Expat literature: A niche market

I wanted to find out more about how expat lit is marketed. I’ve spent the week tweeting with Anastasia Ashman, expat author of Tales from the Expat Harem and cofounder of the Global Niche Program. You can read the full tweeting session here.

Anastasia believes that recognition of the expat lit genre would not only benefit individual titles, but also it would also draw readers to a larger body of works. In chatting to her, I realised I needed to think more about where my own book will sit. Given the overarching themes of identity loss and coping with expat life, I now realised it is probably best placed in living and working abroad.

It’s becoming clear though, that it’s harder to sell books when there is no real recognition of the expat lit genre online or on the physical shelves of a bookstore, and when your audience is, by its very nature, spread liberally around the globe. Luigi Bonomi, a London literary agent I pitched to at the Emirates Literature Festival, raised this concern. He noted ‘though there are many expats I think major publishers would fear UK sales would be terribly small’. But is this because major publishers and mass markets aren’t the best option for this type of literature? The UK Chief Executive of Penguin Random House, Tom Weldon, was this week quoted in The Guardian as saying ‘traditional publishers…have to get to know their readers: Where do they hang out, what do they like, how do we talk to them?’ Smaller publishers with a number of books in the travel/expat lit stable might be the better option, because they already cater to the niche and they know their market.

I agree with Luigi that expat literature is a niche genre with an international readership, and must find its audience through global reach and widespread, significant online presence. I asked Anastasia her opinion, if publishers are maybe put off by the wide geographical spread of expat literature readers. Her reply was that ‘niche publishers who are strong in online sales or who produce e-books first aren’t put off’. It’s something I plan to explore further. But when there is such a global spread of audience and a relatively small community to tap into via social networking, is self-publishing a better option?

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