Same Book, But Different

There’s an interesting post at The Readventurer about the significant differences between the North American and Australian editions of Cath Crowley’s YA novel, Graffiti Moon*. The reviewer, who has read both editions, concludes that the American version “felt a bit…sanitized, which I didn’t like.”

Interesting. Especially as there didn’t seem to be anything particularly edgy or controversial in the Australian edition of Graffiti Moon, as I recall.

American publishers do tend to change spelling and punctuation when they publish Australian YA books, and they also change any vocabulary that might prove confusing to American teenage readers. I remember reading the American editions of some YA novels by Barry Jonsberg and Melina Marchetta, in which the settings were clearly Darwin or the inner western suburbs of Sydney – yet the characters talked about ‘dimes’ and ‘sidewalks’. Even J.K. Rowling’s first book was subjected to Americanisation, with her American publishers making more than eighty changes to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, including the title. (And some of the changes seem pretty silly to me – surely American readers could work out that ‘multi-storey car park’ means the same as ‘multilevel parking garage’.)

For the record, the North American edition of A Brief History of Montmaray is very different to the Australian edition. Apart from a much-needed structural edit (for example, I completely re-wrote the final chapter), I spent a lot of time wrangling with my American copy-editor over words such as ‘biscuit’ and ‘jersey’. This was complicated by the fact that my narrator spoke a posh 1930s British version of English. But The FitzOsbornes in Exile and The FitzOsbornes at War are pretty much the same (apart from the spelling), wherever you buy a copy in the world. Maybe my American editors figured that readers who’d made it through the first book in the series would be able to cope with the characters eating ‘biscuits’ rather than ‘cookies’, and using ‘torches’ rather than ‘flashlights’, and so on. Or maybe my editors just got tired of arguing with me.

*Thanks to Bookshelves of Doom for the link to the Graffiti Moon discussion.

17 thoughts on “Same Book, But Different”

  1. If I were American, I’d be infuriated by this sort of thing, especially changes that imply the US audience is somehow stupider, like the change in the Philosopher’s Stone title and the cut and paste version of Downton Abbey that was aired there, because apparently inheritance plot lines are too complicated for them. I feel very fortunate that here in Oz we mostly get the British editions of books, even ones by American authors. They tend to have nicer covers too imho.

    1. Oh, that’s interesting about Downton Abbey – I didn’t know that. Although sometimes British TV episodes are trimmed to fit the American timeslots because they have more ads on American TV.

      You’re right, too, when you say it’s an insult to American readers to assume they can’t use context to figure out unfamiliar words. When I read American books, I expect they’ll be full of American phrases and cultural references, some of which will be unfamiliar to me, but that’s okay. That’s why I read, to learn new things!

  2. I am an American and I hate that editors dumb down Australian and British books because we might not be able to figure out what a jersey is, or the inheritance laws in Downton Abbey (which is shown on public television so no commericals.)

    I would rather have the original version of a book, so why can’t editors put a glossary at the back explaining such things a what a philosopher’s stone is, or a jersey or a biscuit etc.

    Their attitude makes my blood boil.

    1. I remember talking to an Australian YA author about this, and she said American teachers refused to have books in their classrooms/libraries unless the books were ‘Americanised’ – so of course, American publishers make changes to the original text, because they want to sell books, and schools are a huge part of the YA book market.

      I don’t know how true this is, or whether the situation’s different for ‘adult’ literature.

  3. I have wondered if there’s any regret now over at Scholastic over at least changing the TITLE of Harry Potter Book 1– if they’d had any idea how huge it was going to be, would they have still changed it? because now it just seems to be MORE of a confusing factor, when fandom spans around the globe and they had to shoot certain scenes of the movies two different ways just to get around the stupid title issue.

    I’ve always enjoyed reading books with “foreign” English in them, but I was a weird kid and maybe there IS some actual marketing research that shows most American kids are not like me. I CAN see it being necessary in some cases, though, when the wrong word could give somebody ENTIRELY the wrong impression (“jumper” for example), but I always felt like, in the US edition, a 3rd person narrator could use the American word, but (at least if the story obviously takes place somewhere else) the CHARACTERS should use the words THEY would ACTUALLY use.

    Which means Sophie ought to be writing the words SHE would actually use the whole time. I’ll stand by you on that one.

    1. Scholastic have made so much money from the Harry Potter books that I don’t think they have any regrets at all!

      Yes, I think sometimes words need to be changed, if their meanings are so different that they’d throw the reader out of the story. I remember first coming across ‘jumper’ in an American book and being very confused, because how could the girl character go to school wearing just a jumper and shirt? Why wasn’t she wearing a skirt or jeans as well? Was she trying to shock people? [Note to Australians: an American ‘jumper’ is a pinafore dress].

        1. It’s what you’d call a ‘sweater’ – a long-sleeved top, usually knitted from wool. It only comes down to the waist, so a girl wearing just a jumper to school would look VERY ODD.

  4. Wait, does this mean that I should read the American edition of the first book too now? Is this just a clever marketing ploy to sell twice the number of books? I sense a conspiracy… So when the Australian publisher brought out the second edition (new cover) of ‘The Brief History’, did they change the last chapter? (My edition is the early purple one).

    On another note, I’ve pre-ordered a copy of ‘The FitzOsbornes at War’ from my favourite bookstore, and have a 1930s tea dress lined up! Now all I need to do is find myself a portuguese water dog, or convince my cat to pretend to be a dog for the day…

    1. No, no, you don’t have to read the American version. And the new Australian edition of A Brief History of Montmaray is almost exactly the same as the original, purple one. We just fixed up a tiny error that somehow slipped past me, my editor and the proofreader (it’s on page 31, if you care to look). I wish there was a conspiracy to sell more of my books, though, I could do with some extra money . . .

      And your 1930s tea dress sounds lovely! If your cat refuses to impersonate a Portuguese water dog, then perhaps he or she could just pretend to be one of the cats at Montmaray. There is also a very sneaky tabby in The FitzOsbornes at War, if that helps.

  5. Yay! I feel like I was just granted a sneak preview of “The FitzOsbornes at War”! Unfortunately, my cat is so contrary that he’d probably refuse to be a cat anymore if I asked him to impersonate one. Also, he’s a black cat, and would probably scoff at the notion that he could be passed off for some common or garden variety tabby…

  6. Is there any way those of us in North America who read your books can get our hands on the original version of a Brief History of Montmaray? I’d like to read it as it was originally written. Also, while I’m at it, how can I get a copy of your third book without having to wait the months and months before it comes out here?

    1. Hi, Margaret. I’m planning on doing a blog post soon with a list of Australian on-line booksellers who stock my books, and they’d be able to send you the Australian version of A Brief History of Montmaray. It’s not hugely different to the edition you read, though. The story is basically the same, but there’s less history and a slightly more dramatic escape scene in the American version. And of course, the spelling and punctuation and some of the vocabulary is different.

  7. Gosh, I never knew different editions of books were THAT different. Perhaps you should create a boxed-set of the Aussie versions so that us North Americans can revel in the glory of the original writing! I really can’t seem to find different editions of any book at libraries here in Canada, but I would like to read what authors actually wrote…harrumph!

    1. Well, some of the changes to the North American edition of A Brief History of Montmaray make it a better book, I think – for example, I like the exploding stained-glass window scene in the North American version, which is missing from the original Australian edition. And the good news is that the last two books in the trilogy are pretty much the same, whether you buy them in Canada or Australia.

      (By the way, you have a very cool name. You don’t have pink hair, do you?)

      1. Hmm – I will keep that in mind. No, I do not have pink hair at the moment, as it makes me look “peaky.” Just joking! Tonks has always been one of my favourite characters, and I think being a Metamorphmagus would be most convenient. Imagine the possibilities…one could become famous as the worst poet in the world under the complete alternate identity of Harmonius Cabbagedorf Schubleheimer!

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