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 Taiwanese authors can manage their readers through the internet or direct visits, and can even sell yet-unpublished manuscripts directly to Chinese presses through their own publisher.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