s None Shall Sleep . . . and new international bestsellers like Vanessa Len.
“But we have had breakouts like this before, and as brilliant as it is, it has not yet led to a sustained demand for Australian YA overall.”
Which shouldn’t, dear Reader (or Writer, or Publisher), be a source of despair.
Being published overseas isn’t a prerequisite for ‘real literary success’, or even necessarily right for every homegrown young adult story.
Maybe we should suggest a small tweak to Mr Sinatra’s best-known ballad?
If I can make it there – or here, or wherever my story best belongs! – I can make it anywhere.