There are invisible perimeters in the publishing world. Genres are the most obvious. Write within a genre, submit to the publishers of that genre (or the agents specializing in it) and you follow a sanctified road although you will slam, I guarantee it, against roadblocks. Cross your genres and frustrate agents; you may either be hailed as delightful or marked as difficult. Or ignored (the worst).
“Write what you know” is good advice and could easily be interpreted to mean “Write where you know.” If you grow up in a specific city, like William Saroyan in Fresno, write about it even if you move across over a dozen state lines to reside, say, in New York. From your thirteenth floor loft, describe the kites stuck in Fresno trees, baklava baked in Armenian bakeries and the tunnels under China Alley. (Actually, don’t, because Fresno has already been done. Lots of American cities have not been claimed. Invest in a wall map of the USA and start sticking in the pins with authors’ names attached. If your city has been taken, move quickly, before you hit sixth grade.)
What about writing of foreign places? Chances of being published are determined by how carefully you adhere to stereotypes. Americans want to read about Americans visiting foreign lands so long as the places are described in a manner following preconceived American ideas. There is a certain amount of leeway allowed, but not much. Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.
Caveat: so it is thought. The borders I mark are observed by most publishers, and they do so because they must make money. To not make money means ugly things, such as the collapse of five major publishing corporations into three, as happened in 2008.
American readers are compassionate, so foreign writers who tell tales of the hell they left abroad to come to the USA, or tell of difficulties they encountered in being accepted in the USA are publishable. Conversely, Americans who write of Russia, Morocco, or Denmark because they lived there for decades, but who leave out the all-important American character probably have a screw loose. (How dare they?) Same goes for the British and French. (We rarely read them anyway unless they stick to the magical.) Writers like Kipling could get away with having an all-Indian cast in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but Kipling was born in Bombay and who could not love Disney’s Mowgli? (It is not considered polite to mention Kipling’s (in)famous poem, “Pick up the white man’s burden. . . .” )
The more borders you cross, the harder it will be to be signed by a large, respectable publisher, let alone receive attention from literary magazines. Ironically, no matter how much foreign writers envy the breadth of the American market, American writers face the largest of all “Berlin Walls.” Every one of us has an obligation to find the courage/strength to grab one piece of cement and rip it out with his or her bare hands.