The Challenges of Becoming an International Writer

international-author-tips

by David Rawlings, @DavidJRawlings

Since the Internet shrank the world – and social media put us in touch with everyone everywhere – there are now opportunities to be an international writer. We can go beyond the borders. Suddenly our audiences aren’t well-meaning family and the biggest segment of our city we can reach. Now we can potentially reach the world with our stories.

Being an international writer sounds so cool, doesn’t it? You might picture a foreign language version of your cover, or flying across the globe to attend a conference.

international-author-tips

Early on in my fiction writing journey, I felt led to go for the globe, and if that meant I wanted to write inspirational fiction based on my Christian beliefs, then I needed to focus on the marketplace in the USA.

The trouble is I’m 8,000 miles away.  It didn’t make the job impossible, just harder, and it did raise some challenges. If you’re an American writer, focused on the American market, these are challenges you may not even know exist.

Understanding the culture of your marketplace

I’m an Aussie but writing for an American marketplace, so that means I need to speak a different language when I write. That doesn’t mean I have to type in a Texas drawl, or add extra letter As to get the hard Boston vowel sound, but I do need to ensure that my analogies, phrases, spelling and grammar are seamless for a reader in the USA.

For my latest manuscript, it meant changing my language to call an airbridge (the Aussie term) a jetway (an American term),  put temperatures in Fahrenheit (we use Celsius) and refer to Senators rather than Members of Parliament (we have both, but you don’t have the latter).

Hey, that’s fine. I spend my time researching the right flavor of latte for my protagonist to drink anyway. I’ve already blogged about the things I need to relearn after a career as a corporate writer, and one of the key things was the need to do your homework to ensure you are speaking the language of your reader. It just adds more research to the process.

writing-novel-start

And it also means that earlier in this blog post, I had to convert my language (13,154 kilometers) into American language (8,000 miles). And I had to misspell kilometres at the same time.

Distance

Personal connection is so important in any industry, but it is vital in writing.

We need to stem the smothering isolation by connecting with others to tell us that the last paragraph we wrote wasn’t the worst thing ever committed to paper, and in that I’m including the rough draft of the lyrics for Achy Breaky Heart.

It helps to pitch face-to-face or put a face to the name on the submission. It can be better to catch someone over coffee at a Conference than risk your proposal sliding into the spam folder.

But personal connection can be difficult when you’re physically distant, and are only communicating via social media and email.  You don’t have that same connection.

What it does do is ensure your connection through social media is more meaningful. It should be anyway, so it forces to you to use social media to connect, not just post for the sake of posting. It means you follow up comments and likes with words of thanks or continuing a conversation. It should be anyway. And because the first port of call for people is your web site, it means your blog is updated on a regular basis. Which it should be anyway.  It means that you painstakingly select the right conference to go to. Which you should anyway.

Oh, and God bless Skype.

Time zones

An extension of the distance is the difference in time. I have small windows of opportunity where I know people in the USA will be upright and awake … at the same time as me.

It takes a little more organization, but it can be overcome.  It means I have mentoring sessions or chats with my agent earlier in the day than I’d like, but it’s a necessity to chat at 7 a.m. And it saves you having 2 a.m. Skype calls. Nobody wants to have a sane, lucid chat at 2 a.m. in the morning. Nobody.

And the time difference also slows down conversations. I often find that I’ll get key emails or messages from people overnight, so that instantly adds twelve hours to any exchange.

So they are some of the challenges of being an international writer. Perhaps you have others.  I’d like to hear them.

It’s important to realize these are just the challenges – and it’s not all hard work. Being an international writer also gives you some advantages that locally-based authors simply don’t have.

I’ll cover them in my next blog post.


Based in South Australia, David Rawlings is a sports-mad father-of-three with his own copywriting business who reads everything within an arm’s reach.  He has published in the non-fiction arena and is now focused on writing contemporary Christian stories for those who want to dive deeper into life. His manuscripts have finaled in competitions for ACFW and OCW and he is currently represented by The Steve Laube Agency.

What if your word for the year is something you don’t like?‎

by David Rawlings, @DavidJRawlings

Everyone seems to be doing a “word for the year.”

Last year I decided to do it too. Being the thinking overachiever that I am, I decided that my word for 2017 would be Published.

It felt right. This was my goal, and it made sense that I would have a word that would lead me there.

Then God stepped in.  As I was praying about it, I felt strongly that He had something else in mind, and wanted me to focus on something else.  In fact, He wanted me to focus on two something elses.

And God has a sense of humor. The fun thing was that both of those words started with P as well, but they were Patience and Production.

I wasn’t really that thrilled with it.

I’d already spent a year approaching agents and publishers with my first manuscript. I’d built my platform and connected with other writers. I’d already been productive. And I certainly didn’t want to know that I just needed to be more patient.

So I settled into 2017 somewhat reluctantly, with those two words clunking around the back of my head. But I kept bringing them back to God, and those words came to fit. I settled into Production, developing my second manuscript and working with a mentor – Jim Rubart – on ideas to build my profile and  platform.  Patience was a harder fit, but I kept working as I waited – on God, on publishers and on agents.

June rolled around. My Patience was tested with no answers. But I kept leaning into Production.

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No surprise, but a few months later in the year God was proven right. My second manuscript – developed because I was being Productive while being Patient – was the one that interested Steve Laube, who is now my agent.

And Steve said two things to me when he submitted my novel to publishers on my behalf: now we wait, so get busy on manuscript number three.

Those two words again.

So my third novel is now well underway, and I finished 2017 with my chosen word – Published – nowhere in sight. But if I’d ignored those other two words, I wouldn’t have written the novel that landed an agent and that publishers are now interested in.

I’ve since been thinking about a word for 2018, and decided that I should probably learn my lesson and pray about it first.

My word for 2018 also starts with the letter P.  God must love alliteration as much as I do.

That word is Present.

There are two ways it applies to 2018: God needs to be present in my writing.  For me to do justice to the story He’s entrusted me with, He needs to be a part of it, as I write it.

I also need to be living in the present when it comes to my writing.   This will be the bigger challenge: because I’m pushing ahead trying to float my work past industry (well, my agent is … thanks Steve           !) I need to stop thinking about that moment when the manuscript will hit the right publisher at the right time.

That’s not the present.

I will also be pushing back on encroaching thoughts about finalist nominations from last year.. I need to stop replaying those conversations where someone validated my writing and, in turn, me.

That’s not the present.

What is the present?  Writing the next paragraph. Answering the next character question. Crafting and culling my word count as the story ebbs and flows.

It’s writing this blog post.

That’s the present.

And that will be my challenge. To let that word both guide and inspire my writing from the first days of 2018, not when I eventually get comfortable with it.

So, if I could be so bold, is there a word you need to accept to guide your writing in 2018?  And if so, what is it?


Based in South Australia, David Rawlings is a sports-mad father-of-three with his own copywriting business who reads everything within an arm’s reach.  He has published in the non-fiction arena and is now focused on writing contemporary Christian stories for those who want to dive deeper into life. His manuscripts have finaled in competitions for ACFW and OCW and he is currently represented by The Steve Laube Agency.

Five Things I Relearned to Be A Fiction Writer

by David Rawlings, @DavidJRawlings

When I started writing fiction, I did what everyone does when at the start of a journey.

I looked forward.

With an excited deep breath, I developed my story ideas, built my platform and sought to be inspired by best-selling author blog posts, while dreaming of joining them.

But when I got that one judge’s feedback on my first fiction ACFW competition, I realized I didn’t need to look forward, I needed to look back.

I had been writing professionally for twenty-five years (I’m a freelance journalist and copywriter when I want to get paid for writing) when I felt the nudge to write fiction. I thought it would be an easy transition; an extension of what I was already doing. After all, I’d clocked up thousand-word days for decades.

But while the judge in the Genesis contest loved the story idea and characters, they were politely enquiring as to my grasp of the English language. So why the harsh feedback? With me, writing fiction was a whole different kettle of fish, and that kettle was half-way around the world. That was what the Genesis judge didn’t know – I wasn’t speaking American English because I’m not American.

I’m an Aussie, born in the land of Hugh Jackman and Thor.

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That may not sound like a big deal as our cultures are similar, but my readers spell differently, use grammar differently and have different turns of phrase. While I could write blindfolded, there were ten-year-olds in Boston whose American English was more consistent than mine.

Let me show you what I mean: colour, recognise, finallist. This Australian English spelling has served me well since I was a sports journalist at nineteen, but to my readers’ American eyes they’re mistakes that wouldn’t get me past round one in the Wenatchee School District Spelling Bee.

So I realized I would have to relearn the very skill I’d honed over a career because my new marketplace demanded it. It was like jumping into the driver’s seat after spending years behind the wheel, but needing a driving instructor because now I was driving on the other side of the road.

I needed to do more than just type with an American accent. There were five things I needed to relearn, and I’ve found that other authors have had to relearn them as well.  This might be your experience too.

  1. Unlearning some of what you’ve learned. I once had an English teacher who claimed Shakespeare was the pinnacle of great writing and all fiction should aspire to follow the Bard. That’s just not true. I truly admire Shakespeare’s turns of phrase and mastery of language, but I’m writing contemporary fiction, which requires different structure and different pacing. “Out damn spot!” would only work if my antagonist had a naughty dog and liked cussing.Another teacher taught us to be as descriptive as possible, even if it took pages to paint a picture, and demanded ten variations of the word “said” in every piece. Again, not useful for my genre and I don’t even use those tags anymore. The key to unlearning was a shift in focus towards what my potential readers want and away from some kind of English Literature professor ideal.
  2. Cherrypicking the best knowledge from school. There are some things that haven’t changed from high school English – the basics of grammar, spelling, and style. I scoffed at our journalism professor when he held up a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style back in 1990 and told us we’d need this for the rest of our lives. He was right, only for me, it has taken on greater significance. I need it for a writing career of a different kind, and I’m glad I kept the book. But the biggest lesson was one I learned on day one of my journalism studies: know your audience. That advice is very relevant now. What they think matters and a focus on them is absolutely critical when producing a story that captivates them from the front-of-book dedication to the epilogue.
  3. Unlearning what you’ve picked up along the way. Sometimes you have to unravel the lessons picked up in the workplace. If you’ve written in business, you would have adopted business writing style or had any creativity beaten out of you with the constant “that’s just how we write things here around here!” I’ve had to do this based on my work in the corporate world, where some clients have a style which tempts me to break rules I once held as sacrosanct. Deprogramming takes a while, and means when you get serious about fiction, you need to …
  4. Learn to care again. One of the issues I find with writing today is the sacrifice of quality for speed. I run corporate workshops about writing and run headlong into this belief that good writing is an optional extra; the fact it was written was enough for the box to be ticked. Why it matters has been lost due to the choking grip of time. I found when I changed gear to fiction that I needed to care again about getting it right – that my half-thought-out 11p.m. tweet dropped into the rushing rapids of social media wasn’t good enough.The corners I had cut to keep clients happy needed to be stuck back on. I had to remember my first love for language, and realize that it mattered, even if it did add some time to the process.
  5. Going against the flow. Life wants you to do things faster. Social media demands responses in an instant. I’ve spent a career meeting deadlines that pop up like targets on a shooting range, but I had to rethink my approach to time. My writing requires the exact opposite of a fast-lane mentality. Storylines don’t emerge, they percolate. My characters don’t always leap onto the page, sometimes they distill over two drafts. For my second manuscript, which my agent currently has in front of several publishers, I wrote the opening line last. The hook took that long to come.

The feedback from that judge hurt when I read the scoresheet, but as more water has passed under the bridge and I’ve waded deeper into the waters of fiction writing, I’ve realized just how valuable it has been. It has forced me not to just to rethink but to relearn writing in a way that’s seen my writing develop to a point where it’s on the cusp of fulfilling its potential.

The next year, that same manuscript was a Genesis finalist, and I was on my way. I hope the judge was the same person and noticed the difference.


Based in South Australia, David Rawlings is a sports-mad father-of-three with his own copywriting business who reads everything within an arm’s reach.  He has published in the non-fiction arena and is now focused on writing contemporary Christian stories for those who want to dive deeper into life. His manuscripts have finaled in competitions for ACFW and OCW and he is currently represented by The Steve Laube Agency.