Aussies bash Aussies

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?


  1. simmone on #

    it’s very rare for a YA/children’s book to get anything more than the token 1-par review in a major newspaper – unless you’ve been around the block a bit. what i’ve noticed (and what you’ve probably noticed too) is that if an ‘adult’ title gets an O/S success the papers are all over it like a flannel (I’m talking mostly about The Age, Melbourne here) but if a YA/children’s title has similar success it most often slinks by. I can’t imagine a YA/children’s novel winning a prize like the miles wanklin … (but maybe this is changing … it was heartening to see Shaun Tan getting the NSW premier’s big gong)… I don’t know what sells books in australia… but no doubt a little advertising wouldn’t hurt.There should be more space in the papers for books and all things literary full stop. Enough ‘make mine modern’ articles! Enough ‘I can’t believe I forgot to have children’ articles!
    ps – I loved in SH’s interview that she said she wrote for interesting loner types – “they need books too”

  2. simmone on #

    pps – the age et al seem happy enough to poach articles from the guardian and the observer – maybe they could follow their example and devote a bit more space to kidlit … eh?eh?

  3. jmnlman on #

    In Canada unless your creating “literature” you’ll basically be ignored by the media but Canadian authors do get some decent coverage in the States.

  4. Rebecca on #

    i dunno much about the australian market, but it’s true that exoticness is big here. people seem to be into various accents, for one thing. there’s just a different-ness that’s alluring. but since a lot of usians aren’t fluent enough in a second language to read books in it (or even have access to books in other languages), they look for those from english speaking countries, i.e. the u.k. and australia. although for myself, i can’t say i’ve ever picked up a book b/c of the author’s nationality. but in general, foreigners are popular. in my experience.

    and as for not being taken seriously b/c you write (or read) ya….unfortunately i’ve seen it a lot more than i’d like. when i was younger, books for teens were called “light reading.” as an adult, people think it’s funny that you still want to read about teenagers. after all, they don’t matter. *sarcasm* teens and kids aren’t taken seriously b/c of their “youth and inexperience.” high school isn’t “the real world.” so naturally, the books written for a ya audience aren’t thought to have much worth either. grrrrrrr.

  5. jennifer, aka literaticat on #

    well, i don’t think that reviews figure too heavily in the us YA market except for “will it get picked up by libraries” — because the main children’s/YA reviews here are in trade journals, such as PW and Booklist, etc.

    if a regular newspaper, or the new york times, deigns to review a children’s book, they generally put it in the children’s ghetto section. and if (miracle) they get a real review, they are generally quick to point out how “these books aren’t just for the kiddies anymore” or something.

    so, what i guess i mean is, the bigbighuge successful books are dictated by two things: marketing and word-of-mouth. w-o-m, obviously, creating slower to take hold but longer-lasting success.

    and oz writers are the bomb, because they are (very generally speaking) funnier and more edgy than mainstream usian ones. I don’t mean edgy in the “ew, faeries shooting heroin into their eyeballs” sort of way, but rather in the “holy crap i can’t believe i just read that wow” sort of a way. in both oz fantasy and realistic ya, the writing is allowed to be more wild, i think — often it seems as if the books here are written to a formula.

    now maybe oz book are also written to a formula – but the recipe is different, and i haven’t quite figured out what’s in it yet.

    sure, it might be a bit about exoticism, i guess, because the kids seem *like* usian characters, but also different. funnier and more thoughtful. they are characters you want to get to know. plus it’s interesting to get different perspectives on the world, particularly if you are from a rather closed country that thinks it’s the bee’s knees.

    also, basically, if you can make me cry and laugh on the same page, you win.

    i’m thinking of marrying melina marchetta, jaclyn moriarty, simmone, lisa shanahan and barry jonsberg. and you, naturally. rowr!

  6. Kimmy on #

    Just to tell you I love Jaclyn Moriarty’s work. Mostly The year of secret assignments. I did not know she wasn’t all that popular in the US. Then again I am not American I’m Canadian. She also spends some of her time in Montreal, and that’s where I’m from.

  7. PJ Hoover on #

    Your writing and books are excellent. For someone to say that it was only picked up because you were Australian is absurd.

  8. Justine on #

    PJ Hoover: Sorry for being unclear. No one has ever said that my books are only published because I’m an Aussie. The Yankees telling me that are readers. They’re saying they picked up my books to read from a bookshop or a library or whatever because they saw that I was an Australian and they’d loved the books they’d read by other Australians.

  9. lili on #

    Interesting. i have to say that i completely (and respectfully) disagree with you, jennifer. I think usian writing is, on the whole far more ‘out of the box’ (and i’m thinking here of holly black, john green, scott w, mt anderson etc etc), and that australian publishing is quite conservative (largely because we’re so reliant on the school’s market – little pond). i think authors like simmone and jaclyn and justine are exceptions to the rule, and this is shown by the complete lack of recognition for their books in our children’s book council awards.

    when asking literary editors of newspapers why in Oz, there is so little space devoted to YA, they answer either like this:
    ‘teenagers don’t read newspapers’ (blatant lie, also not just teenagers read ya, and even if they did they still have parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and teachers)
    or like this:
    ‘it’s a niche market, can’t devote more than a small proportion’
    right. unlike non-fiction books about the transition from brass to steel buttons on military uniforms in WW1. Everyone wants to read that.
    Or poetry.

    (although in defense of the age, i believe there is a good-sized review in it today of nick and norah and king dork by our very own mike shuttleworth. haven’t got out of pyjamas yet to buy paper, so not sure.)

  10. Ammy on #

    I live in Australia, and I HAVE noticed that YA books don’t receive anywhere near as much attention as adult books. I can’t rely on reviews to find books I want, so the internet is my main source for finding new books to read.

    Of course, I’ve also HEARD about some books and gone on to read them (Magic or Madness, for example), but most of my book-hunting is done by putting in effort and running around a lot of internet sites.

  11. Justine on #

    Lots of long thoughtful comments. Mmm, yummy grist to the mill.

    In regards to Jennifer and Lili’s comments I think there are innovative writers both in the US and Australia. I get the feeling that Lili’s right about USian YA publishers having the room to publish more books that stretch the YA boundaries that Australian publishers do. But I suspect that’s a matter of size: 22 million of us and 300 million of them. A&U was certainly taking a punt publishing Margo Lanagan’s category defying short story collections.

    The lack of coverage back home is deeply depressing. And those answers you quote, Lili, just make me want to cry. Sheesh!

    Ammy: Yay for the interwebs, eh? I feel like most of my recs come that way, too.

Comments are closed.