Michelle Styles on Speaking Your Words in Foreign Tongues

All week long we have been talking about "unusual historicals" on The RT Daily Blog. And we knew our coverage would not be complete without addressing the changes a story can undergo when being marketed to readers around the world. So today, author Michelle Styles chats about her own “accidentally global” writing career and discusses some of the ways that historical romance readers' tastes vary from country to country.

Many years ago when I was growing up in California, I didn’t give much thought to what people read in other countries. I assumed it was pretty much as it was in my local library or bookstore. It was only after marrying and moving permanently to the UK, that I realised it was a great big world out there and historical romance was very different. Back in the late 80’s westerns dominated the US historical market while in the UK, clogs and shawls sagas such as those by Dame Catherine Cookson dominated. Mills and Boon (the UK imprint of Harlequin) was the only one who published the more aspirational historical. But it was a major shock to my reading habits and my sister used to send me care parcels of my favourite US historical authors. 

When I sold my first historical to Harlequin, I suddenly realised how large the worldwide market was as my books kept be printing in country after country. A personal highlight for me was when I went into Czech, my name changed to Michelle Stylesova. For Irish and now Scottish medieval author, Michelle Willingham, it was when she received a copy of one of her Russian translated books. There is something about seeing your words in an alphabet you can read. As Donald Maass said in his book, The Career Novelist, sub-rights or sales to other markets is a key factor in the long term financial success of an author but it is also something that many authors do not consider initially consider. Medieval historical romance author Margaret Moore recently commented on her blog, how a book she penned 18 years is still being translated into new languages and earning her money. 

Of the major historical romance publishers, Harlequin with offices in 15 markets has the largest and most comprehensive reach. Historicals are published in 14 of those (including India) and will be launched in Turkey in 2011. Harlequin also license titles beyond those 15 markets. Each of the offices operates independently and chooses their titles based on the individual market’s preferences.  

As an overseas editor explained to me several years ago, they find the books through Harlequin’s internal database as well as publications like the RT Book Reviews but always it is based what their specialised knowledge of what their readership wants. And the readership desires do differ. For example, Germany has never been a Regency driven historical market.  

Kris Alice Hohls, the editor of the German romance magazine LoveLetter, explains "[it] has been a problem for German editors, as they would get offered nothing but Regency historicals from US publishers. Regency historicals have gained a larger readership in recent years (due mostly to Julia Quinn I'd say), but German readers are always happy to find highlander, knights, vikings and pirates in their books. The straight historical fiction market is huge over here and the setting can be any country and any era." 

Hohls also believes that well researched books are an important key to the German readers’ enjoyment of historical. "Another thing German editors have a problem with and why they won't buy certain books/authors is that they encounter too many (historical) mistakes." 

Italy, France and Japan have a marked taste for the medieval as well as the Regency. Harlequin Greece publishes one Regency and one Unusual Historical per month. Still other markets tend to publish mostly traditional Regency.  

According to the senior editor of Harlequin Historical, Linda Fildew, "what readers in the overseas markets respond well to are multilayered, emotionally intense stories which are well paced, well characterised and well researched, and where the main focus is on the developing relationship between the hero and heroine. I believe this is what Harlequin Historicals bring them, book after book." She also confirmed that the overseas markets’ desire for other times periods and settings is something they take into consideration when they acquire new authors and books. In fact it has led them to take the lead in opening up new time periods to romance readers from ancient Rome to most recently Jeannie Lin’s Chinese set medievals and Ashley Radcliff’s Japanese set ones.   

So it is worth remembering that although the US market is the largest market, other markets are also hungry for different time periods. And the world is not just limited to one time period. 

- Michelle Styles

You can read the American version of Michelle Styles’ latest historical romance, A Question of Impropriety, on sale now!