British English Vs American English in Publishing

I generally prefer to publish my works in Canadian English, but I will sometimes try to manage British English instead (or both, if possible, by avoiding words that are spelled differently in the two languages). As a Canadian, I feel this is a good option for me... But as a Canadian I admit that I frequently encounter British spellings that contradict the type of English I was raised with.

This is probably hampering my ability to sell books in both the USA and the UK... But internationally it might not matter so much because there's also a lot of potential readers in other English speaking countries who may not care about spelling issues.

Populations of English speaking Countries (ignoring the USA)

New Zealand        4.99 million (2019)
Australia        25.4 million (2019)
Canada            37.3 million (2019)
Ireland            4.9 million (2019)
U.K.            67.0 million (2019)

Non-USA Total            139.59 million (2019)

USA            330.4 million (2019)
So yes, when you compare populations of the major English speaking countries you really can't ignore American English as it is quite literally the biggest elephant in the room. But when you look about globally it is a different matter...

Globally 1.6 billion people speak English, although many of them speak English as a second language. Thus many of them are not necessarily my target audience when it comes to publishing my books in English.

It should also be noted that while the USA does have a large population, not all Americans speak English as their first language, and that many Americans don't read books regularly, many don't read fantasy.

Thus to me, publishing for a global audience, it makes sense to use British English instead as that is acceptable worldwide, and American readers can get by just fine and understand British English, so is it really that big of a deal???

Well... What are the big publishing companies doing with respect to this topic? Let's ask ChatGPT...

The differences between British English and American English have long been a topic of discussion and debate, and these variations also have an impact on the publishing industry. When it comes to publishing books, there are several issues that arise with respect to British English versus American English. Let's explore some of these issues:

  1. Spelling and Vocabulary: One of the most noticeable differences between British English and American English lies in spelling and vocabulary. Words like "colour" (British) versus "color" (American) or "centre" (British) versus "center" (American) exemplify this contrast. In the publishing industry, the choice of spelling and vocabulary depends on the target audience. If a book is being published for a predominantly British readership, British English conventions are typically used, while American English conventions are employed for books targeted at an American audience.

  2. Punctuation and Grammar: Although the fundamental rules of punctuation and grammar are generally consistent across both British and American English, there are minor divergences. For example, the use of single or double quotation marks, punctuation within dialogue, or the placement of punctuation marks in relation to quotation marks can vary between the two variants. These differences can create challenges for publishers when preparing a manuscript for publication, as they must ensure consistency and accuracy according to the targeted English language variant.

  3. Idiomatic Expressions and Cultural References: Language is deeply influenced by culture, and as a result, British English and American English contain unique idiomatic expressions and cultural references. Publishers must be mindful of these variations, especially when dealing with books that contain cultural nuances and references specific to a particular region. Translating and adapting these references for the target audience is essential to ensure the book resonates with readers and maintains its intended meaning.

  4. Market Reach and Sales Potential: When deciding on language conventions for a book, publishers consider the market reach and sales potential in different English-speaking regions. For example, British publishers may consider adapting British English to American English conventions for books targeted at the U.S. market to appeal to a wider audience and increase sales. Similarly, American publishers may consider adapting American English to British English conventions for books targeted at the UK market. These decisions are often driven by commercial considerations and the desire to maximize the book's potential reach.

  5. Editorial and Copyediting Considerations: In the editorial and copyediting processes, publishers need to consider the specific style guides and guidelines for British English and American English. Editors and copyeditors must be well-versed in the conventions of the targeted English variant to ensure consistency and adherence to the appropriate standards. This includes issues such as punctuation, spelling, hyphenation, and grammatical preferences.

Conclusion: The British English versus American English debate poses various challenges for the publishing industry. From spelling and vocabulary choices to idiomatic expressions and cultural references, publishers must carefully navigate these differences to effectively reach their intended audience and ensure a seamless reading experience. Adapting language conventions, providing accurate translations, and maintaining consistency are all crucial factors that publishers consider when dealing with the divergences between British English and American English in the publishing process. Ultimately, the goal is to create a product that resonates with readers and effectively communicates the author's intended message, regardless of the English variant employed.

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