Alter Language Or Not?

If you're an indie author, chances are that you are selling to an international market. Amazon just expanded our reach by welcoming France to the Kindle family and gave all of us authors a tab to click to view our French sales.

With Kindle, you can sell English language editions here in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Germany, and now France and receive that 70% royalty if you price at 2.99 and above. I know I've made several hundreds of sales to U.K. and dozens to Germany.

My Smashwords sales report, via their distribution to Apple Bookstores, show hundreds of sales to the U.S., Canada, Australia, the U.K., Germany, and France.

Work On International Appeal?

A while back I participated in an online discussion about whether an author should specifically try to appeal to international markets by changing their use of language. I found the discussion interesting, but I don't think changing the way we write is of little value even if one could do such a thing.

Sure, I've read books by American authors in which characters measure mileage in kilometers rather than miles and weigh in kilograms rather than pounds. To me, stuff like that sticks out like a sore thumb because I know it was in the book simply to make the book more acceptable to international audiences who use those measurements. In other words, the author probably didn't write it that way. The editor changed it.

Trust me, if someone asks how far it is from Houston to San Antonio, I'm not going to say about 300 kilometers. I'm going to say about 185 miles. (Actually, here in Texas, we measure distances more by time so I'd be more inclined to say about 3 1/2 hours.)

Intrusive Language

I think it's a bad thing any time author intrusion--or editorial intrusion--makes a reader stop and think: "Why the heck is he using kilometers when he's an American?"

If someone in England reads one of my books--and many do--I don't think they're going to throw the book down in disgust and exclaim: "She wrote miles, not kilometers!" I give the rest of the world credit for having enough intelligence to know that we here in the U. S. don't use the metric system. I know they probably think we're scientifically backward, but that's part of our culture and something that makes the reading experience specific to this country.

When I'm writing, I never think about changing my use of language in order to make it more understandable to someone in the UK. I'd feel pretentious if I used gaol rather than jail, for instance. Wherever the reader is, let him "feel" the setting by the author's use of language. The text in a book--the words used--are part of the layering process that makes a setting seem real.

Small Town Girl

Most of my books are set in Texas or other places in the South. Were I to edit the manuscript to appeal to international readers, I'd be changing the milieu of the background setting. Not to mention alienating every reader in this country who "knows" how people in Texas and the South are supposed to sound.

I figure if someone in Germany wants to read a book by an American about someone in Texas, they're looking for the cultural element of that experience. When I read a book by an English author that is set in England, I like the cultural differences of language because it gives me a deeper "Brit" experience. That's part of the joy of reading--immersing oneself in other cultures.

If I don't understand a reference, I can look it up. There are plenty of standard dictionaries online as well as urban and cultural references too. So write your books the way they come to you. Don't get caught up in how other writers do it; just do it your way.

Takeaway Truth

Vive la différence!


  1. Btw, I forgot to mention the latest announcement from Smashwords.

    Through their connection with Apple Bookstores, you can now sell to 26 new countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

  2. I totally agree with you. I enjoy reading books from other countries and it's the language usage that brings the story alive and you feel you are there. Love all of your blogs. Thanks for the hard work.

  3. Juanita Olson ... Why, thank you, Juanita. Nice words are always appreciated.

    Best wishes,
    Joan Reeves