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  • 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 Taiwanese authors can manage their readers through the internet or direct visits, and can even sell yet-unpublished manuscripts directly to Chinese presses through their own publisher.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.

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

    There are any number of possible angles from which we can introduce and analyze the state of domestic publishing in Taiwan today. In this article, I will rely on my own concrete experience and observations as well as the results of interviews done with industry members to describe the current scene as I understand it, as well as offer my own expectations and suggestions.

     

    Over the past twenty years, Taiwanese publishing has evolved away from an editor-centered model that privileged personal connections and individual artistry, toward a more standardized management model that aims to lower costs, increase revenue, and grasp market changes by actualizing the potential of the strategic business unit and controlling key performance indicators (KPI) throughout the production process using digital and network tools.

     

    Major publishers and publishing groups maintain clear company structures, in which the editorial and strategy departments are the primary production units, while sales, accounting, administration, and legal counsel are considered logistical support. Small publishers with editorial teams of four people or fewer often require their editors to wear several different hats, yet the majority of resources are still redirected to editorial production. No matter how large or small the publisher, editors remain the “movers and shakers,” and are responsible for everything from topic selection, market positioning, design, and marketing to community management and after-sale advertisement. They also play a key role in rights sales and purchasing.

     

    Excluding a small cohort of manga, light novels, picture books, celebrity memoirs or other works connected to mainstream media, books published in Taiwan have only one market: Taiwan. Peripheral markets like Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, and Malaysia offer a chance to extend sales because of a shared writing system (traditional Chinese), but do not offer opportunities to sell rights for multiple languages. Therefore, over ninety percent of international rights transactions accomplished through agents or by Taiwanese publishers themselves are purchases. International sales are very rare, and most of these are not accomplished solely by the strategic action of the publisher, but through events and sponsorship offered by government organizations like the Ministry of Culture, or NGOs like the Taipei Book Fair Foundation. 

     

    As we investigate more deeply the front lines of publishing, we find that domestic publishers are extremely adept at “localized interpretation,” and know how to select valuable topics and marketable language amid the vast landscape of foreign- and Chinese-language books. When evaluating the former, they rely heavily on global sales records, criticism from the media and from readers, and prize records. The perennial dominance of literature in translation as well as the bestseller lists generated by bookselling channels both reflect this competency. Moreover, as editors of literature in translation are often separated from their Chinese-language counterparts inside publishing companies, an editor who wishes to market a domestic title internationally will still have a hard time gaining effective marketing language and strategy from editors across the aisle.

     

     “Simply carrying out the editorial duties we already have is exhausting enough. The best we can do is put together some marketing materials after the publication, find someone to translate the Chinese into English, and wait and see if foreign publishers show any interest.” I heard this response from nearly all the editors whom I interviewed. Their pessimism may simply reflect a lack of time or a shortage of resources, yet the fact that they approach international rights marketing with a Chinese-language mindset and act as if they were working for Chinese readers is itself obviously problematic.

     

    Larger publishers and publishing groups frequently have rights departments, staffed by associates more experienced in international publishing than the editors. Yet the reality is that those associates spend nine times more time and energy purchasing international rights than selling their own. They are not credited for royalties earned through international licensing (the editorial department is), and they lack the budget in translating Chinese literature and maintaining the long-term relationship with potential international buyersintroducing. While the sale of international rights continues to bring no appreciable profit to Taiwanese publishers, motivation to do so will continue to be lacking.

  • Dec 12, 2014
    New Books in German: Not Just About New Books in German
    by Jen Calleja, Acting Editor (2013-2014), New Books in German

    Literature in translation is the most wonderful kind of cross-cultural communication: the sharing of meaningful stories between cultures. Though interest in translated literature is undoubtedly having a renaissance with a selection of publishers shouting proud about how much they want to publish more translated literature, literary journals having dedicated translation issues and the wider media exploring the process of literary translation in their articles and interviews, the amount of foreign-language literature being translated into English is still so much less than in the other direction.


    The market for translated literature is still relatively niche and everyone within the translation community internationally is trying to raise its profile and whet their readers' appetite for it. During my roller-coaster sixteen months as acting editor and acting editorial consultant for the journal New Books in German I experienced how interconnected the world of translation is—and must be. To promote any literature in translation, one needs to promote all literature in translation and know the literary landscape as a whole. It would of course be wonderful to think that all publishers and readers are keeping a keen eye out for books in translation and that the strength of a book alone should be enough to carry it into another language, country and market, but unfortunately this isn't the case.


    Founded in 1996, New Books in German is a project helping to get more German-language fiction, non-fiction and children's books into the international market. Both a biannual print magazine and a website, NBG publishes reviews for a selection of curated titles; interviews with publishers, writers and translators; features on current trends in German literature; and information on a selection of the latest translations in English of German books. Most of the books selected for review in the magazine are guaranteed translation funding by the financial partners of the magazine should an English-language publisher buy the rights, which is a wonderful additional incentive for publishers wishing to branch out into German literature but are put off by the irksome additional cost of hiring a translator.


    The array of print and online-only publications with the same mission as NBG (including 12 Swiss Books, Swedish Book Review, Books from Finland, New Spanish Books, Fiction France, 10 Books from Holland, to name a few) likewise not only promote individual titles, but also interview literary translators, follow trends in the publishing world and bring news on the current popularity of certain genres of translated literature in general. These publications also learn and take inspiration from one another and in some instances have the same models and editorial processes as each other. The role of these publications, including NBG, is to act as mediator between the publishing houses at home and publishers abroad by highlighting a selection of their language's best (and also typically contemporary) literature. You can't pitch books blindly into a foreign market, no matter how great the book is. NBG, for example, seeks books that are first and foremost outstanding, but that would also not be too problematic to translate and that would find an English-language readership (this, I should add, is why our partnership with the German Book Office New York is so important; even the various English-language markets differ, so it's good to have a broad perspective on which books could work in English translation). The books need to have a fighting chance, so knowing the market you're trying to enter is imperative.


    NBG receives financial and promotional support from a group of partners comprising the Frankfurt Book Fair and German, Austrian and Swiss cultural organisations. Representatives of these partners also make up NBG's editorial committee with additional support from the magazine's publisher the British Centre for Literary Translation, the German Book Office New York, as well as a rotating array of enthusiastic and generous guests who are publishers, agents and literary translators. Those directly involved with NBG, though representing different countries within the German-speaking world, want to support and promote the best German-language literature regardless of nation and primarily wish to strengthen the image and rate of exchange of translated literature and the variety of literature available overall. They believe in translation. Extending this idea of variety and excellence, the Frankfurt Book Fair, which distributes the magazine internationally and stocks hundreds of issues at the Fair itself, has a similar focus on promoting international literary exchange and dialogue by hosting a guest of honour nation at each Fair. NBG is proud to reflect this in each autumn issue by publishing an interview or feature on the guest nation and their literature and a guest piece by the FBF that covers a current trend or issue within the international book market.


    NBG's editor of the last five years, Charlotte Ryland, has been taking the magazine and the project as a whole from strength to strength, finding new ways of promoting titles and the take up of books with new initiatives including the highly successful Emerging Translators Programme. The ETP was founded in 2011 as a way of finding and nurturing new translating talent while also helping promote the titles appearing in the magazine. Each spring, NBG invites translations of the same extract from a new German-language fiction title and commissions the translators of the six best submissions to translate samples from titles being reviewed in the upcoming NBG. They then get the chance to workshop their finished samples with an award-winning literary translator to perfect their work and learn about the process and career of a professional translator of fiction. It makes perfect sense to create a competition and immersive workshop alongside the magazine; what good is promoting German-language books if there aren't exceptional literary translators to translate them and publishers don't know where to find them? The ETP benefits all parties involved: the translators have the opportunity to hone their craft and get what is usually their first taste of translating literature professionally, the German-language publishers receive a polished sample translation at a reduced fee to use in their rights work and promotion, and NBG gets to meet the potential literary translators from German of the future that it can happily recommend to English-language publishers.


    Vital to the future success of literature in translation is for publications and platforms like NBG to continue getting information and resources to the right people, while also helping with international networking. Part of the wider, ongoing work of the project is to connect publishers with their foreign counterparts, and publishers with translators, so that the ultimate objective can be achieved: international authors' books reaching the hands of international readers. Though the languages may be different, the goals are the same: the diversification of literary voices and the sharing of incredible stories.

  • Dec 12, 2014
    Taiwan/Fiction, and all the way to France
    by Gwennaël Gaffric

    I was invited by Philippe Thiollier, editor of L'Asiathèque Publishing House, to direct a new imprint, Taiwan / Fiction, which we launched in October this year.


    Taiwan / Fiction is not strictly speaking the first dedicated series of Taiwanese literature in France. The Lettres Taïwanaises collection was created in 2000 by three professors, Chan Ching-Ho, Angel Pino and Isabelle Rabut, who have published (and sometimes translated) literary works by the Chu family (Chu Hsi-Ning, Chu T'ien-Wen and Chu T'ien-Hsin), Ch'en Yin-Chen, Chang Ta-Ch'un, Hwang Ch'un-Ming, and more recently Wuhe.


    Taiwan / Fiction's goal is somewhat different to that of the Lettres Taïwanaises imprint, since the texts we will translate and publish are primarily contemporary novels and not necessarily classics or already well recognised in the history of modern Taiwanese literature. We are instead interested in writers that appears to us to be representative of new voices, new viewpoints and new literary experiments from the island.


    We will concentrate on living authors who explore the changing world in which we live through their literature. Thus, we don't simply focus on historically 'representative' Taiwanese writers or literary movements, but authors whose works have a wider resonance, which are not limited to their own contexts. Of course, this doesn't mean that these authors can't talk about the singular Taiwanese experience, on the contrary, we would like to introduce in French works that can show that the Taiwanese experience illustrates and reveals the current state of our world, or generates fresh perspectives on it.


    In the original statement announcing the launch of our collection, we wrote as follows:

    [...] The ambition of the Taiwan / Fiction series is to translate and publish texts whose subjects and scope should go beyond Taiwan or the so-called 'Chinese world' to echo beyond it and offer new thoughts on global issues. Among them: environmental concerns, identities of local languages and cultures, the impact of colonialism on memory, of economic globalization on traditional ways of life, gender and sexuality, etc... The above topics do not necessarily imply a duty to publish so-called 'social activism' novels, but high-quality stories whose aspiration is not simply 'art for art's sake', but a wish to question our daily realities.


    Hence, we hope to introduce the authors we will publish not strictly as 'Taiwanese writers' but as 'global writers with a Taiwanese view on the world.' For example, the French translation of the Taiwanese writer Wu Ming-Yi's THE MAN WITH COMPOUND EYES recently received the French International Insular Book Award. It was the first Taiwanese novel to ever receive such award in France. We hope to promote Taiwanese literature in this same vein: Taiwanese literature should not only interact with 'literature written in Chinese language' or some separate space of 'Asian literature', but must be brought into a 'world literature', where Taiwan can speak to an international audience.


    Among the first texts we have selected, we will publish the queer science fiction novel MEMBRANES by Chi Ta-Wei and a unique literary experiment, the two screenplays written for the cinema classic A City Of Sadness, written by Wu Nien-Jen and Chu T'ien-Wen respectively.


    In the future, we would like to introduce to French-speaking readers a variety of texts, all thematically strong and of the highest literary merit, including novels and short stories by authors such as Badai, Kao Yi-Feng, Lai Hsiang-Yin, Wu Ming-Yi, Lo Yi-Jun, Wuhe, Hung Ling, Chen Hsuë, Chu Yu-Hsun and many more.


    But like in any new literary imprint, we too have encountered some (temporary) obstacles that we have had to overcome.


    Firstly, we face a problem common to all Taiwanese literature in translation, namely a basic lack of media interest when compared to other 'national' literatures, such as those of China, Japan and now Korea. It is therefore important to offer significant translations with an original point of view with respect to Asian literature in general, but also books that can attract the attention of a reader who isn't necessarily attracted by Taiwan itself at first glance. Texts on issues such as ecology, war, memory, sexual identity, the vitality and reinvention of ancient religions and cultures or new technologies seem to us very powerful in this regard.


    For decades, l'Asiathèque Publishing House has been a recognised and respected force in the French publishing industry specialising in texts relating to Asia. But until recent years, L'Asiathèque mostly published scientific and cultural books on the continent, such as works of classical literature and language textbooks, but very few contemporary novels. A challenge for us will be to seduce an audience who is not usually familiar with this kind of material from a publishing house such as L'Asiathèque. Hence the publication of the novel MEMBRANES, which is not only a high-quality work by a wonderful storyteller, but also offers cross readings on original issues. To us, this seems the perfect way to draw in future readers.


    Another challenge we are facing is that of the small number of French translators who are familiar with Taiwanese literature and society and the presence of different Taiwanese languages in literature from the island. This question was of particular pertinence while working on the oeuvre of Kan Yao-Ming, an author we particularly admire. However, our ambition is to work with young and talented translators and we are not afraid to experiment in order to recreate the same multilingual and multicultural textures we find in the original text.


    As for the rights market, since we have only just launched the series and L'Asiathèque is still not considered a publisher of general contemporary literature, it has not been easy to get a place and gain influence in the financial negotiation for the rights to contemporary works with big potential. We hope that the future success of our collection will allow us to simplify these procedures.


    A final problem is of course related to the funding needed to run a project like ours. It is difficult in the early stages to accurately assess the size of our potential readership and any financial investment is a risk. Hopefully, we will be able to access French and Taiwanese cultural grants to help us in this regard.


    But whatever the challenges, we are very excited about the road ahead and we can't wait to introduce to French readers the richness of Taiwanese literature.