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Publish with the Press. Author Portal. I raise this example to illustrate that, sometimes, reviewers bring inappropriate criteria to bear on their judgements of literature outside their own cultural milieu. Although some reviewing in Australia is insightful and thorough, maybe this disjunction is indicative of a more widespread problem faced by other Asian-Australian writers. Tseen Khoo, for example, implies similar mismatches were present in some reviews of Love and Vertigo I also suspect that the ways in which publishers categorise a novel has considerable bearing on the way a book is perceived by writers of literary book reviews in newspapers and magazines, and by readers generally.
Texts | Wayne Yung
Q: How is Asian-Australian literature currently marketed? Many of the procedures used to market Australian literature generally apply. It usually appears in the initial publicity material sent to media and booksellers, and in advertisements, and interviewers and reviewers often paraphrase it. In my experience, the back-cover blurb on the first edition of a book is often written by the publisher, sometimes in consultation with the author.
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Q: Can we learn anything useful about the marketing of Asian-Australian literature from the marketing of Asian-American literature? I believe there are many complete university courses in Asian-American studies in the United States, whereas only very few Australian universities offer a full course in Asian-Australian Studies.
But I think we can at least learn a point or two from the marketing of Asian-American literary works that we might consider applying to the marketing of Asian-Australian literature. But it seems to me that in the recent past, American publishers have often identified different kinds of themes and issues on their back covers, and they often relate these to broader and, arguably, more topical issues. Her characters face numerous choices that majestically illuminate the consequences of colonialism as it collides with the modern world. Her vivid characterisation, her sly and poignant humour, and her sympathetic insights into human relationships-give us a compelling novel, both painful and sweet, suffused with hopes universal to us all.
Despite the differences between the American, British and Australian scenes, it could be instructive to note some of the strategies American and British publishers use to appeal to groups of readers such as book clubs and classes.
While this will doubtless make some purists wince, such reading guides suggest to buyers that a book is eminently suited to reading by larger groups of people. According to publicists of Australian publishing companies I spoke to in , Australian readers are also interested in knowing the inspirations and processes followed by authors as they wrote their book.
Such guides can help readers of literature set in Asian contexts to make connections between the familiar and the foreign. I believe good fiction writing is often triggered by a combination of several concerns important to the author, and some of them might arguably be broader or narrower than how to write Asian-Australianness into being. For example, concerns about what it is to be human and how people operate in the world; or about injustice; or memorialising particular places, cultures, eras and individuals; or crafting a story to give readers pleasure or anxiety or entertainment.
Of course, such aims are not incompatible with describing Asian-Australian identities into being.
After all, one of the roles of the reader and critic is to interpret. Q: Should Asian-Australians feel compelled to write about their identity? Such books suggest to me that Asian writers of the diaspora can be well-placed to write about their adopted culture, or cultures elsewhere in the world.
A queer Asian-Canadian
Q: Is the autobiographical impulse still present and a curse? Writing about autobiographical issues is a reasonably common and sometimes publishable starting point for many fiction writers, regardless of their cultural origins. Obviously this is at least partly because autobiographical experience provides one of the most accessible sources of the kinds of details we need to write creatively.
Is this autobiographical impulse a curse? Yes and no. At least two Australian publishers have told me that there continues to be strong reader interest for work perceived as autobiography or memoir, and their publicists have been keen to know if there are any autobiographical links in all three of my novels. I understand this perception continues to exist amongst many American and Australian publishers.
Q: How open is the field to new and emerging Asian-Australian writers? Many of you will have read newspaper articles in the literary pages on the difficulty both new and many established writers are currently having getting published in Australia. Literary agents, it seems, are reluctant to spend time trying to find publishers for little-known writers in the current publishing climate.
A London-based literary agent told me recently that in England, at least, the accountants of publishing companies usually make such decisions these days, often based on their judgement of whether a book will be saleable on supermarket bookstands. Many of us are aware of the relative scarcity of published literature about the whole range of cultures categorised as Asian, and of the misinformation about these cultures in Australia. We need more fiction of various genres not only to dispel this misinformation, but to appeal to readers on other levels, too.
And there are glimmers of hope.
Banana bending: Asian-Australian and Asian-Canadian literatures
I understand that an English publishing company is working on publishing a list of fiction and non-fiction books about Asian subjects. It will be interesting to see if this works as a marketing strategy. Q: So what advice might be given to unpublished, emerging literary fiction writers of Asian-Australian literature hoping to write for publication by mainstream publishing houses here and in England and America? If we consider several of the most successful recent novels about Asia generally, they more often than not explore the interface between Asia and the West, often through interactions between Western and Asian characters.
This is hardly surprising; more than one critic has suggested that the story of individuals living between cultures is one of the most significant stories of our times.
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It could be argued that fiction about being Asian-Australian is by definition about such individuals. But I think this novel is making important comments about Western tourism in third world countries, and has a good chance of selling.
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Q: Any concluding comments on what might improve the marketing of Asian-Australian literature? One can only hope that Asian-Australian literature will be reviewed more often in more informed ways in such newspapers and magazines, rather than according to culturally inappropriate criteria.