You decided to want to write and publish your Light Novel (LN). But two thoughts keep you from writing the first word.
- Can I write a light novel even though I’m not Japanese?
- Even if I could, how would I sell my light novel to readers who only want read light novels written by Japanese Authors?
The first question is easily answered. Yes, you can write a LN regardless of where you are from. LNs are just a unique style of novel and anyone can write a novel. You can read more about that here.
What we’ll be answering in this article is your second question.
How do you sell your non-Japanese Light Novel to Otaku?
By blending in. Light Novels that are exactly like their Japanese counterparts will sell. If you are able to make your LN indistinguishable from a Japanese one, then it has no reason not to sell.
LN readers come in search of a specific writing-style, art-style, and tropes unique to LNs. If you provide just that, then why wouldn’t they buy it?
LNs sell because they are LNs. If you present readers with a product you claim to be a LN that is not 100% in every what they expect from a LN, they are not going to respond well.
And such LNs are what are typically produced outside of Japan. They might have great stories, characters, and worlds, but if the front cover and writing style don’t scream ‘this a Light Novel’, many Otaku will not give it a second glance. We tend to be purists when it comes to our hobbies.
Ok, but how exactly do you ‘blend in’?
The rest of this article will teach you. By the end, you’ll know how to make your LN marketable to even the most puritanical of Otaku.
But first, it’s important we look at some opposing opinions so that you better understand what exactly I’m suggesting you do.
What If I Market My Light Novel to an American/Western Audience?
Common advice on how to sell the Non-Japanese LN (NJPLN) falls under two categories.
- To just write a standard LN using all expected writing-style and anime tropes, but to not feature anime-style illustrations. This has apparently worked for some Authors. By not marketing themselves as LN Authors, they’re able to write what they want and still sell their work to an western audience who might be turned off by the anime aesthetic.
- Use the LN writing style and anime tropes as well as include anime-style illustrations, but employ western storytelling techniques, characters with western names, and western settings to make the work more palatable to an western Audience.
Both have their merits and a few Authors have succeeded using one or both methods, but I say forget that.
Go hard in the opposite direction.
You might get a few fans following the above methods, but if your ultimate goal is to be a bestseller, you should target the larger audience: Otaku.
If your original goal was to write a JP-Style LN full of angry Tsunderes, sharp-tongued Imoutos, doting Onee-sans, and a dense overpowered protagonist, then do just that.
Besides, if you have written such a LN, then odds are you aren’t going to be able to sell it to anyone except Otaku!
Marketing to Americans can work, but how many popular-fiction reading, Netflix-watching people are going to consider buying a book with a cute anime girl on the front? One? None?
Don’t waste your time. Embrace the Otaku aesthetic 100% and you’ll have a far better chance at becoming a bestselling Author.
By blending in.
Your Light Novel Must Look Like All the Rest
It is my belief that the only reason NJPLNs have yet to take off is because there has yet to be an Author who has fully embraced the medium.
There have been plenty of attempts and some Authors have come close, but there’s always just one aspect of their LNs that says to the average Otaku: ‘this isn’t Japanese’. Which is basically a death sentence.
So, the solution?
First: blend in. Create a LN that is completely indistinguishable from what you’d find in a Japanese bookstore.
Second: and this might sound extreme, but—do it better. If the NJPLN is ever going to catch on, you have to give Otaku a reason to buy your LN over a Japanese one. If you don’t, the puritan mindset will steer them towards their comfort zone 100% of the time.
Ok, tall order; how do I pull it off?
Well, teaching you how to write well will require several more articles. For now, I’ll just address the three major elements necessary to blend in.
Your Illustrations Are Your Light Novel’s Poster Girl
I’ve spoken with many Otaku about whether or not they like Anime art drawn by Westerners. The answer is usually a hard no.
It’s not because the art is bad. Whether art is good or bad is entirely subjective. What isn’t is whether or not that art is marketable.
And Otaku say no to art that doesn’t match the marketing they’re used to. Anime art drawn by Westerners just isn’t what they expect from the anime art style.
If you promise steak and deliver a pork chop topped with steak-colored sauce, the customer might enjoy it, but it simply isn’t what he ordered.
Thus, in order to truly blend in, you must find an Illustrator who draws JP-style anime art or at least someone who can replicate it.
This isn’t to say you should hire a Japanese person (though that would be the quickest solution). There are plenty of Western artists who can draw high-quality JP-style art. But they are admittedly hard to find.
For some anecdotal evidence, I’ll tell you a bit about the artists for my two LN series.
I started writing my LNs with a ‘blend in’ mentality right from the start. So, when it came time to hire an Illustrator, I went out of my way to find those who I thought best matched the JP-style.
And I don’t mean to frighten you, but I spent close to three months finding just two of them. I spent a couple hours every day scrolling through various Western art websites and emailing everyone who I thought would be a good fit. Of which there were about thirty.
If you read between the lines here, I’m saying: the vast majority of Western artists would be unable to make your LN blend in.
In fact, the two I ended up hiring: one was Indonesia; the other Russian. I.E. Not ‘westerners’.
So, yes, it will be a struggle. Yes, you’ll be tempted to just hire whoever is cheap and available (I spent over $3,000 on just one of mine!). But don’t. You’ll be glad you took time to find the perfect artist for your LN.
For proof blending in can be done, here are the front covers of my LNs:
At a casual glance, the illustrations themselves are near-indistinguishable from JP ones. As a veteran Otaku, I can pick out what makes them not Japanese, but only after great scrutiny.
Your illustrations will be the first aspect of your LN that potential readers will see, so you must do everything you can to make sure they blend in.
You Must Adhere to the Light Novel Genre
This idea of blending in isn’t difficult to understand, but getting yourself to blend in can prove difficult.
If you’re writing a LN, then you should include all the standard tropes of the LN genre. Whether you’re writing a fantasy Isekai or contemporary highschool harem, you’ll be expected to include certain story beats and character archetypes.
Doing so is easy. Most NJPLN Authors are Otaku and are well versed in everything that Otaku expect from their media. They have little issue in incorporating it into their LN. However, they don’t take their mimicry far enough.
What I’ve seen multiple times is the Author following the LN genre’s rules, but giving his characters American names, placing his setting somewhere in the USA, and employing Western storytelling techniques that feel out of place in a LN.
That’s fine and all, but doing so will severely limit your potential audience and thus sales. If you want to sell to Otaku, you need to give them what they’re expecting from an LN.
Rather than employ names, settings, and stories you’re comfortable with as a foreigner, you should instead use exactly what a JPLN Author would use.
Hence why getting yourself to do so can be difficult. It won’t come naturally. If you want to create an LN that sells, you have to divorce yourself from your original culture and do your best to write from a Japanese perspective.
A highschool harem set in the suburbs of Chicago can work, but why bother?
If you’re just going to use LN tropes anyway, then why not set it in Japan with Japanese characters. That’s what Otaku expect and therefore want from an LN. Blend in and give it to them.
Now, I realize this might be asking too much, so I present to you a workaround. One I use myself.
Just as many JPLN Authors set their stories in non-descript fantasy worlds and unspecified European countries, so can you. Typically, only the protagonist or a handful of other characters in such stories are distinctly Japanese.
If you’re uncomfortable setting your story in Japan, don’t. Both of my series have non-specific settings. That said, almost all of my characters have Japanese names.
You don’t have to make every bit of your LN super-Japanese, but be careful not to let too much of your own culture snuff out what Otaku expect from an LN.
You Must Master Writing in the Light Novel Style
This will sound similar to the previous section, but it isn’t.
When I say ‘LN writing-style’, I am referring to two things.
- The LN genre. As in, the overt use of anime tropes present in an LN.
- The writing itself. As in, the style of prose, dialogue, vocabulary, and so on.
And it is the second we’ll now discuss in terms of blending in.
Not only should you incorporate the common aspects of the LN genre into your LN, you must also mimic its writing style if you wish to truly blend in.
Said writing style is comprised of many elements (you’ll find an in-depth guide here), but the three major ones are:
- A 50/50 split of prose and dialogue.
- Fast-paced, character focused dialogue.
- Limited description in favor of narrative.
The LN writing style varies quite a bit from Western literature. In order to blend in, you, as a foreigner, cannot fall back on what you might be used to reading or writing.
A LN is focused on delivering a fast-paced story with sparse descriptions and loads of character interaction.
Conversely, an American novel has pages and pages of description and introspection with only sparse dialogue breaks in-between. (This isn’t true for every genre, but just pick up any American novel and compare it to a LN, the differences should be immediately apparent.)
The simple solution: just pick up an JPLN and study the actual words on the page. If you make an effort mimic it, you’ll be one step closer to blending in.
However, this does not mean you should mimic it exactly as you see it.
The Japanese language is full of nuances that do not translate well to other languages. For example:
- Solid-Snakeism: Repeating whatever a character just said:
- “I work for the secret agency known as the Banana Rangers.”
- “The Banana Rangers?!”
- Honorifics: –chan, –kun, –sama
- Cute Noises: Uguu~, Desu~
Please, please don’t include any of that in your LN. It will obvious that you’re forcing it and there’s a high chance you will be ridiculed. Which, obviously, doesn’t lead to sales.
Rather, official translations of JP LNs virtually never include any of the above. They make a point to rewrite such aspects of the text in order to make it more palatable to an English-speaking audience.
Just write as you normally would while keeping the LN style in mind and your text will come out just fine. A big part of blending in is making sure you don’t stand out.
There is one last thing I want to mention in regards to how you might make your LN even better than a JP one. A personal gripe, but an important one.
Nearly every LN I poke through at the bookstore nowadays is riddled with several lines of text that contain only “Agh!”, “Ugh!”, “Hahaha!”, and a million other ‘non-words’.
I’ll be blunt. This is stupid and a waste of paper. Don’t mimic this particular aspect of JP LNs. You’ll immerse your readers far better by doing this:
- He unsheathes his dagger.
- A mad cackling dribbled from his lips as he unsheathed his dagger.
- She fell to the earth.
- She let out a muffled cry as she fell to the earth.
Please leave sound effects for the audiobook version.
Do As the Japanese Light Novel Authors Do
You can build a fanbase and even make a living writing LNs without trying to blend in, but don’t be surprised when both your numbers of fans and income flatline without any hope for further increase.
Instead, don’t treat your NJPLN as Non-JP, treat it as just another LN. If you create a LN that is no different from a JP one, then you’ll have every right to call it a LN.
As far as I’m concerned, this is the only way to make the NJPLN popular and marketable. Other efforts so far haven’t outright failed, but neither have they seen great success.
Your goal is not to make waves in the LN landscape. Humans by default don’t like change, much less Otaku who have a hard-to-overcome puritan mindset.
So, blend in. Write the story you want to write, but be prepared to compromise on how you present it if you want it to sell more than ten copies.
And hey, you might just end up starting a revolution and make NJPLNs wildly popular, but don’t try to do so from the get-go.
Let it happen naturally as a result of you delivering a genuinely good LN with an awesome story, lovable characters, a unique setting, gorgeous illustrations, and plain good writing.