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  • Jan 04, 2017
    Wu Ming-Yi’s Neo-Realist Communion with the Minute, the Marginal and the Material
    By David Der-Wei Wang. Translated by Darryl Sterk.

    First published on June 28, 2016, United Daily News

    David Der-Wei Wang, Professor of Chinese Literature at Harvard, makes a statement on behalf of the judges.

     

    There were six finalists for the third annual UDN Grand Literary Award, including poets, essayists and novelists, all outstanding representatives of contemporary Taiwan literature who have won our respect and esteem. After detailed discussions, we, the judges, have decided to award the prize to Wu Ming-Yi.

    Wu Ming-Yi began writing Nativist short stories – stories about a rural way of life that was passing away – in the early 1990s, but he really made his mark after the turn of the new millennium with several collections of nature writing: Book of Lost Butterflies (2000), about the decline of butterfly populations in Taiwan over the twentieth century; Butterfly Way (2003), about the multigenerational journeys on which certain species of butterfly still embark today; So Much Water So Close to Home (2007), an homage to Raymond Carver about an epic seaside hike down Taiwan’s East Coast, and Flame Above Flame (2014), a meditation on photography, in which Wu Ming-Yi follows in Roman Vishniac’s footsteps around the old neighborhood of Báng-kah. In these works, Wu Ming-Yi appeals to the environmental ethos of his era, but also reveals a fiercely intellectual streak and resolutely empirical spirit. With the addition of a magical realism to his creative palette, Wu created a style all his own in two novels. First, in Dreamliner (2007), a narcolept follows in his father’s footsteps from Taiwan to Japan at the height of the Pacific War to manufacture fighter props. Second, in The Man With the Compound Eyes (2011), a million eyes watch as a floating trash mountain crashes upon Taiwan’s eastern shore.

    The Magician on the Skywalk (2011) is a collection of nine tales of bildungsroman set in the Chung Hwa Market, where the narrator (and the author) grew up. The market, which was demolished in 1992, and returns to life in these pages, is a habitat for hundreds – small shop owners, diners, families – from all walks of life. It is also a den of thieves, in which each protagonist gets his first bittersweet taste of life. When, later in life, the protagonists look back on their time there, they remember the magician who stood on the skywalk, and finally realize his significance: as unremarkable as he seemed at the time, he presided over rites of passage, leading them down paths less travelled by and initiating them into the ineffable knowledge of adulthood.

    The Stolen Bicycle turns one bicycle into the stuff of legend. With a title that pays tribute to Vittorio De Sica’s Neo-Realist masterpiece Ladri di Biciclette, this story records the quotidian passions of people, flora, and fauna as they undergo modernization – from Japanese colonialization, which ended in the Pacific War, to postwar industrialization under the Kuomintang. As the wheel of fortune turns, the protagonists cycle from Taipei, on Taiwan’s northern tip, to Puli and Gangshan, the mountains of the central interior; from the Malay Peninsula to the jungles of northern Burma, and from one period in Taiwan’s history to another.

    Interspersed among the ten chapters of The Stolen Bicycle are eight excerpts from an archive of notes on bicycle construction and evolution, as well as the narrator’s antique bicycle collection. It is a chronicle of an obsession with a stolen bicycle that contains important clues concerning its recovery, as well as an archaeological record of artifacts and their users as they develop, disappear and reappear. Hardly a typical nature writer, Wu Ming-Yi has extended his empathetic gaze to objects, which he sees in the longue durée of their production, consumption and dilapidation. In so doing, he communes with the minute, the marginal, and the material, and in his communion discovers a method for making sense of the Taiwan experience.

    Wu Ming-Yi’s works have garnered mixed responses. Detractors disparage his narratives as baroque, his novels as kaleidoscopes in which themes get blurred. Supporters appreciate his story-telling skill, and his ability to convey historical memory, both human and environmental. Whether negative or positive, the intensity of the responses testifies to the relevance of his works, which by getting under our skin motivate us to question what fiction should be about and how it should be written. This year’s winner of the UDN Grand Literary Award, Wu Ming-Yi will continue to explore new answers to those questions.

  • 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. 

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

    All the clichés apply.   Go bold or go home.    You have to spend money to make money.  A leopard can’t change his spots.   And likely 1001 more but I’ll stop there, sparing you the suffering.  Clichés are like dental x-rays or family vacation photos, best kept to oneself.

     

    I've worked for over 20 years to license English-language books for translation into other language-markets.  During that time I’ve licensed books into more languages than I can remember, including Klingon…almost . (That was for a computer science book in the 1990’s and there’s a lot about that era we’d all like to forget.   The deal never went through because the ‘licensing publisher’ insisted on a bilingual contract. I wish I were joking…)   During my career, I’ve had a few opportunities to work on books written in languages other than English, but it was not until 2013 that I came upon a work that seemed to have the credentials to become a worldwide bestseller. I was having dinner in New York City with friends from the Japanese publisher Sunmark. Wanting to get them out of Manhattan and the tourist belt, I packed us all on the subway and took us to an Uzbeki restaurant in Queens.  We ate whatever the waitstaff put in front of us (most of it was on a stick) and drank Uzbeki beer, which comes in 3 varieties:  weak, medium and strong.  As I had to find our way back into Manhattan, I opted for the ‘weak’ beer but Sunmark was more courageous.   Even weak Uzbeki beer has a way to make its impact felt and after a while, as we discussed the books Sunmark was publishing, it struck me that a book they had recently published about tidying your house not only could be attractive to an American publisher, but it simply HAD to be the next big thing.  To my knowledge there had never been an Asian practical self-help book that sold very well in the USA, but this book seemed to so much going for it.  The assets of the book, combined with the perhaps unnaturally relaxed environment as we drank on, left me absolutely certain that Marie Kondo could be a bestseller.   Sunmark agreed, or at least I remember them agreeing, and we all got pretty excited about what was to come.  Unfortunately it was some special Uzbeki dessert glue-like substance so our celebration was interrupted, and then I proceeded thereafter to take us on the wrong direction on the subway.   At that point I’d only lived in NYC for 21 years so it was of course understandable.  

     

    Eventually our course was righted and another course took hold, one which eventually led to over 7 million copies of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up being sold worldwide, with more than 5 million of those coming in languages other than Japanese.   Everything about that book was a perfect storm, from the contents to the author herself to the emerging notion that people (particularly) simply have too much stuff and too little idea of what to do about it.   The book takes what is commonly regarded as a rather unpleasant task and makes it not only fun, but life-changing. But when asked, as I have been many times, to identify the ONE key to the book’s success outside of Japan, the element without which none of it could have happened, I always point to the simply flawless translation of the Japanese-language text submitted by Cathy Hirano, a translator born and raised in Canada who studied and now lives in Japan.   What you read in the American or British edition is 98% identical to the copy Sunmark delivered to my inbox some months after that drunken dinner.  

     

    I don’t frankly recall if they told me they were going to deliver a full English translation, or if I first said that it would be necessary to do so, but it was something we agreed upon without discussion. At that point, Sunmark had enjoyed excellent success in the American market with several other titles in translation, and they well understood what it took to reach that goal.  They didn’t doubt the quality of their work and they wanted the translations to reflect that quality to the greatest extent possible.    

     

    And this is one of the key points I wish to communicate in this piece: good enough is NOT good enough.  A skilled, University-trained translator, one who perhaps lived or studied for a time in the US or the UK is NOT enough. For a foreign-language book to be published in the US and/or the UK, the requirement is, without exception, is that the translation be prepared by a translator who was raised and educated in an English-speaking country. There is no substitute for this. I know what you’re thinking, “But isn’t something better than nothing”? Why can’t a translation be done by a highly-skilled local translator who has translated English into Chinese?” 

     

    Because it can’t. I’ve seen hundreds of bad translations and almost all of them have one dominant characteristic: the translator was translating away from his or her mother tongue.   There are also bad ones from native-language translations, but each one NOT from a native-language translator has been bad.

     

    A skilled native-language translator understands his or her language in ways that other translators cannot, and has a better sense of nuance, slang, and facile use of language that mark the best translations, the books that people clamor to read. 

     

    Remember that awful cliché that “you have to spend money to make money”?   That’s the idea here.   But why must this be the case? Because -- cliché alert – it turns out that life isn’t fair.    Hundreds of thousands of books published first in English are published in other languages around the world every year, by publishers from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.    So this exchange of ideas and information is a two-way stream, right?   Not exactly.   Fewer than 1% of fiction works published in the US every year are from foreign-language authors (classics of literature excepted), and less than 1/10th of 1% of trade nonfiction works published each year come from foreign languages. Recent political events have confirmed what I'm afraid many of us already knew:  the American public is a bit too xenophobic for comfort.  But we shouldn’t think this is a new phenomenon, it simply has a new champion.  One result is that for too many Americans the rest of the world is something to be avoided, to be feared, and from which we must be protected.  “America First” is not just a political rallying cry, for many it’s become a preferred way of life.

  • Dec 15, 2016
    Recipients of the 2016 Translation Fund Grants!
    Ministry of Culture, Republic of China (Taiwan)

    The Ministry of Culture is delighted to announce the recipients of the 2016 Translation Grant Program! Please see the full list below or click here:

     


     

    Order Applicant Project Title Grant (in NTD)
    1 Text Publishing THE STOLEN BICYCLE English Translation 500,000
    2 ENCICLOPÈDIA CATALANA S.L.U. Sanmao's ”Dreaming the Olive Tree” Spanish translation and publication 400,000
    3 韓哲旻 Dark Tourism through the Rebels’ City - An Alternative Guide for Taipei Korean version Publishing plan 400,000
    4 Camelozampa s.n.c. Translation into Italian of "Kiss and Goodbye" 350,000
    5 mirobole editions WAR OF THE BUBBLES 340,000
    6 L'Asiathèque French translation of The Illusionist on the Skywalk 330,000
    7 Honford Star The Steelyard: The Complete Fiction of Lai He 300,000
    8 Hyundae Munhak  The River Darkens 300,000
    9 ALMA The Illusionist on the Skywalk 280,000
    10 魚住悅子 Badai’s Anjiao Japanese Translation and Publishing Project 250,000
    11 Mangmoom Culture  The Hospital into Thai 250,000
    12 Mangmoom Culture Dangerous Mind into Thai 240,000
    13 Munhakdongne  GRANNY’S FAVOURITE TOY 220,000
    14 思潮社 思潮社翻譯出版《A夢》日文版 200,000
    15 Mi:Lu Publishing Czech translation of Yang Mu´s work 150,000
    16 Fandogamia Editorial, C.B. The Worst Travel to Spain and France 90,000
  • Aug 26, 2016
    Applications for Translation Grant Program will be accepted beginning September 1
    Ministry of Culture, Republic of China (Taiwan)

    Application Period and Guidelines

    The Ministry of Culture will accept applications for its Translation Grant Program starting Thursday, September 1. The grant is to encourage the publication of translation of Taiwan's literature, including fiction, non-fiction, picture books and comics, and help Taiwan's publishing industry to explore non-Chinese interantional markets. Eligible foreign publishers or natural persons can apply for grants up to NT$ 500,000. The application deadline is Friday, September 30.

    More information about the Translation Grant Program is available on the Grant section of this website. The online application system to the grant application will be available from September 1.

    Please read the Translation Grant Guidelines carefully before the application. Please use this form to apply online.

     

    Instructions to the Online Application System 

    Please use only Chinese or English to fill in the application form. Please register your email and log in the online application system to start the application process.

    Once the application form is completed, please click "Preview" to double check all the information you have filled in. To submit your application, please click "Send", then you will receive an application confirmation letter. If not, please contact books@moc.gov.tw for further information. 

    If you click "Saved", your application will be saved in the system but it's not yet submitted. Please log in with your email and password to finish the online form and send your application before September 30, 2016. Once the application is sent, you can click the link in your application confirmation letter sent by the system to edit your application. Please be noted that all applications need to be sent before September 30, 2016. 

    One can only file five applications, please complete your current application and log in again to start a new one.

    The Ministry is available to answer questions and offer support throughout the application period. Anyone with questions is encouraged to contact books@moc.gov.tw.

      

  • Jun 30, 2016
    How Japanese Readers Engage with Dystopian Reality: Translating Egoyan Zheng’s Ground Zero
    by Kuramoto Tomoaki. English translation by Canaan Morse.

    To what extent can a fictional novel change reality? The question engages the concept of the novel on its most fundamental level of significance. Egoyan Zheng’s Ground Zero provides an answer to that question based on the complex relationship between “reality” and “fiction.” After the March 11th earthquakes visited Japan with the “reality” of nuclear crisis, many authors gravitated toward dystopian settings of terror and despair. By contrast, the anti-nuclear Ground Zero employs a “realism” in its description of space and human events that attempts to change “reality” through “fiction,” and to break through the established models of dystopian narrative.

     

    Maintaining support for anti-proliferation policy and working with readers to change our current “ground zero” is Zheng’s ongoing and uncharted project. The novel describes a futuristic Taiwanese society in which nuclear crisis has already changed daily life irrevocably, and yet established structures of power remain in effect. While the narrative may resemble dystopian science fiction, it narrates our past as much as our future. As a member of that greater “our,” I know that once nuclear non-proliferation laws acquire global legitimacy, international readers will be able to engage fully with this reading space.

     

    An author who can bridge the divide between “reality” and “fantasy” through metafictional narrative tactics can help readers change a society in love with nuclear power (the events and spaces of this novel mirror those of contemporary Taiwan almost exactly). This sort of narrative strategy will continue to call readers to its space and to its cause. I’m confident that the most suitable readers for this unfinished narrative project are “the sons of the atomic bomb” of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

     

    I also believe that my responsibility as a translator is to introduce as well as participate in this project. The concrete process of translation revealed several differences in “reality” between Japan and Zheng’s Taiwan. Perhaps Japanese readers will be able to continually engage with the novel’s plot, and thereby engage with this project of reception and creation.

     

    In Ground Zero, Egoyan frequently notes the deeply flawed construction of the Lungmen Nuclear Power Plant. The wreckage left by that plant symbolized not only the shadow of Taiwanese martial law, but also the rise of Japanese and American imperialism. After martial law ended, the Taiwan Power Company ignored widespread civilian protest marches, as well as strong opposition from the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union and the Oversight and De-Proliferation Association, and proceeded with construction at Lungmen. In the end, General Electric won the rights to construct the plant, while Toshiba and Hitachi designed the reactors. Both of the Lungmen plant’s reactors were designed and built by Japanese state-owned enterprises, and constituted a rare success in the nation’s new mandate to “develop nuclear power solely for peaceful purposes.” The deeply flawed Lungmen plant was, therefore, the mutant offspring of a hegemon that dictated other nation’s nuclear policy (America) and a country that had once felt the effects of nuclear development before transforming into a nuclear provider itself (Japan).

     

    Japanese readers will not fail to sense that the exposure of government power structures following the nuclear crisis in Ground Zero invokes comparisons to Japan after the March 11th disasters; Egoyan’s satirical portrayal of the government that carries on with old nuclear policy after a disaster like nothing has happened obviously bears directly on Japan’s case. Hochen Duanfang, chairman of the previous Executive Yuan’s Nuclear Safety Committee, leads a team of commandos to the disaster site knowing full well that radioactive wastewater has made it into drinking water reservoirs. Yet he fakes a sudden discovery, ensuring his mission is a success, and he rides the subsequent wave of national fame into a candidacy for president of the ruling party. Similarly, the Japanese government claimed that its crises had been “totally unpredictable,” and protected executives in the Tokyo Power Company from legal liability, all while strongly pushing the commercial benefits of nuclear power. Perhaps the nuclear policies implemented by Japan then were even more damaging than those described in Egoyan’s novel. The fifteen “commandos” who ventured into the disaster site will also stir memories among Japanese readers of the “Fukushima Fifty,” the employees who remained at the Fukushima disaster site who supposedly volunteered to remain in the disaster area and contain radiation. As the number of victims rose to thirty thousand, most of those who were working in radioactive areas turned out to be temporary employees, not “heroes” from the Tokyo Power Company. Takahashi Tetsuya, a professor of philosophy at Tokyo University who researched how the Fukushima Fifty became so-called “great martyrs of the Japanese nation,” pointed out that Japanese nuclear policy was a predatory institution that required the sacrifice of others in order to operate. It was only after the truth could no longer be hidden that the government began trumpeting the “great martyrdom” of the Fukushima Fifty through mainstream media, in order to keep themselves and the Tokyo Power Company from assuming responsibility. On some level, Egoyan’s “commandos” present the post-crisis Japanese government in cameo, thereby effecting a bitter satire of an institution ripe with contradiction.

     

    The Japanese version of Ground Zero is forthcoming this March from Hakusuisya Press. As the translator, I hope Japanese readers find in it an entry point through which to engage with with Egoyan’s unfinished project to influence reality through fiction, and end Japan’s fateful marriage with nuclear power.

  • Jun 30, 2016
    From Square One: A New Publishing Journey
    by Grace Chang, rights Director of Books From Taiwan. English translation by Canaan Morse.

    My first international exhibition since joining the Books from Taiwan (BFT) team last January was the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in April. As everyone in our industry knows, this event is a must-go for children’s book authors and illustrators worldwide. I myself had been before, serving in other roles, but to come back now after years away and in a new position seemed akin to making a fresh start. This time, I had a new identity, new responsibilities, a new perspective, and new impressions.

     

    No longer was I just another rights associate of some publishing company, arriving with only my own booklist and an eye for foreign prospects. Instead, I now served as a “government sponsored rights manager,” acting under the auspices of the Taiwanese Ministry of Culture. My business now included every original Taiwanese work, author, and publisher; my responsibility was the advocate for each and every one, and help them find  ideal international collaborators.

     

    At nine a.m. on the first morning of the Fair, I made my way to the Taiwan pavilion, arranged my copies of BFT under the smiling face of the “Little Beauty of Taiwan,” and set up my meeting table. It was the first time I didn’t need to spend the day running from booth to booth, and could therefore observe our pavilion personally, and with care.

    Taiwan Stand and BFT

    Taiwan Stand and BFT

     

    Curious to know what kinds of people would gravitate to our pavilion, I played the part of impromptu receptionist for a few hours that morning. The first visitors to flip through BFT were purchasing librarians from the Bologna municipal library; later, I met publishers and booksellers from all the world (a South African publisher greeted me with: “I want sexy books! Give me something sexy!”), along with young illustrators offering their work to editors for perusal. People came to us with a diverse array of hopes and expectations, and as employees, we were responsible for engaging seriously with each. Every so often, we would enter into a round of on-site book interviews and real negotiation. In a high-stress, easily changeable atmosphere like the Fair, such occurrences came as a welcome surprise.

    Librarians

    Librarians

     

    What can a “government sponsored rights manager” do? In my spare time at the Fair (something I never had before), I poked around the exhibition floor, looking for an answer to that question. I visited the pavilions of the Czech Republic, Holland, Russia, Turkey, Croatia, Scandinavia, Cataluña, and other countries, noting how they presented themselves to the world, lowered the barriers to rights exchange, and inspired interest. Conversations with my colleagues from around the world gradually revealed that my target partners included not only editors and rights associates all over the world, but also authors, translators, the critical community, and representatives from government and non-profit foundations. I needed to plant seeds of interest all over the world, and care for them until “points” turned into “lines,” then into “areas.” This new work represented both a challenge and a source of great interest.

    Croatia

     

    I also had a chance to visit the Illustrators Exhibition 2016, which included this year’s special exhibition, a showcase of classic illustrations celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Book Fair. I found myself revisiting my first impulses to work in the children’s book industry, and pondering Taiwan’s place among the vast landscape of seemingly borderless works of art.

    50th Anniversary

    Ju Tzu

    Ju Tzu

     

    Books from Taiwan has just begun its work. Before we started, we believed that our pictorial language would allow our work to step beyond cultural boundaries more easily; only our experiences on the exhibition floor revealed the opposite to be true. Like a child with a new jigsaw puzzle, we are beginning at square one. Only practical experience will teach us how to fit those pieces, slowly but surely, into one grand picture.

  • Jun 30, 2016
    Books, Friends, Fellows: Lessons from the Taipei Rights Workshop
    by Eric Abrahamsen, founder of Paper Republic

    Publishing has long been known as a “gentleman’s profession.” The term originally held several different implications, many of which are no longer true – that it’s a profession dominated by men, for instance, or only for the independently wealthy. But  one understanding of the term is still very much in effect, namely that publishing, more than most industries, depends on personal connections, friendships, and being part of an international “publishing culture.”

     

    Nearly a decade of working in literature and publishing in Beijing has driven this point home for me in two ways. The first was watching editors at Chinese publishing houses trying to pitch their books to foreign publishers and failing. As I watched these interactions, it became clear to me that the problem wasn’t so much the books or the editors, but with their methods of communication. Chinese editors simply didn’t know how to talk naturally with international editors, much less pitch their books in a compelling way. The second was my own interactions with those same international editors. As an American and native English speaker, I enjoyed an unfair advantage – at least we could chat, and find a natural rapport. But when it came to pitching titles I wanted to translate, I fell down just as hard as the Chinese editors. I had no trouble in conveying how much I liked a particular book, but when it came to why I liked it – and more importantly, why they should publish it – I wasn’t making myself clear.

     

    The usual term for what I experienced at the Taipei Rights Workshop is “publishing fellowship.” In November of 2015 I was invited to Taipei, along with a handful of editors, agents and translators from other countries, to spend a week getting to know both each other and the Taiwanese publishing and literary scenes. The word “fellowship” is telling. It fits very neatly with the idea of publishing as a social endeavor: these week-long events provide participants with a way to get to know each other on more than just a professional basis. There’s shop talk about books and rights and markets and sales, but there’s also late-night conversations about personal history, arguments about taste, admissions about past misjudgments, and war stories about near misses. Participants in these events are “fellows” in the sense of having experienced something unique together.

     

    By the time I attended the Taipei Rights Workshop, I had (over the years) spent enough time with editors that I had a better sense of how to introduce Chinese books in an effective way. We had hosted a UK editors’ trip to China, attended the Frankfurt and London Book Fairs, and midwifed several Chinese books into English publication. Looking around the Chinese publishing industry, however, it was clear that most Chinese editors still didn’t really know how to communicate with international editors. Some privately-owned publishing companies were extremely adept at acquiring titles from other countries, but the challenge of pitching Chinese books abroad still seemed insurmountable.

     

    My week in Taipei was the longest period of time I’d spent in the company of a mixed group of international editors. I’ll admit it felt like a bit of a homecoming – though our backgrounds were completely different, they seemed like my kind of people. I simply liked talking to them. We had a lot of the same opinions about books. And I realized that that’s one of the great appeals of the publishing world – it’s a great global society of people who like nothing more than talking about books.

     

    Returning to Beijing, I thought immediately of the cynical side of all this. The business of publishing is – the love of books aside – a game of chance. As in all games of chance, most players think they have better-than-average odds of winning, which is why everyone keeps playing. When it comes to international fiction, however, the odds are even longer: one has less information, more uncertainty, and far greater risk.

     

    It is part of human nature that, when faced with such uncertainty, we seek out the opinions of other people, and of our friends in particular. And who are our friends if not our fellows, the people we’ve spent weeks bonding with in foreign countries?

     

    Here we have the reason Chinese editors are so often unable to pitch their books: no one knows who they are. Specifically, no one has a sense of them as individuals; no one knows their tastes; no one has stayed up until 2 a.m. arguing with them about the relative merits of Milan Kundera versus Haruki Murakami. When they drop by a stand at the book fair and say, “I’ve got something I think you might like,” the crucial question is: will they be heard?

     

    Imitationis the sincerest form of flattery, and in a few days the Beijing Publishing Fellowship will begin. It was directly inspired by the Taipei Rights Workshop, and it will, like all publishing endeavors, be an equal mix of market pragmatism and literary idealism. My hope is that the visiting fellows will learn a great deal about China, and go home with future projects and partners in mind. But more than that I hope that local editors will learn how to talk to the fellows. How to be social, how to share their enthusiasm, how to make what they’re trying to say heard. Everyone belongs to their own milieu. But we also need to be able to reach out – to convey our passions, to speak to others’ markets, to show we understand. That’s a lesson I learned in Taipei.

  • Jun 30, 2016
    Finding Wonderland: Selling Taiwanese Rights Abroad (II)
    by Sean Hsu. English translation by Canaan Morse.

    While Taiwanese publishers still face many difficulties in the sale of international rights, healthy economic relationships with Japan, Korea, and the southeast Asian nations (such as Thailand and Vietnam), as well as clear channels across the Taiwan Strait have kept the industry doing fairly well.

     

    Publishing information channels across the Taiwan Strait are plentiful and open. Taiwanese authors can manage their readers through the internet or direct visits, and can even sell yet-unpublished manuscripts directly to Chinese presses through their own publisher. The Chinese mainland has thereby become the easiest and most desirable sales target for book rights.

     

    In recent years, Thailand has been very active at the Taipei Book Fair. Thai agents who can read Chinese have lowered the barriers of entry for Taiwanese publishers, and business grows steadily. Popular genres include genre fiction such as martial arts novels, romances, and ghost stories, a phenomenon directly related to the preferences of Thai readers. Nonfiction categories include illustrated nonfiction, health and nutrition, self-help, business management, and Chinese history – interestingly, the desire for Chinese history is directly motivated by computer games and education. Reputation is also a deciding factor in rights purchases. Examples include successful sales by Crown Publishing House of books by San Mao, Eileen Chang, Hou Wen-yung and others to Japan and Korea.

     

    The Soji Shimada Mystery Prize, started by Crown in 2008, is also worth talking about. After over a decade of publishing mystery novels in translation, Crown came together with Soji Shimada, the widely-translated mystery novel writer to start a novel contest that would allow previously unknown winners to step directly onto an international stage, guaranteeing them sales to Japan, China, and Thailand (the third iteration of the Prize added Italy and Malaysia to that group; the prize is now in its fourth round).

     

    Taiwanese publishers can learn from the example of Chan Ho-Kei, the Hong Kong author whose literary mystery novel The Borrowed won both the second Soji Shimada Prize and First Prize at the 2015 Taipei International Book Fair, has sold translation rights in seven countries as well as film rights to the book. the author is from Hong Kong and the story itself focuses on the Hong Kong police, The Borrowed was produced entirely by Crown. Although Hong Kong’s Occupy Central movement, which occurred just before the Frankfurt Book Fair, seemed to be the happy accident behind the book’s publicity, the real key lay in the Taiwanese agent’s willingness to invest 150,000 NTD to have the book professionally translated and edited. Advances and royalties together returned that investment more than thirty-three times over. The significance of that return is worthy of consideration.

     

    Another notable work, which sold for over two million NTD, is the nonfiction work Wonderland. In 2015, coloring books took the publishing world by storm. Taiwan’s DelightPress, which had been publishing art therapy books for many years, saw the trend coming, and designed a coloring book themed on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Compared to The Secret Garden, the design and illustrations in Wonderland appealed strongly to 20-30-year-old female readers, and the book not only surpassed a highly competitive field, it found immediate interest among foreign publishers, as its images possessed a universal, independent appeal. Clearly, Taiwanese publishers are capable of creating original works of art that can surprise the world.

     

    What is the next step for international rights sales in Taiwan? How should the publishing industry continue to develop? My own opinion is that domestic publishers should build closer ties with agents, in order to bring the possibility of international sales into the early stages of the creative process, and allow the agent, who has international connections and sales experience, to introduce the work strategically and effectively. Such a relationship would build a self-sustaining, positive energy, and produce ever more qualified publishing professionals.