The following is just me thinking out loud. I’d really love to hear from people who actually know about this stuff.
A while ago I read a piece by Susan Wyndham about Oz writers getting much better reviews in the US of A then in Australia. I was hoping for lots of examples but Wyndham only talks about Richard Flanagan’s latest book. Not that that wasn’t interesting, but I’d love too see if there’s any substance to the impression and if there is then is it a new phenomenon or an old one?
Within the world of YA I can only think of a few examples of Oz books being bigger in the US of A then at home. The Book Thief is the main one that springs to mind. It’s insanely huge in America and not especially big back home. The reviews in the US were over the top; I don’t know what they were like in Australia. Quite good I suspect but I doubt they’re as over the top as the US ones. Most Oz reviews of anything are less fulsome than US ones.
Writers like Ursula Dubosarsky, Sonya Hartnett and Jaclyn Moriarty, for example, are bigger at home than in the States, which is a shame on account of they’re all BRILLIANT. (Go read!) And then there’s Margo Lanagan who’s been pulling down as many prizes and accolades at home as she does in the US of A.
But YA is another world from mainstream literature. In Australia it barely gets reviewed at all whereas in the US there are gazillions of important review outlets: Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, School Library Journal, Horn Book Review, BCCB (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books), not to mention all the local newspapers and journals that review it. I’ve had reviews in The Washington Post, Wisconsin State Journal, Des Moines Register, and The Eugene Weekly. We’re a country of 22 million; they’re one of 300 million.
In Australia reviews are pretty much irrelevant to a YA book’s success. Most of the big sellers have had very few reviews. It’s pretty much all word of mouth. For the grown up books reviews seem to be WAY more important, which leads me back to Wyndham’s piece and the comments it inspired. Is the harshness of some Oz reviews because their eyes are not dimmed by a romantic view of Australians and Australia? I’ve definitely seen strong responses to my work over there stem largely from my perceived exoticness. A response that would never fly here at home. I’ve been told many times by Yankees that they picked up my book because I’m Australian.
And then Sonya Hartnett in her interview earlier this week was talking about how difficult it is for her to be taken seriously at home because she doesn’t write adult fiction. That attitude doesn’t seem as prevalent in the US. But then I haven’t really come across it at home either. But I’m very new to this game and I’m not very well known in Australia.
Hmmm. Like, I said I’m not sure where I’m going with this. Just thinking out loud.
Does anyone else have some thoughts?