Can I Write a Light Novel Even If I’m Not Japanese?

You’ve been reading Light Novels (LN) for a while now. You’ve taken note of popular story structures, character tropes, settings, and so on. And perhaps one day you thought to yourself:

“I could write something better than this.”

That’s a good sign—the first sign that becoming an Author is in your future.

But a seed of doubt sets in. You remember LNs are written, illustrated, and published entirely by Japanese people. And you have to ask—

Can I write a Light Novel even if I’m not Japanese?

And the answer is:

Yes, you can write a Light Novel even if you’re not Japanese. A Light Novel is just a unique style of novel. And anyone can write a novel. Being a ‘foreigner’ does not prevent you from writing a novel that is written in the Light Novel style and features Anime-style illustrations.

Why can I say that?

Because myself and many others have done so. Multiple times. However, as you might suspect, the problem doesn’t lie in writing or even in publishing, but in selling.

Anyone from anywhere can write a LN. And they can even publish their LN with ease given the many self-publishing services (like Amazon) available today.

The problem lies in making money—selling your LN. This is where most Authors lose hope and are settle for posting their work online for free in the hopes of some recognition instead of profit.

But I’m here to tell you that becoming a full-time LN Author is not impossible. Difficult? Very much so. But impossible? No way. Others have done it, so you can too. There are plenty of articles on this website that will teach you how to become a bestselling LN Author.

But first, let’s look into why it’s so hard to sell the proverbial ‘Non-Japanese’ Light Novel (NJPLN) so you know what you’re getting into.

Why Is It So Hard to Sell a Light Novel Written By a Foreigner?

Let’s say you give it your all and create a LN. It’s as long as it should be, it’s full of eye-catching illustrations, properly formatted, and ready to be enjoyed by whoever happens upon it.

You self-publish it on Amazon or perhaps your own website. And then…nothing. Well, maybe something. There’s a high chance you’ll sell a few copies if you’re selling it for dirt cheap as most fledgling Authors do.

Ask any self-published LN author (of which there are more than you might think, here is a website cataloging the vast majority) if they’ve actually sold their LN and they’ll probably say yes.

But whether or not you can sell your LN is not your primary concern. Rather, you should ask how many copies of your LN you can sell. And the answer is:

A NJPLN will not sell anywhere near as well as those created by a Japanese person.

A common sight for those trying to break into the Light Novel scene. Image by Andrew Khoroshavin from Pixabay

But why? If the story content, character tropes, and settings are all more-or-less the same, why shouldn’t your LN sell just as well?

It’s difficult to give a definitive answer, but I can point to two key issues (among many) that tie back into the primary problem with NJPLNs.

That being: the differences between NJPLNs and JPLNs are blatantly obvious.

Let’s take a quick look into each one.

Your Light Novel Illustrations Need to Look Japanese

First of all, yes—you need illustrations in your LN. There are a handful of LNs without illustrations, but not only are they very few in number, they’re even sold in a different section from illustrated LNs in Japanese bookstores.

But what kind of illustrations?

Exactly the kind you would find in a JP LN. In order to sell your LN, it needs to feature anime-style illustrations.

Unfortunately, this is difficult to achieve as typically only actual Japanese illustrators are capable of drawing in the style readers expect to find in LNs.

This may be hard to stomach, but based on the thousands of Non-JP artists who draw in the anime-style I’ve seen, very few come close to replicating JP art. Go take a look at the front page of the ‘Anime and Manga’ section of DeviantArt and you’ll soon agree.

Note: The above is still true, but is difficult to ascertain given the sheer amount of AI art being created. The majority of which are primarily based on art drawn by Japanese illustrators. Thus, they hardly ‘count’ as western art.

This isn’t to say that Non-JP artists are bad. Some are quite good. Besides, whether art is good or not is entirely subjective. What isn’t subjective is whether or not that art is marketable.

And this non-marketability is where most NJPLN Authors fail.

When a potential reader (who is most likely an Otaku) sees the cover of your LN and finds art that is blatantly ‘not Japanese’, there’s a good chance he will not give it a second look.

But why is that? Well, that ties into the second reason it’s so hard to sell the NJPLN.

Otaku are Not Open to Change

Generally speaking, Otaku are hardcore purists. Meaning, if they are presented anime, manga, etc. that are not wholly created by Japanese, they won’t want anything to do with it.

That might sound extreme, but despite everything I’m saying, I myself fall under this category. I’m more open-minded now, but when I first dove deep into Otaku culture, I balked at the idea of reading manga written by an American or even by a Korean (whose art-styles are extremely close to the Japanese). I assumed that because it wasn’t Japanese, it would be bad.

And it’s that mindset you will be fighting every day. NJP Otaku media, whatever they may be, will be treated as inferior by default. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

And that’s perfectly fine for two reasons:

One, slowly, but surely, the times are changing. Many Otaku are reading LNs written by Chinese and Koreans. NJPLN Authors, though they are few, do have fanbases. And, most exciting, LNs themselves are getting more traction abroad than ever before.

Just a few years ago, all you could find in American bookstores was manga. Rarely could you find an LN, much less a shelf dedicated to them like you can today. Non-JP Manga Authors are successful because Manga is popular. Perhaps soon, NJPLN Authors will be successful as LNs as a medium become more and more popular.

And dealing with all that probably sounds like a pain, so you wonder if you could pay someone else to do it via traditional publishing. But can you?

Can I Traditionally Publish My Light Novel?

Note: As an American, I will be answering this question from an American perspective. The answer might be different in your country.

With the odds stacked against you as a self-published Author, you might think it’s easier to be traditionally published. But can you traditionally publish your Light Novel?

Not right now. I reached out to five of the major American Light Novel publishing houses and was told they were not currently accepting original submissions of any kind. And as far as I know, they have never published any LN not originally published in Japan.

The companies in question:

  • Kodansha USA Publishing
  • Seven Seas Entertainment
  • Viz
  • Yen Press

That said, there was one American company who sought to change these dismal circumstances we NJPLN Authors find ourselves in.

Enter Vic’s Lab.

You may have heard of this small publishing house if you’ve ever looked into publishing your LN, but most likely, you haven’t. Why?

Because they didn’t quite take off the way they were probably hoping. They published a handful of NJPLNs, but soon lost traction and never picked up speed again.

Their website still functions, but doesn’t appear to have been updated in years. However, they still send out the occasional tweet on Twitter.

They’re not dead, but they don’t show any strong signs of being alive either.

So, why didn’t they make waves?

What actually transpired within the company, I can only guess, but I can say why they didn’t from a marketing perspective. I invite you to visit their website so you can better understand my following points.

  • The website design is dated, hard to navigate, and unlike other LN publishers’ sites, doesn’t make me think ‘oh, this is anime-related’.
  • Their publishing platform is less focused on traditional publishing than it is helping Author’s with their self-publishing endeavors (which makes me think: ‘why don’t I just do it myself?)
  • Their published LNs are blatantly Non-JP. Again, not a negative, but the average Otaku will run away screaming.

I don’t say all this to poke fun at Vic’s Lab, but to illustrate just why NJPLNs have yet to succeed when they have no reason not to.

Rather, I applaud this company for its bravery in stepping foot into unknown territory. Even though it didn’t take off, they gave hope to NJPLN Authors that they stood an actual chance.

Ok, you say, so there’s little hope of being traditionally published in the USA. Then could I perhaps be published in Japan?

Can a Foreigner Publish Their Light Novel in Japan?

I’ll make this quick.

Yes, you can.

Will you?

Well, let’s just say you have the same odds of publishing in Japan as you do at winning the lottery.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s been done. The author of No Game, No Life is from Brazil. And not only is his series highly successful, it even got an anime adaptation.

That said, he had the benefit of knowing the Japanese language, which in itself requires years of studying to become fluent, but even more, he knows how to write in Japanese.

One of the most terrifying aspects of the Japanese language is that the grammar rules for conversation and those for literature are very different. Rules for one don’t always apply to the latter and vice versa.

I speak Japanese, but have no idea how to render my LNs in proper literature-style Japanese.

It’s similar to English in that you would never hear someone say “I encountered a breath-taking painting doused in vivid shades of crimson” out loud.

So, unless you can:

  • Speak Japanese
  • Write in Japanese (in proper literature format)
  • Master the necessary terminology needed to communicate with your agent, editor, publishing house, and so on in Japanese

I wouldn’t get your hopes up.

Although, if you can do all these things, then by all means, post your LN to every popular website known to man and hope that someone notices you. Many famous JPLN series started as web novels after all.

But for the rest of us, let’s just focus on making our NJPLNs more marketable to a NJP audience.

Do You Have to Self-Publish Your Light Novel?

And so, the question remains—can I traditionally publish my NJPLN?

Again, the answer is: not right now. And I say that for a couple reasons.

For one, if enough NJP Authors start publishing their LNs and marketing them correctly, there’s a good chance one of the major players in the Otaku publishing industry will take notice and want a piece of the profit pie.

And two, our, Otaku Create’s ultimate goal is to do what Vic’s Lab originally set out to do. Yes, one day, hopefully in the near future, we will start accepting submissions for your original content and publish it so you don’t have to go through the pains of self-publishing on your own.

When I cannot say, but we refuse to lie down and accept the common belief that the NJPLN will never succeed.

And the whole of this website will teach you just how to make your LN marketable to even the most puritanical of Otaku.

The primary trick is blending in and doing everything you can to make your NJPLN indistinguishable from a JPLN. Doing so is no simple task, but you can find the basics in this article.

Self-publishing requires a lot of extra work and dedication, yes, but for now, it’s the only way to bring your LN to the world.

Yes. Anyone Can Write a Light Novel

Ok, I’ve made a lot of noise and given you a lot to digest, but to answer your original question:

Yes, whether American, European, or from Mars, anyone can write a Light Novel.

But that doesn’t mean anyone can write a LN that will make them a millionaire.

Abandon any preconceptions you have about creating a LN. Otaku have highly specific tastes that you must cater to in order to succeed. Write the LN you want to write, but be prepared to make sweeping changes to the writing style, art style, and marketing if you want it to become a bestseller.

But don’t panic. Otaku Create has plenty of articles that will teach you how to do just that.

Happy writing!


Hey, my name's Azuma. I first dove deep into Otaku culture in 2010 and never quite grew out of it. After a million different anime, light novels, manga, and visual novels, I learned a lot about each art form. Knowledge I want to share with you from writing advice to drawing tips. I'm also the Author of two light novels series, Garden of PSI and On Creating the Ultimate Weapon. Happy creating!

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