First published on October 12, 2016 by Readmoo News:
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.