An American Werewolf Re-Visits London

Well, in the unlikely event you somehow missed Saffi shouting it from the rooftops, Sugar & Spice reached the coveted #2 spot on Kindle UK yesterday.

Which finally gives me the excuse I’ve been looking for to palm off this shameless plug for our newly launched Sugar & Spice: US Edition as a bona fide blog discussion.

Because yes, there is a legitimate writers’ debate here, which is why I’m opening with Mark Edwards, who regular readers will know to be the noisy half of the rival thriller writer partnership behind Killing Cupid, currently bounding up the Kindle UK charts.

Mark has a great little blog going, called Indie IQ, and recently interviewed Victorine Lieske, whose novel Not What She Seems is selling a thousand copies a day.

At the time of writing, Not What She Seems is #158 on Kindle US and #580 on Kindle UK.

Sugar & Spice is at #2 on Kindle UK and a paltry #3550 on Kindle US.

The point to note is that here in the UK we are selling less, at #2, than Victoria is selling at #158 in the States. Possibly some of Victoria’s sales are on B&N, which is pretty much a no-go are for us in the UK (B&N believe only fellow Americans are worthy to buy from them). But clearly the American market is a different world. Our sales of Sugar & Spice in the US are a fraction of our UK sales.

And something Victoria said in her Indie IQ interview brought home one reason why.

“My friends and family are all very supportive of me. I couldn’t ask for a better support system. And my kids think it’s cool that I’ve been on television. They were kind of bummed when they found out the news camera was coming while they were at school.”

Now American readers will be looking at that paragraph utterly mystified. What’s the problem?

British readers will be quietly smirking to themselves. Of course we Brits are by now so at-one with American culture here that we know exactly what Victoria means, but never in a million years would we Brits say that our kids “were kind of bummed when…”

Not here to go into lengthy explanations for our American readers still struggling. Let’s just say that, if we ever did use that expression here, our kids would be in the care of Social Services later the same day…

What’s this got to do with Sugar & Spice? Well, a month or two ago we received the following review on Smashwords:

“Well-written mystery/thriller. Only complaint is that there were a lot of Britishisms that are not understandable to non-British English speakers.”

The reviewer nevertheless dished out five beautifully polished stars, so we were not complaining. But the sentiments were not without merit. What follows is a rehash of an earlier blog on this subject, updated to show how we used the new world of e-publishing to deal with the problem.

~

Sugar & Spice is a British crime-thriller set in the UK. It has British policemen, the British justice system, British prisons and British locations. And it’s written in British English. Or as we like to call it, English.

Unfortunately this is proving heavy going for some readers overseas, notably in the US. And not just that they can’t understand why there’s an “a” in paedophile!

The British prison slang for a sex offender, “nonce”, has apparently left many struggling, and they are at a loss as to the role of a solicitor or barrister. As for the CID?  The Met? An Inspector? A Superintendent? It’s a foreign language to these guys!

And where are the FBI? The cavalry? Superman?

What happened to CSI? The guys in Miami would have had this case solved in fifty minutes, on the dot!

Come to that, why didn’t the mother just shoot the guy? Don’t they have guns in the UK?

With so much American art, literature and cinema dealt out to us on a daily basis we tend to have no problems understanding what an attorney is, or a sidewalk, or why someone is eating biscuits and gravy, or that chips are actually crisps. We understand that a fat ass is not an overweight donkey.

American hush-puppies

Occasionally it can still leave one struggling. John Grisham delights in leaving British readers stunned by people tucking into a plate of hush-puppies. (For American readers, hush puppies in the UK are only a naff brand of footwear.)

Lord Justice Judge . Real name! Real outfit!

It got us wondering how many British books make it on the other side of the pond. And it soon became clear, especially in the crime realm, that few do, precisely because our legal, criminal and justice systems are so different.

Not for nothing do the Americans remake all our successful TV shows and films and serials, with American settings, American actors and American English.

The respective sales figures for our e-book in the US and UK reflect the problem.

In Sweden they hedge their bets.

So my co-author Saffi and I put our heads together (figuratively speaking, obviously, as we live on different continents) and decided to try a bold / fool-hardy / completely crazy (delete as appropriate) experiment.

Supposing we produced an American version of Sugar & Spice for the American market?

Same compelling story, same characters, same controversial subject matter.

But American locations, American characters, American police, legal and justice system, etc. And of course American English.

It all seemed so easy!

Global edit paedophile to pedophile, solicitor to attorney, inspector to lieutenant, superintendant to captain, biscuit to cookie, make London New York, and all done!

If only…

It soon becomes apparent just why the reviewer struggled!

Mickey Mouse English...

Words like trousers and knickers are pretty much meaningless to the average American. British brands, shops and stores mean nothing to them. Roads in the UK have names, not numbers.

Americans still use gallons, but not even our old gallons, should we remember pre-decimal. Tell an American you weigh thirteen stone and they’ll look at you like you’ve just told them you weigh thirteen pebbles. (A stone is a unit of weight equivalent to fourteen pounds, or about six kilo.)

Milk in tea? Fish and chips? Yorkshire pud? Eastenders? Corrie? Lord Sugar?

We live in a different world. Or as Oscar Wilde may once have put it, two nations, divided by a common language.

We’re not the first to ponder this question.

It’s worth noting that JK Rowling’s publishers took a slightly similar approach with Harry Potter, changing spellings for the American release of the books, and changing words like Quidditch Pitch to Field. And of course the movie makers felt “the Philosopher’s Stone” was quite inappropriate for the US audience and it became “the Sorcerer’s Stone.

We went much further, relocating the entire story to the US. But at least we have elected to give the US audience the choice of the original and the US-rewritten version.

Same great story either way. But if you’re comfortable with New York state and the FBI, and have never heard of the CID and don’t know what a pair of knickers are, then we’re pleased to say there’s now an app for that!

Last week we slipped out Sugar & Spice: US Edition into the murky waters of the Kindle charts. Needless to say it hasn’t been seen since.

But early days…

Who knows, it’s such a ludicrous idea it might just work.

No, seriously!  Stranger things have happened!

Did you hear the one about the unknown wannabe thriller writer and the unknown wannabe dark fantasy writer who live on different continents, have only ever met twice, and between them wrote a novel under a name no-one had ever heard of, and that the agents said was unsellable?

Six months on the poor buggers still haven’t got an agent, let alone a publisher…

As for the unsellable novel?  Last we heard it was the second best-selling e-book in the UK.

You just couldn’t make it up…

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  1. You’re right–Dr. Who being the only exception, I can’t think of a single top-rated TV show that wasn’t Americanized when it came over here. And since I don’t think American tastes are any different, I suspect you’re going to climb the charts again. I’ll race you.

    • That’s worse than I thought, George. Only Dr Who made it through unscathed?!

      Would have hoped one or two more had managed the transition…

      Race us? I suspect Wearing The Cape will leave us standing once it starts to get noticed, despite our head start.

      And WTC will soon be snapped up by Marvel and become huge. Any thoughts on who should play Astra in the movie?

  2. As you said, all the others were “translated.” As to WTC I’m trying not to build dream-castles just yet. It always helps to get a good visual of your characters, though; for Hope I pictured AnnaSophia Robb.

  3. The big question for me now is pricing. I had originally intended to start with a price tag of $4.99, but I see that most indie ebooks are $.99 to $2.99, so I’m thinking two or three dollars, max. Thoughts?

  4. Way too high! This is about reaching an audience, not making it pay. That will come later.

    99c should be your starting price. No question.

    You’re an unknown name among big names. Why pay three bucks for unknown you when a buyer can buy three books for 99c each from three other unknown authors?

    We started low. Midway we upped the price just a bit and lost out big time! It took us several weeks just to regain our old position.

    More importantly, this from Joe Konrath last month:

    Quote: “The List Experiment Update
    Eighteen days ago, I dropped the price of my ebook, The List, from $2.99 to 99 cents on Amazon. I was selling 40 copies a day prior to that.

    Currently, The List is #37 in the Top 100 Bestsellers on the Kindle. It’s selling 620 copies a day on Amazon.” Unquote.

    Here’s the figures in real money:

    $2.99 at 70% netted him $2.09 a sale. 2.09 x 40 = $84 a day.
    $0.99 at 35% netted him $0.35 a sale. 0.35 x 620 = $ 217 a day.

    Two dollars less on each sale actually nets him $133 a day more…

    BTW have emailed you, but having probs with my email system this past week so not sure if they’ve not got through / been replied to and not received this end, or just ignored! 🙂

    mwi-bespoke@gmx.com

  5. Thanks for the heads-up on the email problems. The only email I received recently was on the 18th, the request for some lines about WTC. I replied to that one. Doing one last style-edit of WTC before formatting it for Kindle. Monday it’s out.

    • Your reply of 18th not received. Can you re-send?!

      • Yes, sending now–the book should be available tomorrow on Amazon.com. Now I just need to pick your brain about review sites, etc!

  6. Well it’s up! Also up is my own blog-page ( marionharmon.wordpress.com), where I can talk about anything. I think I’m going to do a lot of book reviews, beginning with older books now available on Kindle.

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