Cracking the Amazon eBook market is hard and I’m under no illusion as to what I’m trying to do with my particular book, Zululand Snow. I recently made the comment to a couple of mates that, “cracking Amazon would be the equivalent of breaking into the American Top 40 with an Afrikaans liekie.” And this got me to thinking. Few would dispute that the international accent for chart topping songs is overwhelmingly American. For whatever reason, the market demands this, and what the market demands it largely gets. And so we have a whole smorgasbord of South African, Australian, Irish, English and New Zealand singers to name a few all belting out their home-grown tunes in pseudo American twang. And we love it. Almost anything else just sounds dodgy. I’m no martyr either: alone in my car I can belt out Mumford and Sons with the best of them, in flawless hill-billy of course. My local Durban Drone just doesn’t cut it. I’ve tried and it sounds kak. Try bawling ‘I Will Wait’ or ‘Little Lion Man’ in Durbanese and you’ll see what I mean. And I bet it sounds crap in any of the West London dialects as well. There are exceptions to the chart topping rules, of course. Die Antwoord springs to mind. But hey, I’m South African and, poetic as their stuff is, I can barely understand what they’re saying. Nope, for most vocal artists, an American accent is the way to go if you want to make it internationally.
What then for writing? Does the same hold true? I believe it does, whether we like it or not. Most of the media we consume stems from the States or the UK. Little wonder then that, possibly even subconsciously, we might find ourselves drifting toward the inevitable stereotype. The most obvious example can be found within the Fantasy genre. In the literary coup of the last century, someone in some dingy classroom somewhere signed the monopoly on Fantasy Fiction over to The British Isles. Wanna write Fantasy? I bet by the end of page one you’ll find yourself being pulled in the direction of a Medieval Britain. Your characters, will drink ale from flagons and say things like “Tis” or “Begone foul cur!” Why? It’s freakin fantasy. You can make up whatever you want! And yet few do. Most will stick to the tried and trusted Game of Thrones style. That’s what readers want. I’m not knocking it, if I wrote Fantasy, I’d probably do the same. It somehow just feels authentic for the genre. The big dogs have created the market and if us ankle snappers want to feed at the trough we need to behave. But should we? Should we internationalise our local stories to make them appeal to the widest possible audience? Would I have been better off stripping out every South Africanism in my story? Kinda goes against the grain. In the end it’s probably about getting the balance right. Local is lekker and all that, but overdo it at your peril. And yet it’s precisely that concentrated local flavour that makes us non US citizens love stories from, say, the American Deep South. (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple to name a couple). If Tom Sawyer had grown up on the banks of the Tugela rather than The Mississippi, peppering his speech with “Yuslikes!” and all other aspects of his story remained the same, would he have become such an international hit? I doubt it.
So…feed the market or try and market your feed? I don’t have the answer. For now, as a fledgling author, I’m going with my gut and sticking with the simple mantra of “Write what you know”. It feels right, it feels authentic. It feels good to be charging into battle waving that flag….and who knows, I may yet conquer a koppie or two.