Over there! Where? my god...Canada??

Dear Miss Snark: Do you reject novels based on where they are set?

Although I haven't started to query yet, I have been told by fellow writers that American agents/publishers are not interested in novels that are set in Canada.

My mystery novel has a wilderness adventure theme, and I've set it in a
mountainous region of Canada (an area that I know well). I realize there are mystery novels set north of the border that have been published by American presses, but they are comparatively few. Have I made a big mistake?

My god yes. You didn't get the memo??
All novels set in Canada are on the automatic rejection list.
Followed closely by novels set on Rabbitania.

ok ok, calm down, I'm kidding.
Look Canada is a country. They have coins and everything. Weird ones to be sure but they still buy gin and really, what else matters.

Realistic locations can add a lot to a novel. Would the spare elegance of Kent Haruf's Plainsong work if it was set in California? Probably not. Would Raymond Chandler be the ur-noir writer if he set his novels in Nebraska? Probably not.

Make your geography part of the story. Try not to include too many names that are hard to remember. Then go for it. Remember, we look for stuff we haven't seen before but it still has to be GOOD.

Go BlueJays!


Harsha said...

Just surfed in...nice blog..

Janet Gurtler said...

How about them Flames?

Sandra Ruttan said...

I've had direct experience with being told that an agent liked my story, thought the writing was great, blah blah blah... but didn't think it would sell because it was set in Canada.

I wasn't sure if it was "letting me down easy" until they found out I had another manuscript, set in the US. They asked for the whole thing without even a query.

So I want to tell the world we have crime in Canada. Bad, nasty crime. Just like everywhere else. And people even bleed red blood.

Anonymous said...

Those Canadian coins happen to be legal tender in Michigan too. Just thought I'd submit that factoid in case any of you ever decide to set your Great American Novel in Detroit or something. *g*

Anonymous said...

Just make sure your characters drink some loganberry (the nectar of the Goddesses in Southern Ontario).

Anonymous said...

This has happened to me as well. An editor said "Americans don't want to read about Canada. We can't sell it. Change the setting to Seattle." I am going on the idea that editors have experienced some type of Mountie trauma or perhaps an allergic reaction to maple syrup. Either way I don't plan to be a literary diva, if it becomes a deal breaker I'll consider the change. If Vancouver is too "foreign" I'm moving the story south of the 49th. BTW we have a great writer's conference held here, Surrey International Writer's Conference in October. It would be great if you came and shared your snark-ness. I promise you won't be attacked by rogue beavers or lumberjacks.

Anonymous said...

Harsha is SPAM... They are getting sneakier and sneakier!

Beth said...

I attend a writer's conference in Canada every fall (www.siwc.ca), and I've heard that same question raised by the local writers again and again. It seems a lot of Canadians think nobody south of the border wants to read about them. Which isn't true.

Anonymous said...

That's reassuring, but I make the setting easy to change anyway.

Anonymous said...

Darn, I wanted to read that Rabbitania story.

David Isaak said...

This reminds me a little of something John Gardner wrote:

"I once visited a successful Hollywood producer, and he gave me a list of what 'the American people don’t like.' They’ve done marketing research, and they know. The American people don’t like movies with snowy landscapes. The American people don’t like movies about farmers. The American people don’t like movies in which the central characters are foreigners. The list went on, but I stopped listening, because the movie I’d come to talk about concerned a Vietnamese immigrant family’s first winter in Iowa."

Anonymous said...

Fiction writer Kathy Reichs seems to successfully switch her settings back and forth between Canada and the U.S. Personally, I like reading about different cultures and locales. With Canada you get Brits, French, Indians, Mounties and eggroll.

Also, publishers haven't been very creative lately with their biography titles. Everything is Blah-Blah: A Life. Yawner. At least AMLP - true or not - has a catchy title and cover art. Would anyone buy James Frey: Memoirs of a Low Life?

Miss Snark, what sells the most books: cover, title, content, or author-name recognition?

Emelle in OK

Anonymous said...

Wasn't Watership Down set in Rabbitania?

Susan said...

That is so ridiculous. What about Alice Munro?

Anonymous said...

I was a judge for the Canadian Crime Writer awards a few years back (not being specific on year or category lest some disgruntled non-winner come looking). We dropped one otherwise short-list-able story from consideration because we couldn't tell, in the first 80 pages, what part of the country it was set in.

Considering the wide variance in scenery, dialect and attitude available across a country the size of Canada (and the even wider range of those elements in that great southern neighbour of ours, with 10 times more people), it can only have been a deliberate choice by that author to make the story 'happen anywhere'. And it counted against them.

(not that an Arthur Ellie award generates a huge uptick in sales, but it looks funny on the bookcase, and it impresses your parents)

If a story could happen anywhere in the western world without alteration (and the setting could be easily changed to another country), then my belief is that the author is overlooking a key element that could help their work stand out from the crowd.


lisa e said...

Are your Canadian? If so, go to Canadian publishers. They're subsidized by the government to publish Canadian writers, writing Canadian stories.

But don't try to pass off a "Canadian" MS if you're really American. They'll want proof of your nationality!