Girls Write Out
Tuesday, October 05, 2010
Good morning, friends! There's been something I've been wanting to ask you about. At the conference a couple of weeks ago, I was talking with my fabo editor Ami McConnell about settings. We were talking about how books with foreign settings don't tend to sell as well as those set in America. (This pains me by the way because I would LOVE to set a book in Australia or New Zealand, a historical romantic mystery.)

If you look at books in the general market, there are many with foreign settings. In the Christian market, there aren't as many and the ones that are there sell pretty poorly. Not just off a little but off a lot. There are exceptions to this. I think maybe Scotland historicals sell fine. That seems to be about it. Even regencies have tended not to do well, and they are very entertaining so this is puzzling.

I'd love to hear your theories about why this is. Do you read books with foreign settings? If you do, what makes you pick it up? If you don't, why do you tend to pass by one set in England or Greece for one set in small town USA? Or big city USA for that matter. :) Does it matter if it's historical or contemporary? Thanks for helping me figure this out!


Colleen Coble  
posted at 8:33 AM  
  Comments (22)
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At 8:56 AM, Blogger Deborah said...

i LOVE books in foreign settings! i don't get to travel intentionally a lot (i haven't been out of the country since i was 13) so reading a book set in another country is the next best thing. i love historicals set in Europe and Asia and I love contemporary books that are set ANYWHERE. I mean reading about the US is all nice but TBH honest, it gets boring all the time. I do get a bit excited when a book is set in my hometown or where I live now but only if the author actually did their research and got the setting right. otherwise I love reading about foreign places and trying out new things. My favorite TV channel is the Travel Channel so this may be a part of it.

I also read a lot of general market fiction so maybe that might be skewing my tastes?

At 9:31 AM, Blogger Colleen Coble said...

I'd ditto everything you said, Deborah. I read a lot of general market fiction too and love the Travel Channel. Love trying new things, new foods, etc. :)

At 10:18 AM, Blogger Amy K said...

Colleen, I love US historical books. I've read some set in WWII, which are great for historical facts. I've read some Regency, and enjoyed them. I've read the Scotland ones, enjoyed a couple. But I always go back to 1800s civil war or wild west era.
Is it maybe because we know the terrain and history of USA, and can't imagine the other countries/eras as well, no matter how well the author describes (or over describes-and takes away from the story) their settings?
If I do read a "different" book, it may have come from a recommendation, favorite author, or even the popularity of the book/author. Many times it takes me longer to read it, usually because my mindset is in 1800s USA, and I need to flip the switch in my brain to the current time/era. Or is the author over describing the era, therefore the plot is not gripping me in the first chapter, that I can easily put it down, read another book, then come back to it later?
I've frequently thought "why do i like 1800 US fiction," because I don't care for the daily chores they did, sewing, washing, gardening, etc. (I even hated when my parents would take us to historical sites when I was little.) But maybe it's the simplicity of the time -no TV, computers, internet, cars, machines- and we are just believing in the wholesome hard work and honesty in everyday life.
Maybe you need to write a book starting in 1800 USA, then send your characters (punishment for prisoners) to Australia and then describe as you get there. That way you can grip with the plot and not describe till later. Or make the setting more like 1800s ranching US, like the movie Quiggley Down Under with Tom Selleck.
I hope this helps. I think this is a common question for all authors, and I think I will guest-post this on
p.s. I may read 2-4 general market books a year, and I enjoy the travel channel, too.

At 10:43 AM, Blogger Ashley said...

I agree, too! I LOVE books set in foreign countries. I don't read much general market fiction at all, but I love "traveling" through my books. I'm a travel channel junkie, too!

I have to say, I do prefer historical fiction set in a foreign country, as opposed to current time. I'm not sure why... I have a thing for history, so maybe that affects my book choices, too!

I think books set in Scotland do well because you can just "hear" that Scottish accent when you read, and who can resist that?? But maybe that's just me! lol

At 10:47 AM, Blogger Nedra R said...

I tend to choose books based on author. I've read and enjoyed several books set in Ireland. I would love to read historical romance set in Australia. The movie "Australia" is one of my favorites!

At 11:00 AM, Blogger Colleen Coble said...

Interesting that some of you look at a historical differently!

At 1:00 PM, Blogger Cindy R. Wilson said...

I think a lot of it is about relatability. I know in the past when I was searching for a new book to read, I'd probably choose one set in the U.S. versus a different country because I felt like I'd relate better to the setting or the characters. Not so much anymore, but I could see that there would be a lot of readers, especially Christian readers that might feel the same way. A lot of us read books by the same author over and over again or books of the same genre and even though we like something new and different here and there, we also like to be comfortable.

That might mean picking up a book from an author we know we like or we've heard good things about, with a setting that's familiar and characters that are familiar and we know we can relate to. Setting a story in a foreign country might be a little out of the comfort zone for some. Just my opinion, though, and I could be wrong. But I see your point, Colleen, and it's a great one. I've never really thought about it before now.

At 1:26 PM, Blogger Ellie said...

I actually prefer "foreign" settings. The recent influx of books set in Paris/France have been my first picks of late. I live in California, but am originally from England and my husband is from France - so I'm sure that plays a role. I read a lot of general market, but as to Christian market Siri Mitchell's books set abroad top my list as faves.

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Colleen Coble said...

Cindy, that's what my editor said too. It's about relating to the character.

Ellie, I've been meaning to read Siri's books. thanks for the reminder!

At 2:31 PM, Blogger Barb said...

Kissing Adrien and Chateau of Echoes, both by Siri Mitchell, are set in France. They are two of my favorite books. I also really like books set in England, both the Regency period and modern day.

At 3:44 PM, Blogger Crystal Mazzuca said...

I'm with Ashley in that, if it is historical, I always gravitate toward a foreign setting as opposed to something in the US. When it comes to contemporary I love books set anywhere! My favorites are actually books that travel to different places. Maybe because I'm such a huge international espionage fan?

At 4:33 PM, Blogger celestemc said...

I would LOVE to read more books with foreign settings. I haven't done a lot of travelling, but when I have, I am facinated to see how the rest of the world 'lives'. I would especially love stories set in places that I would love to travel to (ie: Greece).

I enjoy both historical and contemporary - there is really so much that can be gleaned from both.

One of my all time favorites is the Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers. I got such a sense of what life was like in Rome during those times, and through the perspective of a Jewish slave girl? It was incredible, and now when I see pictures of Rome, I have such a new appreciation for the area and the history.

So I encourage you to go for it! Do something crazy... and figure out a way to "take us all with you"... or at least, give us the sense that we've been there.

You've taken us to Hawaii, the UP, the California Coast and so many other places.... it's time we go international!

First class please, lol!

At 6:17 PM, Blogger Kristen Borland said...

I choose books based on author and what mood I'm in. I guess I'm a moody reader. :) And as much as I love Small Town, USA books (especially good ol' ranch books), I'd be interested in reading a book set in a foreign country. (As long as it doesn't come across like a history lesson or a tour.)

I used to love historical fiction. That's all I read growing up. But now I really have a hard time getting into it and only pick up contemporary fiction.

At 11:47 PM, Blogger Crystal Laine Miller said...

If it's a good story, it's a good story! I was a child of the "mini-series" growing up and some of my favorites were set elsewhere--Shogun,(Japan) being one. Anyway, I love foreign settings. Another culture set now or in the past is great. I do love historical romance.

It pains me that the Christian/inspirational market does not accept (or sell) stories set in places like Australia, India, etc. (I loved Siri Mitchell's books, too.) I know a gal who wrote the best book--set in India! And I would love a Colleen Coble book set in New Zealand or Australia.

I'm like you in that I want to taste, smell, feel, see and hear somewhere else. Growing up my aunt and uncle and cousins lived in Nigeria and then Ghana and I looked forward to their stories, still have my doll and art from there.

Anyway. Maybe in this lifetime the market will change. Praying so.

At 2:15 AM, Blogger Ruthie said...

Do you remember when Eugenia Price came out with her series set in St. Simons Island off the coast of Georgia? Maybe I'm dating myself here, but I remember clearly how the Christian readers went bonkers primarily because these historical fiction stories were based on real people in a real place that they could visit.

While most of us love historical fiction, maybe the problem is that people relate better to places they can visit rather than places that seem out of reach such as Paris or Rome. Perhaps the preferences of the Christian market are driven by economy, considering Christians give so much money to their churches and other charities that often they cannot afford trips to far away places to see what it was really like in those romantic novel settings.

Who knows? Perhaps I'm just talking through my teeth. They are just one older lady's ideas.

At 8:30 AM, Blogger Melissa said...

I like to read books that are set in a foreign country. What I really like is if you can tell that the author has actually visited that location, if they put in little details about the location that only know through experience. I think that the reason books set in good ol' America do so well is that we can relate to them, we might very well have visited the location as well. I know I love to read one particular Louis L'amore book because it is set right where I grew up, and I know exactly what he is talking about. However that said, I don't generally read a book because of its location, if the blurb on the back catches my attention, and the plot sounds good, I'll read it no matter where it is set. Well, almost, I don't like books set in space, I'm not into imaginary planets and things like that. All that said, if the front of the book says the location is Scotland, Ireland or Australia, I am more likely to pick it up. For some reason I like to read about those locales.

At 10:26 AM, Blogger Colleen Coble said...

This is all great info, friends! Thanks so much!

At 10:04 PM, Blogger Stumbeline said...

Count me among those who love foreign locations. Not that I don't love the U.S. but I want to learn about and experience places I'll probably never visit. One of my favorite shows to watch on TV is a Scandinavian cooking show. Not as much for the food even though the dishes usually look & sound delicious, but for the locations, the history and cultural education. I would definitely love to see more books set in foreign/exotic locations.

At 1:47 PM, Blogger jel said...

I would like too read a book st in New Zealand :)

At 5:06 AM, Blogger Kara said...

As a New Zealand writer, currently rewriting a manuscript to be based in the USA for that very reason it pains me too!

I had a chat about it to an editor at the ACFW conference last year and she said pretty much the same thing as yours - that she would love to acquire more internationally based stories but American readers, even thought they say they're open to international settings, if faced with parting with their hard earned cash for a book in the US or a book in another country 98% of the time will pick the US.

Google and some great friends based where I'm rewriting my ms have helped me get to the grips with some of the location aspects, but the real challenge is the dialogue. I'm constantly being told by my crit partners "um I have no idea what you mean by that phrase" or "An American would NEVER say that!"

At 3:03 PM, Blogger Colleen Coble said...

And I'd love to read about New Zealand or Australia. Sigh.

At 4:37 PM, Blogger CherryBlossomMJ said...

My friend (Amy K) guest posted on my blog to reply to your post.


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The Authors
Kristin Billerbeck
Kristin Billerbeck is a proud Californian, wife, mother of four, and connoisseur of the irrelevant. She writes Christian Chick Lit; where she finds need for most of the useless facts lulling about in her head.

Colleen Coble

Colleen Coble writes romantic suspense with a strong atmospheric element. A lovable animal of some kind--usually a dog--always populates her novels. She can be bribed with DeBrand mocha truffles.

Denise Hunter

Denise Hunter writes women's fiction and love stories with a strong emotional element. Her husband says he provides her with all her romantic material, but Denise insists a good imagination helps too.

Diann Hunt

Diann Hunt writes romantic comedy and humorous women's fiction. She has been happily married forever, loves her family, chocolate, her friends, chocolate, her dog, and well, chocolate.

Hannah Alexander

Cheryl Hodde writes romantic medical suspense under the pen name of Hannah Alexander, using all the input she can get from her husband, Mel, for the medical expertise. For fun she hikes and reads. Out of guilt, she rescues discarded cats. She and Mel are presently taking orders from four pampered strays.

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