FCCT PANEL DISCUSSION
Expatriate Authors in Asia: Writing for a Niche Market or a Wider World?
Christopher G. Moore in opening remarks
Last night (Wednesday 26th March) there was a standing room only house for Dean Barrett, Stephen Leather, Colin Cotterill, and myself. We spoke about publishing fiction in Asia and the nature of publishing in Thailand specifically and more generally about publishing in New York and London. After our individual presentation we had many people queuing up to ask questions. Colin asked the audience how many had written a novel. I’d guess about 18 hands shot up, and then asked how many of the writers had been published. There were two hands left remaining. One person asked if we were all “rich” and left the clear impression that he was in writing for the money. Stephen, at one moment, acknowledged that he was the richest person on the panel. No one disputed him. In my opening remarks I dealt with the probabilities of striking it rich. Less than 1% of authors actually can make a living writing full time. Even with lottery like odds, there are those who feel “lucky” and that writing is their ticket to life style of the rich and famous.
Another question was from an expat woman writer. One could sense her frustration. She seemed upset as she asked her question of why there weren’t more opportunities for women writers and why only books about the bar scene were being published. There were a number of assumptions in her questions. But she had a valid point: While there are a fair number of local self-published male authors, there are very few locally published female authors of fiction to appear in English.
Dean Barrett, Colin Cotterill, Stephen Leather and Christopher G. Moore
No one of the panel was a publisher. But that didn’t seem to matter. There was a strong sense of grievance and injustice. It may be little solace to expat women or Thai women who are writing fiction in Thailand, but the reality is worldwide, there are more women on the New York Times fiction hardback bestseller list than male authors – 9 out of 16 on last week’s list – so it isn’t true that in the large international markets that women come out second best in terms of selling fiction. The reality is that a large number of literary agents and editors at major publishing houses are women. And they know that most buyers of fiction are women.
FCCT Audience with TV celebrity Tom Mintier in foreground
As for the so-called sexpat literature written by men and for male readers in Thailand, I can understand why the expat woman feel frustrated, as aspiring authors. However, I think, it is a local Thai industry, few of these books can be bought outside of Thailand. If one had a look at the incoming tourists statistics from English speaking countries, I would bet the overwhelming number are single males. So there is a peculiar niche in Thailand for books that are often thinly disguised memoirs of a foreigner’s cycle of love and disillusion in the bar scene. One way to look at many of these books is as the male version of the throwaway romance paperbacks sold in grocery stores in North America. The authors are often one-book writers; they aren’t professional, never have had a real editor or publisher, and their book allows them to describe their life for others. It would be difficult for a foreign woman to sell a novel based on any other subject to this group, just like it would be difficult to sell a techno-thriller to a woman looking at romance novels at a grocery store rack of books.
As I said on the panel last night, if the book anyone has written tells a ripping good story in an entertaining way, it will find a publisher. It doesn’t matter what is the gender of the author. The problems of finding an agent and publisher aren’t limited to Thailand; this is universal and no one has a monopoly on the grievance of feeling left out. Publishing, much like life, is often unfair. A few are let through the gate, others left waiting. Frustrations about the abundance of ‘sexpat’ books in Thailand aside, and outside of self-publishing, the quality of the book and its market appeal generally decide whether or not a book will picked up by a publisher.
Unfortunately editors and agents weren’t at the FCCT to answer for their industry last night. That left four writers to scurry around as best we could for answers to questions which really had very little to do with us.
I’d like to encourage all aspiring authors who came along to the panel discussion last night. As I said in my remarks, you need a passion for writing to sustain a writing life. It will never be easy. You write because it is your dream. It is your true love. If commercial success and critical recognition follows, all the better, but remember writing and being published are two different things. One is passion. The other is business. It is never easy keeping the two apart for writers. My writing career, as is in the case of many published authors – even J.K. Rowling had multiple rejections before she was finally published by a small house is an example of becoming an overnight success after twenty years.