’s Diversity Beyond Borders: A Conversation with Charles Tan, by Sarah McCarry

Full disclosure: Charles mentions me in the interview. But when the publisher of books you read ten years ago prints your name, you put it up in your blog. “I mean, that’s just, like, the rules of feminism,” as a wise woman once said.

Diversity Beyond Borders: A Conversation with Charles Tan

And a million times this, from the article:

SM: How do you think issues of representation are different for international writers, as opposed to writers (especially writers of color) in the US/UK?

CT: It’s different in all the ways that matter.

Take for example a writer from the US/UK published by the Big 5. Their books will get distributed around the world (whether it does well or not). A writer from the Philippines published by a local major published will only get their books distributed in the Philippines, and even then, they’re second-class citizens compared to the US/UK books. Just visit any bookstore here and most of the books on the shelves are foreign books. Some bookstores will have books under the Filipiniana section, which is where you’ll find local books. It’s ironic that in the Philippines, it’s easier to acquire US/UK books than it is for local ones.

It’s possible for a local writer to get published in the US/UK, but that’s the exception rather than the norm, and even then, it’s under the terms of the US/UK publisher, and by that, I mean the content, which will usually focus on the Filipino-American experience or maybe eliminate the Filipino character entirely. If we look at the books published under a US publisher—The Gangster of Love by Jessica Hagedorn or Illustrado by Miguel Syjuco—it’s usually from an expatriate perspective. And while I haven’t read the book, Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto (who is based here in the Philippines), based on the book description, is set in Europe.

And let’s not even talk about eBooks and self-publishing. Barnes & Noble doesn’t sell outside of the US and the UK. Apple sells eBooks to a lot of countries, but the Philippines is not one of them (at least at the time of this writing). Amazon has a complex royalty policy, none of which favors the Philippines; if your book is priced between $2.99 ~ $9.99, you can get a 70% royalty share (this was initially established to compete with Apple’s royalties to publishers and authors), but only if the consumer who bought it belongs to one of Amazon’s listed countries. Worse, Amazon also charges $2.00 extra to customers from select countries as a charge for their Whispersync service. So a $2.99 book costs $4.99 if the customer is from the Philippines, and worse, the publisher is only getting 35% royalties instead of 70% it would have gotten if the consumer was from the US. This encourages a consumer base targeted at readers from abroad, rather than one that nurtures a local readership—at least if you want to maximize your profit.

And again, this is not to say publishers should make space for international writers at the cost of writers who are POC in the US/UK. In an ideal world, do both.


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