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  • Jul 17, 2017
    From Familiar Strangers to Friends: On Promoting Taiwanese Literature in Translation in Thailand and Vietnam (II)
    by Itzel Hsu

    Vietnam: Remaking Taiwan’s Reputation

     

    Vietnam’s situation is similar to Thailand’s to a certain extent. Vietnamese readers show significant interest in Sinophone culture, and their country’s complex history with China has motivated the development of a sizable group of Chinese speakers. Books in translation also hold a prominent share of the Vietnamese market, within which books from the Chinese market have been gradually catching up to Anglo-European translations in terms of popularity. Unfortunately, Taiwanese books can claim even less visibility here than in Thailand.

     

    Also at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair, I had the chance to meet with editors from Nha Nam, a major Vietnamese publishing house. They expressed the wish to know more about Taiwanese books, in the hopes that Taiwanese titles might add an innovative edge to the Chinese-language titles they offer; most Vietnamese readers know of no Taiwanese authors beyond Giddens Ko.

     

    While Nha Nam expressed positive interest in Taiwanese literature, for most Vietnamese readers, Taiwan is a place both familiar and strange. It is frequently a source for negative news – Vietnamese girls who faced abuse after marrying Taiwanese men, Vietnamese laborers being cheated in Taiwan, arrogant Taiwanese factory owners, or Taiwanese companies in Vietnam causing water pollution so bad it resulted in major protests. Sometimes I wonder how much interest there could still be in Taiwan by now. 

     

    Gidden Ko’s popularity in Vietnam was significantly buoyed by the adaptation of his story into the movie You’re the Apple of My Eye. His tales of adolescent love and lost were easily accessible to general readers, with Gidden’s unique authorial voice adding an extra aspect of freshness. I can say with confidence that Gidden’s work was able to catch Vietnamese readers’ attention because his popularity in the Chinese-language market motivated production of the movie, and because he told tales that resonate with readers’ commonplace experiences. His Taiwanese identity was no more than a line on his résumé.

     

    Sometimes, well-intentioned friends at Thai or Vietnamese publishing houses will make promotion suggestions based on their own understanding of Taiwanese books; they’d love to know about new Taiwanese titles on business management, the business memoirs of influential Taiwanese entrepreneurs, or books on new trends in the Asian economy. Of course, it would be ideal if those entrepreneurs were heads of famous international businesses, and their memoirs could be useful to young people, and if books on economic trends focused on development, trade deals, or economic integration. In short, these editors’ suggestions are founded on the belief that Taiwanese people really know how to make money. 

     

    While we can’t claim that their understanding of Taiwan is inaccurate, it is true that structural problems in Taiwanese society have pushed the business management genre down a path different from what they might expect. In Taiwan, domestic bestsellers in business management tend to focus on stocks and investment strategy, while the renown of most successful businessmen is usually limited to the island. Most titles don’t say much about practically successful business methods, while books on management and economic trends tend to be translations from English or Japanese. 
     

    Familiar Strangers

     

    The most profound impression left on me by the abovementioned meetings was that for neighbor nations who interact on a regular basis, we know comparatively little about each other. From this we may suggest that the obstacles to promoting Taiwanese books in these markets are not technical – preparing suitable translations, and the like – but related to national brand management and the depth of our communication. How do we make Taiwan more visible and more relatable to these readers? How do we bring forth those unique aspects that differentiate Taiwanese work from Chinese work? How do we get to know each other better, so that we may find spiritual sustenance in each other’s culture? 

     

    In this effort, we literary agents must rely on outside support. I have to mention the Taiwanese government’s “New Southbound Policy,” which has gathered energy from the entire government, and provided us with significant assistance. As our Thai and Vietnamese neighbors become aware of our good intentions in the political sphere, and decide on Taiwan as a vacation destination, cultural communication will inevitably improve, motivating more and greater chances for rights sales. 

     

    And yet, governmental support is not enough. Only recently, I had the chance to connect with the Vietnamese and Thai translators of the well-known Taiwanese author Wen-Yung Hou. The Thai translator, Mr. Anurak Kitpaiboonthawee, is a household name in the field of Chinese translation, while the Vietnamese translator is the famous Vietnamese author Trang Ha, who studied abroad in Taiwan. Not only were they both instrumental in helping their publishers acquire translation licenses, they proactively offered suggestions for book events to help readers learn about Taiwan. Their enthusiasm moved me deeply, and drove me to think more about what I myself could do beyond merely selling rights. I sincerely hope I can live up to the standards they have set. 
     

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    From Familiar Strangers to Friends: On Promoting Taiwanese Literature in Translation in Thailand and Vietnam  (I)

  • Jul 17, 2017
    From Familiar Strangers to Friends: On Promoting Taiwanese Literature in Translation in Thailand and Vietnam (I)
    by Itzel Hsu

    As consistent readers of this column probably know, even Chinese-language books that come with a complete English translation have a much easier time finding audiences in Asian countries than in Europe or America. The reasons are exactly what you’d expect: better cultural and geographic proximity make the exchange of ideas quicker and smoother, while greater populations of Chinese learners create greater demand. Yet in the process of promotion, we often find that bottlenecks can emerge even in markets where prospects seem strong. Here, I would like to examine two particularly interesting case studies: Thailand and Vietnam. 

     

    Thailand: Competing with Publishers in China and Around the Globe

     

    In 2015, after only six short months working as a literary agent, I flew to Germany to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair. There I turned several email relationships into personal relationships, including with rights managers from Amarin, one of Thailand’s most influential publishers. I knew that as a comprehensive publisher, they put out all kinds of books, yet I was very surprised to hear them say that they were expanding their list of Chinese books in translation. 

     

    Thai interest in China has a long history, motivated in recent years by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s enthusiastic promotion of Chinese language learning. Their bestseller lists frequently feature Chinese kung fu epics, romances, and novels adapted for television; even Taiwanese light novels have found enthusiastic young readers, and established its own place beside domestic and Japanese counterparts. The fact that a major publisher like Amarin decided to move into an already competitive market has two major implications; first, that Chinese books in translation can be profitable, and second, that their market still has room to grow. 

     

    Thailand is an ideal market for the promotion of Chinese-language books. It boasts a large number of readers familiar with Chinese literature, as well as editors and translators who read Chinese, and can appraise Chinese manuscripts directly. Even a rights manager who doesn’t speak Thai need only to find the right book and prepare introductory materials in Chinese and English to make a play to sell Thai rights. 

     

    Given such excellent conditions, could Amarin become a major buyer of Taiwanese copyrights? The answer is, probably not. With the exception of a few publishing houses that consistently published Taiwanese literature, most houses that work with Chinese-language books have their attention firmly trained on China, where single print runs can stretch into six or seven figures, viewings on screen adaptations of books regularly move into eight figures, while books about successful, high-value business figures can also amass significant returns. Even if such blockbuster successes in the Chinese market can’t be copied to the same degree in Thailand, they create such significant public dialogue that works from Taiwan appear to pale in comparison. 

     

    There are other kinds of publishers in Thailand who prioritize good content over everything else. While they do not necessarily target Chinese-language books, their orientation makes them important potential buyers. Publishers like these exemplify in a specific and subtle way the nature of the translated literature market in Thailand – a high percentage of works translated from other countries and regions (America, Europe, and East Asia, among others), spread through many different genres. Grabbing the attention of such cosmopolitan, omnivorous readers involves competing with the best books in the world.
     

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    From Familiar Strangers to Friends: On Promoting Taiwanese Literature in Translation in Thailand and Vietnam  (II)

  • May 23, 2017
    On Publishing San Mao
    by Iolanda Batallé

    What were my reasons for publishing Diarios del Sáhara (Stories from the Sahara) by San Mao? Two years later, as I look back on the event, the question itself seems strange because I don’t remember the decision being a conscious one. I had acted directly, as if motivated by intuition. A strong curiosity, shared by those who understand Taiwanese literature well, arose in me: how could one of Taiwan’s most popular authors still be unpublished in Europe? Curiosity has this in common with desire: if it is not satisfied, it will grow endlessly. Thus it grew in me, as I discovered that San Mao’s work did not exist in any of the languages I spoke, neither in Spanish, English, French, nor in Italian.

     

    Though I could read no more than a few pages translated into English, I soon found myself captivated by the intense and tragic life of Echo Chen (the name San Mao used in the West). I too had lived far from my native country at a young age. My life had also been interwoven with love stories that did not always end well. I too felt that living and writing were one and the same. I quickly perceived all these similarities between her life and mine, and my decision to become her editor quickly solidified into an unquestionable resolve. I no longer needed mere reasons to publish her, as the decision was not something I could re-examine or re-assess. It was something I would do, full stop; whatever the cost, I would be the person to restore life to San Mao. I wanted to publish her books then for the same reason I do now – to read them. The vast majority of the pages she wrote remained a mystery to me. I want to experience this part of her life as though I had lived alongside her during her days in the Sahara.

     

    Over the years, I have crossed paths with the people who loved her. In Madrid, I met the family of José Quero (her husband), including his sisters-in-law and nieces, with whom Echo had cohabitated and corresponded frequently. I met César, José’s brother, and could sense in his expression a bit of the peace and sweetness that Echo saw in her beloved’s eyes. I met her friend Nancy from the Canary Islands, who was at her side when José died. I travelled to Taipei to meet her sister, Mona, and her younger brother, Henry. They were both very kind to me. I also met the director of Crown Publishing, the son of the editor who offered Echo her first chance to be published. I recall Henry speaking to me of the young, rebellious Echo, of her difficulties at school, her happiness when telling stories, of her return to her homeland, and of her last years.

     

    The slow and meticulous process of translating and editing this precious book into Spanish and Catalan has confirmed a thousand times what I felt the first time someone (a young woman with blue hair) spoke to me of San Mao: it was an absolute necessity. And the project that became Diarios del Sáhara has truly been a pleasant labor. Yet the most wonderful part of the story has been finding San Mao, not only in her words, or in the people who knew and loved her, but also in the eyes of a twenty-year-old young woman, a student of Spanish who read San Mao in Chinese. Her gratitude and joy moved me deeply. This young lady, a traveler just like Echo, was Echo’s new incarnation. There are hundres, thousands, hundres of thousands of San Maos roaming the world. I discovered the immense capacity of San Mao’s work to stand the tests of time, just like the works of Kerouac, Bowles, or Conrad, Dickenson or McCullers, authors one wants to discover when one begins to live.

     

    What was my motive for publishing San Mao? Only one, which is the sum of everything: life.

  • Apr 06, 2017
    A report on the Taipei Right’s Workshop (II)
    By Anne Meadows

    What then of us, the eight fellows who had come so far to talk about the challenges we face in our own countries? Dave Haysom, a translator from Chinese into English and editor of the Chinese literary magazine, Pathlight: New Chinese Writing, and Gloria Masdeau, a Spanish-born editor and rights seller at the Beijing publishing house Shanghai 99, talked about the difficulties of getting Chinese-language works published in the West. The English-language editors – myself, Janie Yoon from Anansi in Canada and Johanna Castillo from Atria in the US – spoke of readers’ reluctance to encounter translations; whether this might now be changing; and how we as publishers seek to overcome it. My company, Portobello Books, has had great success in the past years with a number of translated titles, most notably Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, which has sold more than 150,000 copies in the UK alone. There have been big successes too for other UK publishers, with “Ferrante Fever” and “Knausgaard Mania” improving the visibility of literary fiction in translation. A widely quoted study commissioned by the Man Booker International Prize found that literary fiction in translation is actually on average outselling literary fiction publishing in English. Michel Van de Waart, an editor at De Arbeiderspers in Holland, spoke of a growing insularity in the Dutch market, which is nonetheless much more open to translation (14%) than either the UK or the US (3%). In Thailand, where Sirithada Kongpha founded her publishing house, Legend Books, the market for literary fiction is very small, and there is little or no support from the Thai government. Bookstores are closing, as they are worldwide, and magazines are generally only. The South Korean market fares a little better, with 21% of titles translated (43% of which are from Japan; 23% from the US; 8% from the UK). But according to Jungha Song from Sigongsa, a law fixing book discounts at a maximum of 10% of their recommended retail price in perpetuity is driving readers to second hand bookstores and hampering publishers’ profits.  Finally, New York-based scout Bettina Schrewe spoke of helping publishers around the world discover and acquire the best new American writers, a job which sounded both exhilarating and exhausting.


    A well-run fellowship is an exchange of expertise between multiple cultures, so after we had finished talking for two days about our own books, careers, and cultures, we sat down to listen. In Encounter, a bookstore-cum-cafe in the Zhongshan District, we heard short pitches from Taiwanese translators, rights sellers, book reviewers, and critics. It was literary speed dating, with a bell rung every five minutes pushing us on to the next table and the next proposition. Taiwanese literature is as diverse and varied as that of any other country, but among the books I heard about there were a number of notable confluences: a return to questions of the environment and its protection; an unusually high number of novels set in coffee shops; short story collections sell (they struggle in the UK); and illustrated books are thriving. 


    I returned to England after two weeks in Taiwan to find things much as I had left them: dark and cold, Trump-ridden. The London underground was chaotic and aggressive, whereas Taipei’s metro had been smooth, efficient, and polite. Nothing tasted as good in those weeks as gua bao had, and I missed both the other fellows and my hosts. In idle moments I found myself searching for Taipei on Instagram and dreaming of going back to open a coffee shop of my own. As a publisher abroad, your hope is to discover something remarkable you can bring home. In Taipei, I had heard about one novel over and over again – Wang Ting-Kuo’s My Enemy’s Cherry Tree – first from the Chinese translator of Alice Munro, and later from journalists, students, and our hosts. Back in London, homesick for somewhere that is not my home, I sent this novel to two readers whose taste I trust.  


    I brought a number of things back with me from Taiwan: a green stone found on a beach in Hualien; hand-forged Chinese characters from a foundry in the ramshackle district of Datong; a lifelong love of gua bao; and new friendships forged with the other fellows and with my hosts. Of these, Wang Ting-Kuo’s novel is the only thing I can share with you. We’ll be publishing the English translation in 2018. Meanwhile, if you have the chance, go. 
     

    A report on the Taipei Right’s Workshop  (I)

  • Apr 06, 2017
    A report on the Taipei Right’s Workshop (I)
    By Anne Meadows

    I arrived in Taiwan late on a Sunday afternoon in November. Outside the air-conditioned halls of Taoyuan International Airport, the weather was humid. In London it had been raining on and off for weeks. I had been travelling for sixteen hours and back home it was still early morning. As the taxi sped from the airport along the freeway towards the hotel where I and the other fellows of the Taipei Rights Workshop would be staying for the week, the city grew in density around me until at last the world’s second tallest building, Taipei 101, came into view, framed by the mountains. Knowing very little about Taipei, I had anticipated tall glass skyscrapers, buildings jutting against one another. I had thought it would feel like a city from the future: uniform, glassy, unwelcoming. What I saw from the taxi cab window was far more familiar: a jumble of architectural styles, bulky steel and glass buildings rubbing shoulders with older blocks, wide plazas bordered by a rare glimpse of a Japanese factory or Confucian temple; a colour palette with more earthy tones than silvers. All the while in the background was the presence of the mountains. Taipei felt cradled. By the time the taxi arrived at our hotel, I was in love.


    The Taipei Rights Workshop has been bringing together publishing professionals from around the world with Taiwanese editors, translators, and rights sellers since 2013. In the 2016 cohort, we were eight – six editors, a translator and a scout – from three different continents; seven different countries; and six different time zones. All of those present were facing challenges in their markets – diminishing review space, bookshops and readers that are shy of translations, the proliferation of other endless forms of entertainment. Publishing, it is often said, is in a state of crisis, but here we were, eight people who had travelled a great distance in the hope of making new connections and bringing home a piece of Taiwanese literature. The fellowship itself, founded and run by the indefatigable agent Gray Tan and his colleagues at the Grayhawk agency, is an example of this same optimistic spirit and a resolve to make literature travel.  


    Over the next five days, Gray and our hosts Grace Chang, Jade Fu and Emily Chuang acquainted us with the history and culture of Taiwan. At the National Palace Museum we saw ceramics so delicate they were almost transparent and ornate sculptures hewn from a single piece of jade. Standing in front of a case which holds a 30th century BC representation of our universe – sun and planets orbiting around a disc of jade – I felt overwhelmed by a culture and craftsmanship that extends back in time so much further than my own.


    Taiwan’s modern history is as complex and multi-layered as its ancient treasures. After the Museum we ate at The Grand Hotel in Zhongshan District, one of the world's tallest buildings in a Chinese classical style. It was constructed on the orders of President Chiang Kai-shek after his flight from mainland China in 1949. The hotel was built over the remains of the Taiwan Grand Shrine, a beautiful Shinto complex from the early days of  Japanese occupation. The Grand Hotel embodies Taiwan’s twentieth century: Japanese colony until 1945, Republic of China and the West’s ally during Mao’s rule, and now; a country in limbo, a modern democracy with a thriving economy which is nonetheless unrecognized by the United Nations and which is regarded by China as an errant son. What then to make of Taiwanese literature, which shares a language its Chinese counterpart but remains distinct from it? Indeed Taiwan, because it is a democracy, does not suffer from the censorship imposed on Chinese editors and authors. If you are a radical Chinese writer, your work is more likely to find a home in Taiwan. If you are a bookseller or publisher, it is in Taiwan that you can exercise independence. If you are a foreign editor looking to translate Chinese authors, you would do well to turn to Taiwan first.


    The bookstores we visited in Taipei were bustling. At Eslite’s multi-level flagship store (a chain similar to Waterstones or Barnes & Noble) we wandered through room after room filled with books, many of them translations. Western big hitters dominate in Taiwan as they dominate across the world. The Girl on the Train has sold 100,000 copies(Taiwan’s population is only twenty-four million). Around 40% of the books published here are translated. Of these, 55% come from Japanese and 30% from English, mostly from the United States. Compare this to Britain and America, where a mere 3% of titles are translations. At Crown Culture, publishers of the magnificent writer Eileen Chang, we were told that fiction sales are at an all time low, and sales in general are being driven by film tie-ins. As with most of the Western world, print sales of newspapers in Taiwan are in severe decline, and review culture is vanishing. Book recommendations come from celebrities or social media, and the books that sell best are often film tie-ins, or self-help. Most books will have only a single edition, rather than a hardback followed by a paperback. At Readmoo, an innovative, multi-platform e-book publisher and app developer, they are experimenting with “gamification.” Readers who purchase an ebook are invited to enter competitions and are rewarded with points they can then use against future purchases. The app connects to your social media. It’s Amazon meets Instagram meets Nintendo, and it’s working: their number of readers is increasing month by month. Publishers in the West would do well to pay attention.
     

    A report on the Taipei Right’s Workshop  (II)

  • Jan 05, 2017
    Far Afield: The Fantastic Journeys of Chinese Books in Translation (II)
    By Chen Yu-Hao. Translated by Eleanor Goodman.

    First published on October 12, 2016 by Readmoo News

    https://news.readmoo.com/2016/10/12/161012-books-from-taiwan/

     

    3. Is Taiwan’s uniqueness a major selling point?

     

    Literature that deals primarily with Taiwanese culture frequently faces hurdles in foreign markets. Tan offers an example: a book about Taiwanese tea will be unique, but many foreign readers will have no use for it. They don’t know anything about Taiwan, nor do they know anything about the culture surrounding tea. A strategy for this kind of book is to translate it into English and sell it in Taiwan primarily to tourists already interested in the island and who want to bring a piece of Taiwanese culture back with them. Grace Chang suggests that one can go a step further and combine such projects with sightseeing tours, and offer accounts of scenic sites in different languages. If there are overseas orders, it can be sold directly abroad and avoid other licensing issues.

     

    4. Popular Taiwanese authors should be easy to sell abroad, right?

     

    Being known as a “famous Taiwanese blogger” or “one of Taiwan’s most controversial  writers” does not necessarily carry over to the international market. As soon as you enter the global arena, where you can’t rely on reputation, book sales are dependent again upon the quality of the work.

     

    For that reason, the essential thing is the contents of a book. What kind of book has a chance to make it out of Taiwan, to be translated, published and sell well in other countries? Literary agents are constantly on the lookout for the right books to introduce to a foreign audience books. The fact that Taiwan’s bookstores are being overtaken by large numbers of translated books can be a problem for local writers, yet it is also a chance to examine bestsellers from different countries, and figure out what the most popular kinds of books are right now, to ferret out where an opportunity may lie.

     

    Gray Tan believes that there is no shortcut: “It comes from looking at and reading a lot of books.” The more books you read, the better you are able to grasp potential trends.

     

    Literary categories in Taiwan and abroad do not always align. Some, like the essay or newspaper column collection, are not as familiar to foreign readers as they are to Taiwanese.  Young adult novels face strong competition from U.S. authors, so it just might be that picture books, with little or text, can better overcome cultural differences and different reading preferences, and have a better chance to be published abroad.

     

    IT’S ALL ABOUT PEOPLE

    Grace Chang thinks that the success of a Chinese-language book entering a foreign market depends primarily on the people involved, from the translator to the agent to the editor. Time and effort must be invested by many in order to make it all work. Opportunities won’t just come knocking; connections have to be made. This is why book fairs play a crucial role in the introduction of  domestic titles to the global market.

     

    “Think about it, if you’re trying to buy an apartment, do you want to just see photos of it, or do you want a real estate agent to show you the place and tell you about it personally?” Chang asks with a laugh. You have to be there at the book fairs, because you never know whether a foreign editor might pass by your booth and “discover” a book.

     

    It’s also a good idea to attend fellowship programs, where you can talk to editors, scouts, and agents from other countries, and build up your international network. Very often, a single book sale is predicated on years of friendship and meetings at book fairs. Your relationship is just as important as the content of the book.

     

    The Ministry of Culture of Taiwan has been sponsoring the Taipei Rights Workshop (TRW) since 2013. It’s a program that combines the traditional fellowship model with a series of presentations from publishing experts from around the world. There’s also the Books from Taiwan program, which was initiated in 2014 and works to introduce Taiwanese books to foreign publishers. Gray Tan and Grace Chang continue to be essential players in the greater project of introducing Chinese-language books to a larger market, desirous of showing off this island’s creativity to the rest of the world.

     

  • Jan 05, 2017
    Far Afield: The Fantastic Journeys of Chinese Books in Translation (I)
    By Chen Yu-Hao. Translated by Eleanor Goodman.

    First published on October 12, 2016 by Readmoo News

    https://news.readmoo.com/2016/10/12/161012-books-from-taiwan/

     

    The night air was cool, and under a thin drizzle in the Songshan Cultural Park, the log-cabin-style Yue Yue Bookstore was lit with a warm glow. Gray Tan, founder of the Grayhawk Agency, and Grace Chang, rights director for Books from Taiwan sat together on a brown leather couch. The two were holding a talk titled “Far Afield: The Fantastic Journeys of Chinese Books in Translation,” in which they called upon years of experience in the rights business in order to impart secrets of selling Chinese titles in other countries.

           

    Typhon Megi had postponed the talk for a week, but the two still drew a full house, including editors, translators as well as writers. With Chinese books gradually receiving greater notice abroad, more people have become interested in the topic. Speaking as a pioneer in representing Chinese-language authors in international markets, Gray Tan disabused the audience of four common misconceptions.

     

     

    1. Does translation just mean English translation?

     

    We tend to think that when we talk about the translation of Chinese books, we mean translating into English, assuming the enormous English-language market to be the main goal for Chinese authors. Although it can’t be denied that English is the world’s most influential language, the English-language market is the hardest to break into. Gray Tan, with seven years’ experience selling Chinese books abroad, tells us that only 3% of the books published in America are translations – an astonishingly low number.

     

    “Taking modern and contemporary Chinese literature together, the number of books published in the United States in any given year can probably be counted on one hand.” Tan said. It would be much more effective to prepare English-language materials (or “rights lists”) so all international editors can read about books in which they might be interested.  Such introductory materials should include plot summary, author bio, sales and review excerpts, and above all, a sample translation by a native English-language translator.

     

    These synopses are like a book’s ID, serving as an introduction and an advertisement. How many copies have been sold in Taiwan? Has it been made into a movie? Any positives that will help sell the rights should be listed, creating a strong case for the book.

     

    It is also very important to use comparison titles (“comps” for short) as reference. For instance, The Man from Riversouth, the novel that has been adapted into China’s biggest TV series, Nirvana in Fire, can be described as China’s answer to The Count of Monte Cristo and Game of Thrones.

     

    This will give a foreign editor an immediate, general idea of what the book and author are like. Although it won’t be completely the same kind of work, this is still an efficient method for promoting a book.

     

    2. Is the friendly relationship between Taiwan and Japan conducive to selling Taiwanese books in Japan?

     

    When you go into a Taiwanese bookstore, the shelves are packed with translated works, and aside from the large quantities of literature from the U.S. and the U.K., many come from Japan. From the literary giant Haruki Murakami to manga and “light novels”, Japanese literature in translation is extremely popular in Taiwan. Does the closeness of the two cultures and peoples help the sale of Chinese books in Japan?

     

    Gray Tan once again threw a wrench into the conversation, noting that the Japanese market is quite closed, and both the quality and quantity of their own books are high, which doesn’t allow for much translated work. Readers there are not accustomed to reading works in translation, and that extends to more than just Chinese-language books. Even global bestsellers like Fifty Shades of Grey and The Hunger Games have sold poorly in Japan. An international bestseller could be licensed in thirty foreign languages, except for Japanese. Tan proposed instead that we can turn our attention toward Korea, where interest in Chinese culture is high and there are many Chinese language learners. It’s a market that should not be ignored.

  • Dec 26, 2016
    All the Clichés Apply (II)
    by Neil Gudovitz, Founder/President at Gudovitz & Company Literary Agency

    Most American readers have likely NEVER read a single work of nonfiction from a non-English-language author, not including the Greek philosophy he or she might have pretended to read in school.  And except for possibly a Nordic thriller here or there, the same is true for fiction. 

     

    In light of these realties, Americans can be forgiven for believing that we have all the best ideas in the world, and that everybody wants to be like us.    Many of us simply don’t know any better, and American publishers haven’t frankly felt the need to bring authors and ideas from international markets.   As such, they don’t have the structure, the processes, the expectations or the desire to consider publishing a translated work. I work with many editors at non-English language publishing houses around the world, and if these editors don’t review English-language text themselves, they always have “readers: who do.  It’s a necessity, plain and simple.  Not so in the US, though strangely I’ve heard that several have lately found Japanese-language enabled readers.

     

    Editors in the US and UK will not agree to publish something they cannot read.  Since they have NO patience for imperfect translations, they will in every instance conclude that the work necessary to prepare the text is too expensive and too time-consuming.    The simple fact is this: most editors answer to their bosses.  The idea that somehow a process can be funded and adopted to ‘perfect’ a translation, one which would require bringing on a translator to review the translation delivered from overseas is not a feasible one.   There are too many English manuscripts submitted daily for a publisher to add one or two new steps to the process in order to publish a translation.    

     

    Remember those leopards and their spots?   That’s American publishers – they are what they are.

     

    And here’s more bad news:  American publishers will not pay for the translations of authors who they have not published before.



    “Wait a minute,” you publishers must be saying now, “That’s not fair. We do that all the time.”  Yes you do, and thank you for that.  But as we’ve already agreed, life is not fair.  

     

    Another obvious obstacle is the unavailability of a given author to do local, long-term promotion.  My favorite cliché is that of the chicken and egg, but here the yolk is on us: a publisher will never bring an author over until his or her book is a success, but that success is almost impossible without the kind of ‘in-market’ presence, in print media, TV and radio that get the book and author known.   There is no replacement for this. 

     

    In the case of Marie Kondo, Sunmark, Penguin Random House (PRH) in the US and UK made extraordinary commitments in terms of staff and money to make interviews with the author possible.  They paid for interpreters, they dedicated staff to the (seriously) 24/7 job of promoting the book and the author.  And Sunmark and PRH combined to fund an extended, no-holds barred author tour, several of them in fact, in both London and NYC, LA , SF and Boston.    It all started with the Cathy Hirano translation, but take out one of the pieces above and you very likely would have had a book which was a solid performer, perhaps 50,000 sold.

     

    But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. My message to publishers in Asia is this:  you must prepare a native-language translation of an entire book. You can start with (3) chapters if you absolutely must, but you need to commit from the beginning to fund and prepare the entire translation.   Those (3) chapters could – maybe – be enough to keep the publishers interested, but if you want a book to get the chance it deserves, you need to accept that you must prepare a native-language translation of the entire text.      

     

    I should note that you (or your agent) may get super lucky and find a publisher in the US or UK who agrees to publish a book based on a sample translation. But if you rely on that possibility, you are limiting your field of possible publishers by about 98%?     Go bold or go home.

     

    You may know of a book that was published in English that didn’t have a full translation, but do you also have stories about the hundreds of thousands of great books that never get published in English because the original publishers didn’t commit to funding a high-quality translation?

     

    I’m going to tell you a secret.   Marie Kondo’s first book was licensed into 42 languages.   38 of them were outside of Asia.   All of those publishers had full access to the original text in Japanese, as well as the English-language translation.    All but one of those 38 publishers chose to translate from English. The exception was Italy, where there is a cultural tradition of publishing books from Japanese. But if you as an Asian publisher still think that you can have the kind of success with a book you want to have if the text is NOT translated into English, ask yourself why all those publishers around the world chose to translate from English.   Then ask yourself if the money Sunmark spent to fund a quality translation hasn’t been the corporate investment of a lifetime.

    I’ve written a lot about the past, but let me bring us back to the present. I'm working with the amazing Gray Tan and Jade Fu at The Grayhawk Agency, and together we’ve had Taiwanese illustrator Amily Shen (“Wonderland”) published in the US, also by Penguin Random House.

     

    We are also working together on the terrifically exciting Cats of the Floating World and a unique book that Grayhawk represents from the PRC, titled Room to Breathe. The literary agency world is a small one, with various strong personalities, some sweet, some sour, a few bland and many spicy. But one thing I know we all agree on is that Gray Tan understands this business. He’s among the elite agents in the world, and I don’t think there’s a more respected nor innovative agent working today. The publishers he works with also get it, or at least they do after Gray has counseled them. There are no shortcuts, no relying on “lucky breaks.”  A book can be a masterpiece, but if 99% of the publishers outside the Chinese-speaking world can’t read it (or only read it in a stilted translation), what’s the point?  

     

    Lately I’ve been having great international success with other exciting Sunmark titles out of Japan, and the Korean superagent Danny Hong (who also gets it) and I have sold several Korean authors into English-speaking markets.  In cooperation with Kenny Okuyama at the Japan UNI Agency, a Japanese book, originally published in Japan by Wani Books, titled now in English “Goodbye, Things” will publish in Spring 2017 from W.W. Norton in the US, and across the world in the next year.  And guess what?  Wani delivered a full, terrific translation too. 

     

    But turning back to Taiwan, I want to leave you with some good news. Your market is unique, and uniquely positioned to introduce books to the world books that people want to read.   You’re the “newest” nation in a part of the world dominated by ancient cultures, and as such you have a vibrancy and an optimism that I don’t think anybody else in Asia can match.  You have a rich cultural pedigree but aren’t weighed down by the past; and let’s face it, the realities of geography and economics being what they are, you have to work harder and smarter to survive and thrive.   The oppression and suppression of free expression which dominates your neighbor to the West, and the cultural and political conservatism which results, are not elements which weigh you down. Everybody loves an underdog (oh sorry, cliché alert…) and Taiwan is that. In illustrated works as well as non-fiction and fiction, there’s a palpable energy and ‘crackle’ emanating from Taiwan these days, and if your markets’ publishers want to be known as the ‘next Sunmark’ and share the best of what’s publishing in Taiwan with the rest of the world, they’ll capture those qualities in translations that express the original text in its finest essence.