Going Global With Your Stories

Be the Intrepid Salesman!
The UK and US markets are often the focus of our publishing ambitions, but these only represent a small proportion of the literary scene. In this post, Chitra Soundar takes a look at the wider world view and shares some of her tips for breaking into other English-speaking territories.

Do you know the story of the two salesmen who went to sell sandals to people on a remote island? One of them came back and said, there is no potential because no one wears sandals there. The second one came back and said he can capture a big share of the market because no one wears sandals and he would be the first one to show them a pair.

Publishing across the world
There are publishing companies across this world. Many of them speak English and publish in English. Or you might have roots somewhere else in this world – be it your ancestors came from another country or continent or you studied in a different country or worked there. Find those connections because the world is shrinking and you don’t have to find opportunities just in your backyard. Think of them as potential readers. Be that shoe salesman who brings something fresh and new to a different market. If you are in showbiz, you want to win a Golden Globe or an Oscar or a BAFTA award. If you are on the stage you want to be in the West End or the Broadway. And if you want to be a writer, you want to win the Man Booker Prize or the Carnegie Medal.

But that does not mean the rest of the world is not making movies or publishing books. For example, the market I’m most familiar with next to Britain is India. India stands first in the world in making movies. It has the 5th largest English-language book publishing industry. There is no denying that people are creating and selling literature in every single country, but as British writers we often forget the international market.

Published by Asiapac Books. Singapore

When I started submitting stories to both magazines and publishers, I lived in Singapore – a small country with a small publishing scene (which is growing). But I still wanted to be published in Singapore. I remember Mum used to take photos of me standing next to my books in Popular Bookstore. When I lived there the Singapore market didn’t publish many picture books. So I looked around and cast my net big and wide. I submitted to US and Australian publishers. I wrote to UK publishers all the way from Singapore. Then my research told me that two publishers had set up shop in my home-city in India and accepted unsolicited manuscripts. I submitted to them. After a few attempts, I placed a book with Tulika Books in 2006 and then after 6 years another one. In 2012, I had also got acceptances from Karadi Tales with whom I have my Farmer Falgu series (two titles in the series are out, and two more are scheduled).

Second book in the Farmer Falgu Series
with Karadi Tales

Children’s publishing is growing in India. Their population is young and the young people will grow up and have children too. I am now firmly placed in the market with 4 books and 3 more to come. And I love having a presence there – it is my birth country after all.

My contract with OUP Pakistan is due to my over-enthusiastic cheekiness. OUP Pakistan purchased rights to my first picture book Where is Gola’s Home? from Tulika Books. Wow, OUP! I celebrated when I saw the email. Then I had a thought. Now that they know me, perhaps I could submit to them directly.

Tulika Books published this book
in 5 bi-lingual languages
& sold rights for English-Urdu to OUP, Pakistan

So I wrote to OUP Pakistan and asked if they would review another title from me. What was the worst that could happen – they would say no. Well they said yes. Although it took more than 2 years to materialize, they  have confirmed that they want to publish it.

While I got published in the Indian subcontinent and in Singapore, I did want a book in the UK too. That’s where SCBWI came in. Back in the days in 2006-7 the lovely Sara Grant ran the professional series from her apartment. I met Mara Bergman who invited me to submit to her. Two years later, I had a book with Walker Books. In my mind, that was a big milestone – because now I could go into Waterstones and ask for my book and it would be there.

I’m doing another book with Walker Books and with Mara Bergman and I’m quite eager to point out that I want more books in the UK – there’s no denying that. I do school visits here and I live here and my family lives here and of course as an author I want to be present here. But that doesn’t mean I can’t travel.

Now I have books in the US, UK, Singapore, India and Pakistan. Where should I go next, I wonder. I’m always thinking about where the Indian diaspora is spread - like South Africa, maybe the Middle-East, and definitely in North America. Korea is another dream I have – they want more English-language books there and I have come in touching distance couple of times. So this definitely needs more effort.

Find your connection to the cultures and countries you are drawn to. Do you think your book would appeal to an audience in a different country? Stories are universal, aren’t they? Non-fiction is even more universal. There are many regional and small press publishers in the world. There are publishers in the English-speaking commonwealth and there is always the US. In a way agents do this too when they can’t place your book here in the UK. They find other territories, and publishing houses that might like your book. It is all about taste, isn’t it?

The second most important thing in this journey is networking. I make connections during conferences or online or during courses. And I follow-up. If I meet an editor, I always send submissions to them.

Workshop session with another editor Lou Waryncia with whom I'm still in touch.

I met an editor at a Highlights Foundation Workshop in 2005 in the US. She introduced me to her colleague and after 9 years I still submit to them (I should say rejections are getting more and more positive). Keep the connections open and be open to making new connections.

Thirdly, do the research and the homework. Not all publishers accept email submissions. So it could be costly to submit. So choose carefully and submit only if you’re happy with their legitimacy. It goes without saying though - don’t send money and your bank account details along with your submission.

My final tip comes with SCBWI discounts. Two years ago I went to the London Book Fair – it was great to be recognized in the Singapore stalls. I met with some publishers from other parts of the world because their stalls were not teeming with agents. I got to talk to people, give my card, pick up theirs. Then the next step is research on the Internet and if anything looks promising, submit. But getting results is a long trek. Who knows  -one day you will see my celebrations article on my book coming out in Timbuktu.

Going global is a reality for most merchants, manufacturers, artists and singers. And so for writers. Whether you sell rights or publish with a foreign publisher, it is all about presence. If you believe in your book, find the right home and loving readers. It could be the one around the corner from you or the across the continents three time zones away.

Want to find out more?

Here are some interesting articles on publishing in other territories.
  • You can find out some recent trends in this huge potential market in India here
  • Here is an overview of the Brazilian market where books are becoming a staple. And an article from the Frankfurt Book Fair from previous years.
  • This is an article about the growing fiction scene in South Africa.
  • Here is a publishing perspective on the Korean publishing market. 

    Chitra Soundar has published over 20 books in Singapore, UK, USA and India. She loves writing picture books, folktales and is working on her next 7+ book with Walker Books, UK. Chitra is also a member of the Words & Pictures' editorial team, managing The SlushPile Challenge for writers.


    1. Great post Chitra, you really are 'going global', from success to success. Lots for us to think about, thanks.

    2. A really interesting post Chitra, thank you for sharing your experiences :)

    3. Great post & great perspective, Chitra. Thanks for links, too. SCBWI people are SO helpful - & wish I'd been around in Sara Grant's apartment days, too!

    4. An inspiring post - thanks, Chitra. Congratulations on all your successes round the world :-)

    5. Thanks everyone, like Sara Grant said in her CWISL blog - patience is the key ingredient.

    6. Chitra, you are a wonder! Your energy and enthusiasm is catching. Thank you.

    7. What a great post, Chitra, a great perspective! And congratulations on your publishing success.

    8. Thanks very much for your inspiring and interesting post, Chitra. You have such a positive attitude to making connections.


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