A lot of people (including fellow writer Nicola Palmer) have been wondering how they can expand themselves from their domestic boundaries out into the world and create a worldwide fanbase.
As you have heard from my past exploits, I have had a lot of experience in this area. While it was not all glory, fortune, and fame I have learned a couple of things.
Go To Them
This sounds really obvious (you may have heard similar advice here, here, and here) but the gist of it comes down to this: You need to know where your audience hangs out and find them.
Even if you're publishing books about hillbillies that live off the grid, you can find them somewhere on the Internet. It might be a little weird when trying to find it in terms of country, but if you take the time on Twitter and in the forums, someone is about to show up.
There might still be a chance you are still unsure who you are writing for. You like to experiment and play around with things, so it's hard to find the right age or gender that defines who your core audience is.
If you're more right brain, don't think of it in terms of statistics and demographics. Think of it in terms of who do you wanna write for.
One time, I was at the gym when I saw this blonde, borderline preppie woman on one of the exercise bikes reading something. I asked her what it was about and she replied with a smile "It's about an airplane that crashes in the mountains and the survivors have to eat the dead to survive".
For whatever reason, I decided not to continue my conversation with said person, but when I think about my body of work, she is my imaginary audience member. Maybe pandering to a mysterious blonde possibly borderline psychopath is not a good indicator of success, but knowing she exists helps me when I deal with people who think "you're writing for women, they won't get it" and all the things people say when they think too hard about stupid things.
Dabble In Local Culture
One of the wonderful things about the Internet is that we can now communicate with people in other countries freely whenever we want. When you think about how it used to to cost a thousand dollars to send a transatlantic telegram back in the day, it is really something to ponder from time-to-time.
The comments on Yahoo articles have the occasional foreigner in between the common redneck riff raff. When you ignore the trolling and misspelled words, it's really a wonder.
If you allow yourself to dabble, you can find out a lot about people. A lot of stereotypes I have had about British people in their posh etiquette has withered away and been replaced with images of godless drunken hooligans and the exploits of Charlie Brooker. I'm actually glad this has happened, it's made me like British people more.
As for Americans, all I can say as a writer is you have to get our attention. You have a lot of competition. Americans like to get to the point and do things. I tweeted a while ago that I would actually watch soccer (futbol) if they had a shot clock. A shot clock, for those unfamiliar with it, is a device used in basketball that forces players to make a shot in under 24 seconds unless they want the ball to go to the other team.
It always makes the game exciting. I can't stand a bunch of guys running around a field for three hours. So remember that if you wish to grab a Yank's attention. A lot of Americans still fear this elitist perception the they of Britannia, so if you can be down-to-earth and unique, you should be okay.
Then again, these are the same people who created and embraced Twilight out in the southwest. Something happens when you are alone writing manuscripts in the desert that makes you think of rain and shiny vampires.
Sometimes it can be the way things are distributed in one country that can mean all the difference. In Rip It Up and Start Again, Simon Reynolds chronicles the history of the postpunk movement where he discussed the state of British radio as compared to American radio.
American radio has a large selection of radio stations to choose from in any regional area. Because of the large number of stations, the musical choices are often stuck with Top 40s hits mixed with classic rock. Now, I'm not entirely sure how English radio is, but apparently it's different with single channels that broadcast nationwide. That's why MTV was a big deal in the US. It was the only thing that broadcast music nationwide.
That's why all those reality talent shows are big deals here. This changes how both sides of the pond perceive culture. Once Americans find a comfort zone they in it, whether it's rap or anything else. But in England, you can take risks. You can have Ellie Goulding. America would have rejected Ellie Goulding if she came here first. Same with Adele. Same with Amy Winehouse.
In a Hitquarters interview with either Marcus Beese or Nick Gatfield (I can't fully remember which one it was) it's small rule in England that if you replicate what Americans do best, it won't work. British rappers seem goofy over here. But, Amy Winehouse worked because there was nothing like that here.
Same thing with Danny Boyle movies and Tom Hardy in Bronson. Bronson has to be one of my favorite movies about criminals American/British or otherwise, and a lot of that has to do with the unique voice the film is presented in. You might see him as some local buffoon, but I thought it was an interesting character study.
(As an aside for a second, I wanna say that if someone can write a Harry Potter/Narnia/Tolkien story with pottymouthed British melting pot immigrants as the main characters, I think that would be awesome. Like Attack The Block mixed with magic)
Change Your Sleep Cycle
This is a little thing you can do that might improve your chances for a foreign fanbase. I like to write at night. Writing at night is fun. All my best essays as a kid were slung out at 4:00 AM. Late night typing is a sign of greatness. You can keep your goofy Folgers coffee morning routines.
Anyway, my nocturnal writing habits means that I am more aligned with Australians, Kiwis, and Limeys (saying Aussie, Kiwi, and Limey makes me want to put a lime and a kiwi into a Victoria Bitter) whenever they pop in on Twitter. This gives me the chance to interact with a group of people I normally wouldn't talk to if I had a normal sleep cycle.
So, if a foreign fanbase is something you desire, take a night (if your work schedule allows) to play around with when you tweet and see if you can chat up your overseas fanbase.
Trial and Error
Taco Bell is an American fast food outlet that serves Americanized Mexican cuisine. They have expanded into a bunch of different countries.
They tried to expand into Mexico.
It didn't work.
They tried again, this time selling American food.
Still didn't work.
Disneyland Paris. Took a couple tries and a lot of money before they made it work.
I wanted to chat with people in different languages. It's a funny story I tell people now.
In wanting to quench your imperialistic thirst for recognition, you will encounter a couple pitfalls. It happens.
If you want an exotic omelette, you have to climb a tall tree, get some weird eggs, and crack them.
For whatever reason, the country you might want could be hesitant. But that could be okay. The Darkness singer Justin Hawkins once said that his favorite band was Aerosmith. He acknowledged that Aerosmith was not that big in England as they were in America, but he felt like it was his own little popular obscure band.
Chances are, there could be someone who sees you as that awesome little cultural secret. So embrace it.