How essential is it to place your story somewhere that’s familiar or, alternatively, exciting to readers? My story demands that it’s placed in either British Columbia, Canada, or Scotland in the UK, but I’ve read that U.S.-based readers mostly want to read stories based in places that they know or are familiar with (anywhere within the U.S.), or they want something exotic (e.g., Thailand, the Philippines). Is this really true? Would an editor ask me to change the location of my story? Has this ever happened to you or anyone you know of?
I think plot matters MUCH more than setting, although, of course, the two are often intertwined. Stephanie Meyers chose Forks for her Twilight series for no other reason than it’s the rainiest town in the U.S. and her vampires sparkle in sunlight. If she had pitched her book solely as being set in Forks, I doubt people would have been excited, but it’s the plot that made the books great. Many authors choose a setting because it’s their hometown, they are familiar with it, and they feel they can write it convincingly. And if you’re writing historical fiction, the setting is chosen for you. But in the end, if you choose your setting for a good reason (and it sounds like you have one), write your setting well, bring the reader there, and your plot is dramatic and gripping, I don’t think it matters if your book is set in a tiny Southern town, Thailand, or Timbuktu. I’ve never heard of an editor asking an author to change settings, although I do know of a Canadian author whose work never sells in the U.S. because the books are just TOO Canadian, obviously written for a Canadian audience, and filled with nuances only Canadians would “get.” On the flipside, as a foreign rights agent, I often hear foreign publishers tell me books are “too American.” For example, YA books set in American high schools tend to get this label—foreign publishers don’t “get” American teenagers. So keep your audience in mind. As long as you write your Scottish/British/Canadian setting in a way that brings your American reader there, it should be fine.
Taryn Fagerness Agency
Taryn Fagerness represents foreign rights on behalf of North American literary agents. Before opening the Taryn Fagerness Agency in 2009, Taryn spent five years as the Subsidiary Rights Manager and an Agent at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. She’s sold hundreds of books to foreign, audio, and film markets, and has sold subsidiary rights for New York Times bestselling authors, first time authors, and everyone in between, in nearly all genres including literary fiction, thriller/suspense, commercial fiction, romance, history, self-help, business, and children’s. She has exceptional relationships with foreign co-agents, foreign publishers, and scouts, and she handles all aspects of selling foreign rights from international fair-going to submission, negotiating, and tracking titles through publication and beyond. The territories to which she sells are: Albania, Arabic, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Catalan, China, Czech, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, UK, Ukraine and Vietnam. www.tarynfagernessagency.comP.S. For more on this topic, read General fiction, Guest Editors