US Editions VS UK Editions

Bryant and May

One Bryant & May book didn’t get published in the US.

If you’re a career writer and manage to sell a few books over the years, you’ll be shocked at the space they take up. I live in a flat, so room is at a premium and international editions can’t be kept. I tried separating the covers and storing them without the text but I somehow managed to throw those out by mistake.

Once, an English language edition did not mean you got the same book stateside and in Europe. Several of my non-Bryant & May novels were edited for easier comprehension, losing the more extreme local references. Happily, Penguin Random House in the US has never had this problem with Bryant & May, and have kept in all of the highly oblique references which, I’m given to understand, some readers take a weird pride in decoding.

However, not all English language editions are identical, because for many years two separate editions were created on either side of the Atlantic with different publication schedules. Different editions picked up on different subjects, and a couple of the books (I’m sorry, I can’t remember which ones) turned out quite differently from one another.

Happily, my books have never been censored. It alterations bothered me in the same way that I used to become incensed about horror films being censored in the UK. Recently there have been attempts to suggest that the book-banning homophobic Christian busybody Mary Whitehouse was right all along. But this non-professional ‘ordinary concerned housewife’ deceived her public; Q&As were carefully planned in advance, dissident voices were quickly removed and audience members were thrown out of her public meetings. 

I campaigned for years to make a single English language edition available everywhere. Penguin Random House New York worked hard to achieve this, and more recently the volumes have been synched so that everyone gets the same book, except for the covers. Why is a sans serif typeface considered better for the US? Well, perhaps it’s just about making things just a little different.

However, one Bryant & May book did not get published in a physical format in the US. That was Vol 18, ‘England’s Finest’, although I have no idea why it should be. It’s a shame because now some references have to be removed or altered.

Overall, it’s still a massive improvement on the days when books were sent to me with covers that made me recoil. Some of my earlier thrillers were published in Russian (that won’t happen now!) and had fantastic covers, although they bore little relation to contents, and I have no idea what their translations were like. I’m glad that’s over because my Russian publisher had a capacity for vodka that I could not match!

29 comments on “US Editions VS UK Editions”

  1. Dean says:

    This is especially challenging as a Brit living in the US. Although it can be quite fun to try and pick out all the UK English references that have been changed to US English. Especially fun now that words like “gas station” and “trashcan” have migrated across the pond!

  2. Stu-I-Am says:

    Off the top of my head, the only two books that I recall as being significantly ‘different’ in different editions (and not just in word choices) are Burgess’ ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and Heinlein’s ‘A Stranger in a Strange Land’ — although perhaps not exactly what you have in mind. Originally, the controversial last chapter in the British version of ‘Clockwork Orange’ was dropped in the US edition. And yes, Kubrick based the film on the US edition. In the case of ‘Stranger,’ Heinlein’s publisher demanded that all references to religion and sex be removed from what Heinlein called a ‘…satire on religion and sex…’ He did wind up removing something like 70,000 words and did a great deal of rewriting for the original edition. Thirty years later, his widow had the unedited manuscript published.

    As for why British and European books tend to be printed in a serif typeface (or largely were) and US versions in a sans serif face, I conjecture it probably has (had) a lot to do with tradition and familiarity — with serif down through the centuries exemplifying the very definition of ‘civilized’ and erudition. Serif, of course, grew out of the flourishes of calligraphy and even when mechanical printing arrived in the mid-15th c,, printing was made to look as close to handwriting as possible.

    While I’m conjecturing, permit me to suggest that the reason ‘England’s Finest’ was not originally published in physical book format in the US (although now widely available as a used book) probably had something to do with the final consolidation of Penguin Random House under Bertelsmann at the time and the issue of how much autonomy remained for the imprints, yours likely included.

  3. Bernard says:

    Another Brit living in the USA. I notice but am rarely bothered by vocabulary changes in the US edition of books by British authors. Also, having lived here for over 35 years I am now unsure whether a particular American word, which was not in the British vocabulary when I left, has now migrated.
    What does bother me is where American authors writing novels set in Britain use anachronisms or words which Brits do not use. Laurie King tries hard to avoid this in her Mary Russell series, with the occasional slip, similarly Alan Bradley’s Flavia De Luce novels. But Charles Todd’s Rutledge series is riddled with howlers. When did a Brit last say valise rather than suitcase? Certainly no one has said “in back of” rather than “behind”.
    Not the worst problem we are facing, I know.

  4. Jo+e says:

    I’ve never quite understood the need to translate English English into American English to make it more understandable. It’s what makes English English English. If I read an American book I don’t think you’ve got a bit of an elephant in the back of your Buick. So likewise I’m sure the American reader, at least the ones I know, won’t think the young lady has the front of a Morris on her head. I know if you’re on a sidewalk you’re not a crab and if you’re talking on a cell phone you’re not in prison so is it not a two way thing?

    Brown pants is tricky though I admit.

    I do know a few BBC programmes and voice-overs were recorded twice, once for here, once for there which takes the puzzlement further as to who decides that this is needed?

    However importing American English for use in English English I do tend to draw the line at. Someone, here in the UK, wanted to ‘reach out’ to me last week. I replied internationally and told them to fuck off.

  5. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Jo+e Jo, since you take umbrage at the importation of American English, you may find ‘That’s The Way It Crumbles: The American Conquest of the English Language,’ by Matthew Engel absolutely infuriating.

  6. Paul C says:

    Words used in books in England like pissed, bummer and fanny certainly need to be changed for publication in America.

    Any more examples of such humour (oops, that’s humor if you’re in the USA)

  7. Gary Locke says:

    My wife surprised me two years ago with a copy of England’s Finest, which she acquired through Book Depository. However, the real Holy Grail for Bryant and May fans here in the U.S. is The Casebook of Bryant and May. The illustrated adventures of our favorite detectives simply can’t be found here. I know – I’ve been after this for years.

  8. Paul C says:

    Gary – there are 2 copies on Abe Books at the My Book Store in Tallahassee – expensive though !

  9. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Gary Locke Gary, of course ‘The Casebook’ is available in the US — at My Books Store in Tallahassee, FL for (gasp!) $221 + shipping. Alternatively, for USD 38.49 from the publisher (PS Publishing) including Royal Mail Airmail delivery.

  10. Helen+Martin says:

    I had an erudite,even handed, and interesting contribution to this topic; had read it for errors and been pleased and then the internet told me to shove it and dropped the whole thing mid-Atlantic.

  11. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Helen+Martin Helen, as you no doubt know —  Québécois is a fine example (according to the purists) of language pollution — replete with ill-disguised Anglicisms like: ‘J’ai parké mon char dans le stationnement’ or ‘I parked my car in the parking lot/car park.’ As I recall this bastardisation is unique to Quebec, with most of the rest of Canada (more or less) speaking Metropolitan French (if forced to speak French). Don’t know about the Acadians in Atlantic Canada.

  12. Jo says:

    Thats like super awesome of u Stu ur the goat – I have ordered
    I’m already annoyed.

  13. Helen+Martin says:

    Quebecois started out with 15th century Norman and Breton French. They added words from the local Mohawk and other nations. The English came in in 1759 and while they made things relatively comfortable for the French (they could keep language, religion, and laws) in Quebec things were different in Atlantic Canada where people could swear allegiance or leave. That’s where the Cajun culture came from and the generations of girls weeping over Evangeline. However there are pools of a different group whom you recognise by their flag and you meet in parts of the Eastern townships and in Nova Scotia. They are the Acadiens and their french is pretty much from that early period. If you come across Edith Butler’s recordings you can hear what it sounds like. We were driving through Quebec and I was forbidden to go to sleep because roadsigns were only in French. I laughed at one sign that told us to keep our headlights on through a tunnel except that the word for headlights was pharos – lighthouse.
    That is part of what I was saying before the internet dumped me. Who decides which English rules? Surely you want to hear the local sound just as you want to see the interesting corners. It is good to accustom one’s ears to a different rhythm even though sometimes it’s hard work. The effort is worth it. Publishing books is a little different but you’re not meeting a character properly if you don’t hear her/him in their native tongue. When most of us started reading British books we got used to dust bins, lorries, and pavements. We can pick up more if we want to. Was talking to a mystery fan who enjoyed the Shetland series except for trying to understand Tosh – who wasn’t from Shetland at all. (Glasgow was she?) That started us talking about those northern accents – I was always told the highest class one was from Edinburgh but it depends on what part of that city you call home, doesn’t it? The most pleasant to listen to I feel is anything in the north, the Highland and Islands.

  14. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Jo+e Jo, no problem. No worries. (Sound of fingernails on a blackboard).

  15. roxanne g reynolds says:

    i scored my copy of England’s Finest from either abe’s books or book depository. i try not to order from either one these days since both are owned by amazon. i absolutely despise it when books by british authors are americanized.
    speaking of scottish accents, years ago i tried to get my husband to watch the tv version of Rebus with John Hannah. hubby said he couldn’t understand a word. refused to turn on closed captioning. i’ve enjoyed all the seasons of Shetland by myself. his loss.

  16. roxanne g reynolds says:

    american television used to regularly re-dub David Attenborough ‘s narration of nature documentaries, which was a travesty. somewhere along the line, it was decided we could understand him after all.

  17. snowy says:

    Paul, sadly there is little mileage to be had in the linguistic differences betwixt US and UK English.

    Even “After a hard session with the Dallas football team, Debbie was absolutely brimming with spunk” would fail to raise an eyebrow these days.


    [Kids, ask your Granny to explain it to you!]


    Tone? What tone?

  18. Peter T says:

    Following Snowy, but UK-Ausssie:

    Two young women are in the queue for security at Sydney airport. The security officer asks them, “Would you take your thongs off before going through the machine?”

  19. Paul C says:

    Nice one, Peter ! – Reminds me of the true story of an English lad in an American classroom who asked his female teacher for some rubbers………

  20. Stu-I-Am says:

    In the etymological category of ‘go figure:’

    nakers (small medieval kettle drums which were played in pairs suspended from a belt around the waist) > knackers > knickers > pants = rubbish

  21. Karyn says:

    When available in US?

  22. James Devlin says:

    I ordered PECULIAR LONDON from London, to be sure of getting the Author’s Preferred Edition…

  23. admin says:

    What, are we not bothering with verbs now? I’m not sure yet but I’ll put up the dates as soon as I have them.

  24. Stu-I-Am says:

    @admin Verbs are so Middle English!

  25. Tim Lees says:

    As with Margaret Thatcher, Mary Whitehouse’s reputation has been been re-invented by people who were not around at the time when she had her greatest impact. Whitehouse was not so much a moral crusader as a philistine, frequently attacking work which was both artistic and truthful (I think it was the “truthful” bit she really disliked). while Thatcher was class war personified. Their descendants, unfortunately, are still with us.
    (Sorry — that’s a bit off-topic!)

  26. Helen+Martin says:

    Speaking of David Attenborough I heard him last night reading and commenting on poetry of the Romantic era. Sometimes the only difference between speakers is the rhythm they use and listeners mistake that for accent. He read the poetry very well, by the way.

  27. Liz+Thompson says:

    Paul C. One of my patchwork and quilting friends gave a workshop whilst in America. She told her (entirely female) students to use a rubber if they made a mistake. Silence. Awkward silence. At the coffee break, the student who’d drawn the short straw crept up to her and whispered: We call them erasers over here. The tutor was puzzled for a moment, then burst out laughing. On return to the UK, she included the story in every talk she gave to patchwork groups.

  28. Jonah says:

    The posts regarding the graphic “Casebook of Bryant and May” reminded me I hadn’t bought the book yet. (Postponing purchases of books, CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays until they’re out of print or nearly is a bad habit of mine.)
    This evening I was able to purchase the book directly from the publisher’s site (pspublishing.co.uk) for $24.64 (that’s US dollars) and a not-exorbitant postage charge of $12.31. The book’s price in pounds is 19.99.
    If the website turns out to be out-of-date and the book out-of-print from the publisher, I’ll post to let Fowler followers (Fowler’s fowl friends?) know.
    “England’s Finest” is available as a new paperback from amazon.com in the USA but that may be the British edition.
    As for Mary Whitehouse, does anybody remember the BBC 2008 movie starring the incomparable Julie Walters – “Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story”? In the USA, it aired on “Masterpiece Theatre”. The movie’s tone was satiric rather than a conventional biopic (and its naughtiest joke came out of the writer’s imagination) yet still humanized Whitehouse to a degree, although casting Walters may have tipped the scale because when is Julie Walters not likable? So far as I can tell, the film has never been released on DVD or Blu-Ray.
    A good review of “Filth” can be read on Nancy Banks-Smith’s TV and Radio blog for The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/tvandradioblog/2008/may/29/lastnightstvfilththemary

  29. Jonah says:

    Darn, I read after just posting Stu-I-Am’s comment that “The Casebook” is available from the publisher, so I ended up just repeating what he had written – with one tiny change: the book’s cost with air mail has slightly decreased from $38.49 to $36.95.

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