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By not-so-famous countries I mean those you don't usually find in novels, movies, TV, magazines, etc.

One example is Chile (the place I was born). I'm not sure about America/Europe but if you go to Asia and say you are from Chile, almost no one will know where it exactly is or what language the people speak.

Another example is Taiwan (the place I'm currently living in). Most people (OK, by most people, I mean those that I've met) think it is just a province in China. Others even confuse it with Thailand.

So my question is, do novels that are set in countries like those mentioned above sell less? Would they sell more if they were set in more popular counties like America or Japan? (assuming that the audience includes people from all around the world).

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You know that many people do not know where famous places are, even though they made vacation there? Now I have to mention that your question is very vague (and opinion-based). Sell less than what? Fantasy novels where the world is completely made up? Crime stories playing in Venice compared to horror in Timbuktu? I promise you if Stephen King chooses Santiago de Chile as location for a book, it will sell, no matter if any of the readers know where Santiago is. –  John Smithers Feb 28 at 10:19

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

To John's point, Fantasy and Sci-fi usually take place on made up worlds. Other novels take place anywhere from big cities like Hong Kong, New York, London, Toronto or small cities, sometimes in well known places and sometimes in "exotic" locations (what is exotic depends on your audience).

I think when you base a story in a lesser known environment relative to the audience you are targeting, you have a responsibility of painting a clearer picture for them as to local culture and feel. To base a story somewhere that a reader is likely unfamiliar, but to make it "yet another standard city with nothing different" is kind of a waste in my opinion.

So if you used Taiwan (which, for example, anyone I know is well aware it is a "Rogue Status" province, making it both a country and not a country, and some of us are aware that some of those who fled Mao in the revolution went there, and no I have no Asian heritage), I would recommend you take 'informing the reader' of some of these elements so that you can be certain of what they know, and so that you can leverage it. For example, by painting some of this story, you could then have a family that is split between those who think Taiwan really should rejoin China fully, and those who believe that it should be independent and no longer under China's umbrella.

In the end, it comes down to what are you going to do with the location. I just advise don't set the story somewhere really interesting, and do nothing with that location.

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I think that the majority of readers want to identify with the characters, setting and events of a story. That is why fiction featuring common characters taking place in well-known places and dealing with problems everyone encounters are the most popular. Of course all novels have an element that is uncommon and not everyday, like the murder, the stranger, or even a futuristic setting, but novels that are completely alien in too many aspects are not attractive for the majority of readers.

Watch tv one evening in a certain country. Most series will take place in a location like the place you are living in, or a popular place in your country. If they don't take place in the viewer's country, they take place in the USA.

Now these are series, but the same is true for movies and novels, although to a lesser degree. But you will note that if they take place in foreign places, these are often places of a familiar type: the harbour, the desert, the space ship, the jail.

Stories that take place in completely unfamiliar places are typically viewed by a charater from the reader's country travelling there and "translating" the strangeness for him.

Most popular books feature some aspect of familiarity that allows the reader to easily step into the storyworld without too much effort. Exceptions are SF & F novels where the purpose is the difference and the reader picks those books because he enjoys the effort to understand a strange world.

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