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Why alienate your audience?

I have just finished reading a book my daughter has read a few times. I was actually keen for her to read books by this author as she is Australian, writes about the meeting of cultures and seems to give a positive outlook to teenagers.

Now, I’m not so keen.

I actually found parts of this book (and admittedly it was her first) unsettling – and I’m unlikely to read another. by this author.

Writing about Melbourne

Australia has it's own culture

Australia has it’s own culture and terminology

The book is clearly set in Melbourne – the characters live in Camberwell, eat Vegemite, visit Lygon St for pizza and gelati, Acland St for cakes and belong to the Debating Association of Victoria (DAV). All those details are named and a theme of the book is a girl finding her identity as a ‘hyphenated Australian’.

So why does she ‘catch a streetcar’ to a ‘mall’ with her ‘mom’  wearing ‘flipflops’ or discuss clothing choices for a 58 degree day or ‘keep to the right’ when skating at St Kilda beach?

I’ve never caught a streetcar or worn flip flops in my life, but have been in many Melbourne trams and often worn thongs. Australia is metric so her 58 degrees farenheit would be known as 14 degrees (ah, now her comments about the girl being under-dressed make sense!) and if you stick to the right on our roads and paths you’re likely to get arrested if not killed!

Consider your audience

I often read books that were written for other countries, including the USA. I mentally ‘translate’ them into my experiences. So someone is facing a difficult left hand turn in the book and I picture it as a right hand turn to understand the context. I read ‘mom’ as ‘mum’, ‘color’ as ‘colour’ and struggle over imperial references.

That’s okay when I’m reading an American book.

I resent it in an Australian book.

If you are sharing an Australian experience with readers, make it authentically Australian by using Australian terminology and spelling. To do otherwise alienates your Australian audience.

Maybe her purpose was to write for the American audience because it is larger. Then why make it so clearly about Australia? Why insult Americans to say they can’t read a book and ‘translate’ terms into their context?

In a book trying to show how cultures are different but can co-exist, I found it uncomfortable that she didn’t stay with the Australian culture. It felt hypocritical. And that she was demeaning Australian culture.

Back to business…

You may not be writing books about cultural clashes, or even in a business that has much cultural diversity to deal with, but the point is the same.

It’s important to know your voice and stick to it.

To know your audience and understand it – not just what they can understand but what could be insulting or offensive.

To really think about what you are communicating between the lines.

To realise that the USA is not the world and that it’s ok to do things in a locally appropriate way instead of copying the American way by default.

6 Responses to Why alienate your audience?

  • Marina says:

    Sadly (especially with children’s books) there is a move to make them ‘reader friendly’ for the US market. Many authors have the option of either being published and make the compromise – or go independent.
    In the end – whether it’s a book, an article or a media release – for the writing to be successful (holds the readers interest) it must have the end reader in mind. Love the points you’ve raised here 🙂

    • tashword says:

      Hi Marina, that was the problem with this book – it didn’t have the Australian reader in mind and lost my interest.

      I just think it is so sad that other cultures are squished and that children in the USA aren’t getting to experience a broader world if everything is switched to meet their experiences.
      Thanks for leaving a comment and I’m glad you liked it 

  • KennyK says:

    I would assume an author makes sure there’s a match with the Australian audience if they are writing a book like that. It’s the same as writing a book for people in the United Kingdom and using American English and references to the USA all the time 😉 That wouldn’t make much sense either.

    When you write for another audience than the one you’re familiar with, it’s important to get help from native speakers who can help to edit your text.

    • tashword says:

      The problem is that this particular author IS Australian and used great local specifics (eg yummy treats in Acland St is something any Melbournian would know!) yet used Americanisms – it would have to have been deliberate (on her part or the publishers, I don’t know.)

      Glad you understand why those non-Australian bits were annoying, Kenny!

  • GaryG says:

    I’m American and I agree wholeheartedly with the opinions expressed here. It upsets me when publishers attempt to dumb-down books. And yes, that’s what I consider it. It is shameful that it has gotten to the point where authors have to have published multiple versions of the same book just to appease one particular audience. In my local high school, they even resorted to having the kids read “Americanized” Shakespeare because the parents complained about the difficulty their kids where having reading “Ye olde English”. I was LIVID to say the least.

    • tashword says:

      “Americanised” Shakespeare just sounds so wrong – you’d lose the poetry and beauty of it. Yes ‘Ye Olde English’ is harder to read, but less so if you listen to the rhyme and flow of it. A few months ago my daughter was complaining about Shakespeare being too hard to understand so I read a page out loud to her – she was amazed to realise she not only understood the words but enjoyed the story once it had expression and rhythm. Do parents expect kids to find all school work easy – where’s the point in that??

      Thanks for your support Gary. I think the more we dumb stuff down, the more people will take that as the norm – we’re shooting ourselves in the foot really.

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