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  • 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by those who understand Taiwanese literature well, arose in me: how could one of Taiwan’s most popular authors still be unpublished in Europe?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)

  • Mar 16, 2017
    Books from Taiwan - Issue 5
    by Books from Taiwan

    The fifth issue of BFT’s catalogue is hot off the press! In this biannual publication, we feature a select list of works, ranging from fiction and non-fiction titles, children’s books and comics.

     

     

     

    Adults & Children’s Books

     

    Hometown at Dusk by Roan Ching-Yueh

    Once Upon a Time in Hong Kong by Ma Ka-Fai

    Burning Bright by Cheng Ying-Shu

    Aaron the Fox by Wang Mei-Hui & Chen Pin-Rui

    Little Things I, II by Jay Yeh, Bei Lynn, Tsui Li-Chun, Yang Li-Ling, Chien Yin, Tai Pera, Yu Chia-Chi, Ho Yun-Tzu, Claire Cheng, Tsai Chia-Hua, Li Yi-Ting

    The Squirrel and the Banyan Tree by Zhou Jian-Xin

    Silhouettes by Sun Hsin-Yu

    Adventure at Night by Liao Shu-Ti

    I Want Some! and Do You Want Some? by Huang Yu-Chin & Tsao Juei-Chih

     

    Download Issue 5 here.

     

    Comics

     

    Rites of Returning by Zuo Hsuan

    The Taming of the Warrior by You Gui-Xiu

    Scroll of a Northern City II by AKRU

    Oldman by Chang-Sheng; Big City, Little Things by HOM

    Son of the Sea by Chen Jian; Oh, My Goddess! by Chiyou

    The Baker’s Journey by Chen Wen-Sheng; Remote Island by Adoor Yeh

    Bonjour Angoulême! by Au Yao-Hsing

     

    Download Issue 5 Comics here.

     

     

  • Mar 15, 2017
    Monthly Pick: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HONG KONG
    by Books from Taiwan

    For March we recommend you the award-winning novel Once Upon a Time in Hong Kong, an underworld story blended with forbidden love affairs set in a unique time and place in history.

     

     

     

    Ma Ka-Fai

    Category: Literary/Crime

    Publisher: Thinkingdom

    Date: 6/2016

    Pages: 344

    Length: 180,000 characters

    (approx. 110,000 words in English)

     

    Winner of 2017 Taipei Book Fair Award

    Luk Pa-Choi runs to Hong Kong to escape poverty, brutality, and sexual abuse, having no idea that a future just as treacherous awaits him there. The young man begins by pulling a rickshaw and working as a bouncer in brothels, but fate pulls him deeper into the world of the Chinese criminal underground, and he begins to establish himself as a gangster. Yet he has a lover of no small significance – Morris Davidson, an officer in the British police force in Hong Kong. The two feed each other information, and provide each other comfort.
     

    Yet when the Japanese army takes over Hong Kong, and British officers are thrown in jail, Luk Pa-Choi must learn to deal with this new enemy. As his situation becomes more dangerous, Luk faces betrayal and the bitter price of love as he tries his best to rescue Davidson.
     

    Set in the tumultuous period of WWII and Japanese occupation, Once Upon a Time in Hong Kong tells the story of a young Chinese gangster’s dramatic rise in Hong Kong’s underworld and his forbidden love affair with a British police officer. Meticulously researched and artfully told, it is at once a crime epic, a heart-wrenching love story, and a sex-charged spy thriller.

     

    Download English Sample here.

  • Mar 15, 2017
    Taipei Book Fair 2017
    by Books from Taiwan

    The 2017 Taipei Book Fair (Feb 8 to 13) no doubt is the most vibrant ever. More independent publishers attended as exhibitors with brilliant stand designs. More publishers made efforts to connect with their readers by dedicating spaces for hosting book events, rather than making sales. Certainly BFT was there too! Check out our collage of photos and read more on Publishers Weekly.

     

    Taking the Pulse of Taiwan's Book Market

    Children's Titles, Especially Translations, Are Big Deals

     

    Taipei Book Fair

     

  • 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.