The Challenges of Becoming an International Writer


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.


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.


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.


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.

Why the Heck Can’t She Just Use a Ray Gun? Tess Gerritsen

Tess Gerritsen left a
successful practice as an internist to raise her children and
concentrate on her writing. She gained nationwide acclaim for her first
novel of medical suspense, the New York Times bestseller Harvest. She is
also the author of the bestsellers Life Support, Bloodstream, Gravity, and The Surgeon. Tess lives with her family in Maine. (PHOTO CREDIT: Paul D’Innocenzo) –as appeared her blog.

I’m a very lucky writer. All my published books, going back to 1987,
are still in print. That’s 25 years’ worth of my stories, still
available to readers, and still selling — which makes me very happy

But it also leads to some strange misunderstandings by readers who
pick up one of my older books. They think I must be living in a time
warp because my details are so horribly out of date. I try to
explain to them that a certain book isn’t actually contemporary because
it was written, oh, twenty five years ago. But then they start to argue
that even then, I was already out of date.

Take, for instance, my book HARVEST. It was written in
1995. In the story, my character hunts around for a pay phone to make a
very important call. Several characters, in fact, can’t reach certain
people because they can’t find a landline. A reader took me to task for
that, complaining that I was a moron because didn’t I know the
northeast has cell towers? Everyone has a cell phone!

Well, no. In 1995, only a few doctors had cell phones. Most doctors
carried beepers. I remember a discussion at our local hospital around
that time, whether the medical group should buy one cell phone to be
shared by all the doctors, who’d use it while on call. I tried to
explain this to the cranky reader, but he remains unconvinced. In his
mind, everyone was using cell phones in 1995, and there’s no way I could
ever convince him I was right. (As if I’d write a book in 1995 and
purposefully ignore current technology.)

I was also taken to task for VANISH, about an incriminating
videotape that must be hand-delivered to a reporter. One reader thought
my characters were idiots because they could have shared the video with
the whole world by simply posting it on YouTube. D’oh! Why didn’t I
think of that?

Well, I wish I had thought of it, because I’d be worth a fortune.
The book was written in 2004. YouTube came into existence in 2005. If
only I had invented YouTube.

And consider the weirdly anachronistic details in my very first book, CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT.
Written in 1986, it was partly set in Berlin, where my heroine must
navigate a city where tensions run high because of the Berlin Wall.
Which was still standing in 1986.

Yes, readers. I’m fully aware that the Wall came down in 1989.
Please, no more letters asking how I could be so woefully ignorant of

With the rapid changes in technology, and the fact that your backlist
will now forever stay in print thanks to e-books, other authors must be
facing the same criticism. “Why didn’t your character just use a fax
machine?” “How could he get lost when he could have used a GPS?”

In another few decades, we’ll hear readers complain: “What’s with the
cops using Glocks? Why didn’t Jane Rizzoli just set her ray gun on

It won’t satisfy anyone to point out that the book was written thirty
years earlier. Because by then we’ll have time travel, and you’ll have
no excuse.

Please, readers. Before you fire off a letter to an author
complaining she’s behind the times, check the copyright date. And
remember that books are usually written a year before they’re actually
published. An author can’t be blamed for not knowing what the world
will look like a year (or more) in the future.