With the launch of this new blog connecting Australasian writers, I thought it was timely to take a look at the dynamics of our industry. As a writer, knowing and understanding your industry is vital. The cogs and wheels of our literary world will influence a writer’s work, contributing to its position in the marketplace, and formulating a reader base. If we do not have an understanding of the industry, we are flying blind.
I have asked three questions to three industry insiders; Rochelle Manners - Director of Australia’s leading Christian Publishing house, Wombat Books; Anne Hamilton – Spokesperson for Omega Writers; and Jenny Blake – Otherwise known as ‘Ausjenny’, one of Australia’s leading literary bloggers.
I hope you find their answers as insightful and informative as I have.
1. In your opinion, what sets Australasian Christian Literature apart from the rest of the world?
Anne Hamilton: This is a sweeping generalisation with all the flaws inherent in broad statements but I think there is a distinctive edgy aspect to Aussie and Kiwi romance, compared to that coming out of the States. On the other hand, we tend to be less experimental than the UK. To a large degree, the reverse is true in areas like speculative fiction. It's more conservative here - we don't have writers pushing the boundaries and coming out with horror. Even our fantasy stories tend to be a lot less dark than either the US or UK. We tend to ignore genre categories to a large degree and this can have an impact on overseas sales.
Jenny Blake: As a reader I would say the setting, language, and our unique style. We have sayings unique to us, as well as a different history and background. As in life, our writing has a different flavour. You can see that we don't take ourselves seriously, and you can see it in characters. You can see the ‘Larrikin’ in some of the characters.
Rochelle Manners: This is a hard question to answer. What sets it apart? There are so many things that could be suggested to be different. We have different styles, we have new authors, and we have different life experiences and perspectives. Australian Christian material doesn’t always follow all the “rules” that are often in place, especially for Christian fiction. Our books have a lot of potential locally when they relate to the Australian situation and experience. They might even be good to explore on the international front because they do relate and show the Aussie experience. What I hope can set us apart is actually the community. We can, in Australia, grow a community of Australian experience through literature that can touch lives.
2. What do you see as the biggest hurdles our industry needs to jump in order to excel on the world stage?
Anne Hamilton: In no particular order: the tendency to ignore genre, the tendency to assume writing hasn't changed in the last fifty years, the tendency to stay with well-trodden plots and not take risks, the tendency to romanticise Christian characters as one-dimensional 'goodies', the tendency towards the formulaic especially in terms of the Christian conversion scene and over-explaining. That said, market forces tend to want the last one because that's what allegedly makes it 'evangelistic'.
Jenny Blake: From a readers point of view there are so many good books available now. In fact, I would say a glut of good books. Australian writers have to compete with all these books. It's not that readers do not want to read Australian books, as I know many are excited to read books set here, but they have to be well edited and to the standard readers are use to. Also one thing that annoys readers is not knowing what genre the book is, or reading a mislabelled book. We need to define what the book is. Cost is another issue, but now that books are available on ereader that will help.
Rochelle Manners: Hurdles – how do we compete! We are in a small country down under and our bookstores and media in the Christian industry mostly notice what is coming from America and the “famous” well known authors, not the new ones from our own local country. There are images and reputations that need to be developed so that we, (Australian industry professionals in publishing and writing), can be seen as strong, reputable and profitable. We need to change perspective, and also simply have people know who we are - new authors and new publishers facing a big world. I think the trick is to increase networks and continue to increase profile and quality.
3. Where would you like to see Australasian Christian Literature heading in the next few years?
Anne Hamilton: YA literature today is very complex in terms of plot and character motivation. As that age group matures, I can't see the taste for multi-level plots and double or triple think changing. I think that particular audience will want the same within Christian literature. So I'd like to see us rethinking the very nature of our storylines and introducing surprises that are well foreshadowed even now. I suspect our reliance on the American model is holding us back.
Jenny Blake: As a reader this is hard to say. I would like to see more Australian books out there both set in Australia, as well as books by Australian authors set in other places. I would like to see the books on a par with the American books, and featuring our uniqueness. I would love to see more historical Australian books about our history. This also applies to New Zealand.
Rochelle Manners: We have big plans. I would like to see Australian Christian Literature first of all really touch lives and be noticed here in Australia. I would like to see us increase the digital world with Christian material that is high quality, and I would like to see us start to get noticed more on an international stage.
Note: Wombat Books have had some recent international successes including:
Puggle’s Problem (children’s literature title) translated into Korean.
Coming Home (children’s literature title) translated into German.
A Simple Mistake, Best Forgotten, and Fine Lines (fiction titles) translated into Korean.
EBP also attended the Korean Christian Rights Fair in August 2013.
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