The Taipei Rights Workshop is an annual highlight for local editors and agents: an opportunity here in Taiwan to meet publishing sector people from around the world and discuss differences in cultures and markets – something that can be hard to do in the chaos of the major book fairs.
2018’s workshop, the sixth, again welcomed attendees from around the world: from agents who have sold books worldwide to overseas editors who have snapped up Taiwanese books. But what do they discuss?
Recent years have seen German Tim Jung excel in his role as publishing director at Arche/Atrium, snapping up the rights to Chan Ho-Kei’s The Borrowed, Wang Ting-Kuo’s My Enemy’s Cherry Tree and Hideo Yokoyama’s 64 and guiding these books to impressive sales on the German market. Meanwhile Kelly Farber, a young and talented literary scout and the eyes and ears for Jung and other publishers across eighteen countries, is helping bring Chinese-language literature to a global audience.
Tim Jung manages two publishing houses. Arche was originally founded to provided reading materials for German prisoners of war during World War Two; Atrium has been publishing novels since 1935.
There were 72,499 new books published in Germany in 2017, 31% of those novels and 9,890 translated. The majority of the translated works were originally published in English, French or Japanese (including manga). Rights to an impressive 7,856 German books were sold overseas, with the three most common target languages for translation being Chinese, English and Spanish.
But the news is not all good. Here’s one worrying statistic: the number of people buying books in Germany has plummeted by 6 million over the past four years, to 30 million. It’s a trend which has Germany’s publishing sector on edge.
It’s not just Germany: publishers around the world are finding themselves squeezed between Facebook and Instagram. But Jung believes books can hold their own against new competitors and remain the "touchstone" against which television shows and video games are judged. Even though many regard other forms of media, including movie or game adaptations, as competitors, Jung finds this approach inadequate. Those adaptations still have value, even if the book market does suffer, and may be key to converting viewers and gamers into readers.
Why Publish Crime Novels?
Novels account for a large percentage of book sales and the crime story is an important category of novel: every book store will have a crime section. A German movie director once said that there is no better way to understand the world than through a crime story, and while each publishing house has its own criteria for choosing books, Atrium’s publication of 13.67 proves this point.
The English edition of the book was titled The Borrowed, hinting at Hong Kong’s particular status. Fears the relationship between China, the UK and Hong Kong may not have been so familiar to German readers, however, meant the German edition was titled The Eye of Hong Kong – a clever combination of the setting and the “Eye of Heaven” nickname of detective protagonist Kwan Chun-dok. The novel tells of six key cases over the course of Kwan’s career, covering key events in the city’s history as it does so and making for a read which provides German readers with both entertainment and a better understanding of the territory.
Jung quoted Mark Billingham, another of his best-selling authors: “Above all, give your readers characters they care about, that have the power to move them, and then you will have suspense from page one.”