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BECOMING BUNUN
By Kan Yao-Ming
Translated by May Huang
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  • For Readers, Publishers, and Authors, E-Book Is a New Choice
    Jul 07, 2022 / By Wolf Hsu ∥ Translated by Jenna Tang

    Reading is one of the simplest ways to solve our doubts, learn new knowledge, experience different lives, and entertain ourselves. As a reader, I keep thinking about how the most ideal publishing market is one that will be able to satisfy all the needs mentioned above – no matter how obscure the information I am looking for, or how strange the stories I love – I hope I can always find the book I need most at the moment.

    However, we can look at it in a different way. As someone who has been working in publishing for so many years, I understand such a goal isn’t easy to achieve. There are three main reasons.

    First, it is about the size of the market. The act of publishing is full of cultural significance, but it is also a straightforward commercial transaction. Most published products are intended for the consumer market. The amount of books purchased by readers will directly impact publishing records. Looking at the publishing records based on Taiwan’s National Central Library’s annual number of ISBN applications: during relatively slow periods, Taiwan’s book market published around 36,000 books (2020), while at its peak over 57,000 books have come out (in 2021, including a growing number of eBooks and audiobooks). Neither of these numbers include books that were self-published, or paperbacks and eBooks that were published without an ISBN. Ruling off the exam preparation books and potentially overlapping books (the title with separate ISBNs for paperback and eBook form), every year, there are around 30,000 books being published in Taiwan, which shows the publishing houses’ intention to satisfy the diverse and niche tastes from the readers. However, these books mostly lack marketing resources. If readers didn’t actively search for these books on their own, it would be hard for them to simply stumble upon them. In the meanwhile, if sales figures aren’t as high, the publishing house will lose profits to support the company, making them less willing to publish these types of books.

    Another thing is, the publishing industry itself can be experimental. In fact, most commercial transactions that attempt to push creative works into the consumer market are all somewhat experimental. An experienced person working in publishing can normally foresee how many copies will be sold. However, the market variables can be extreme; bestsellers are usually underdogs that people don’t have much expectations for. What happens often is that the sales figures don’t reach their goals.

    No matter what the circumstances, a title without viable sales figures will put pressure on the publishing house – books still in stock are the third obstacle that keep the publishing market from becoming more diverse. Books that are still in stock take up space and cost extra storage rental for the publishing house. Not only are these books unable to generate profits, they actually increase overhead costs for the publisher. If a title isn’t selling well, the profits of the book may already have been completely depleted by the cost of the storage rental before the expiration of the first license period. If a title has very few books left in stock and the publishing house is considering reprinting or producing another edition, the staff also need to consider the space they have for books remaining in stock: most reprinted books no longer produce the same marketing plan as the first printing, so sales may be slow compared to a new title. Although the cost of reprinting the same title might be lower, the cost of storage rental for the remaining stock doesn’t change. Therefore, if a publishing house is feeling uncertain about the sales performance of a book, they might choose not to reprint the title, which means that the readers who are in search of the book will not be able to find them anymore.

    Of course, these factors are mostly relevant to most traditional paperbacks – the number of copies in print and the cost of storage rental have to be seriously considered if a publishing house is producing paperbacks. This is where eBooks can help relieve the burden.

    To take my own books as example, both my novels The Pretender and What A Wonderful World​​​​​​​ skipped the traditional paperback publishing process and were instead published directly as eBooks. These books had been originally drafted on word processors and saved as digital files. It wasn’t difficult to convert them into the most commonly used EPub3 format. I also designed and drew the cover myself. Taiwan’s Readmoo application is the biggest platform for books published in traditional Chinese on the island. It is also a very convenient shelf system. I can update the title to the latest version at all times, and I am able to check the sales figures on my own. The paperback of my short story collection Fix went out of stock in 2021, although the TV series rights and the comic adaptation rights had been sold and both productions were in progress. After serious consideration, the publishing house decided to wait for the transition and the finalization of both the TV series and the comic before reprinting them. Since then, Fix has changed publishers and now has been released with additional content. During the period when the paperbacks were out of stock and before the new edition was released, eBooks became a very powerful way to balance the sales figures.

    By solving these issues with efficiency, the publishing market will be able to keep publishing diverse titles. Therefore, for readers, publishing houses, and authors alike, eBooks are a great way to boost the visibility of various titles. For the book market in Taiwan, it is especially important to invest more in producing eBooks.

  • Grant for the Publication of Taiwanese Works in Translation (GPT)
    Apr 01, 2022 / By Books from Taiwan

    GPT is set up by The Ministry of Culture to encourage the publication of Taiwanese works in translation overseas, to raise the international visibility of Taiwanese cultural content, and to help Taiwan's publishing industry expand into non-Chinese international markets.

    Applicant Eligibility: Foreign publishing houses (legal persons) legally registered in accordance with the laws and regulations of their respective countries.

    Conditions:

    1. The so-called Taiwanese works must meet the following requirements:

    A. Use traditional characters
    B. Written by a natural person holding an R.O.C. identity card
    C. Has been assigned an ISBN in Taiwan
    i.e., the author is a native of Taiwan, and the first 6 digits of the book's ISBN are 978-957-XXX-XXX-X, 978-986-XXX-XXX-X, or 978-626-XXX-XXX-X.

    2. Applications must include documents certifying that the copyright holder of the Taiwanese works consents to its translation and foreign publication (no restriction on its format).

    3. A translation sample of the Taiwanese work is required (no restriction on its format and length).

    4. The translated work must be published within two years, after the first day of the relevant application period.

    Grant Items:

    1. The maximum grant available for each project is NT$600,000, which covers:

    A. Licensing fees (going to the copyright holder of the Taiwanese works)
    B. Translation fees
    C. Marketing and promotion fees (limited to economy class air tickets for the R.O.C. writer to participate in overseas promotional activities related to the project)
    D. Book production-oriented fees
    E. Tax (20% of the total award amount)
    F. Remittance-related handling fees

    2. Priority consideration is given to books that have received the Golden Tripod Award, the Golden Comic Award, or the Taiwan Literature Award.

    3. The grant will be given all at once after the grant recipients submit the following written documents to the Ministry within one month of publication:

    A. Receipt (format given along with the Ministry's formal announcement);
    B. A detailed list of expenditures;
    C. 10 print copies of the final work published abroad (if the work is published in an e-book format, grant recipients shall instead provide purchase authorizations for 10 persons);
    D. An electronic file with aforementioned documents in PDF.

    Application Period: Twice every year. The MOC reserves the right to change the application periods, and will announce said changes separately.

    Announcement of successful applications: Winners will be announced within three months of the end of the application period.

    Application Method: Please visit the Ministry’s official website (https://grants.moc.gov.tw/Web_ENG/), and use the online application system.

    For full details of the GPT, please visit https://grants.moc.gov.tw/Web_ENG/PointDetail.jsp?__viewstate=oRWyc5VpG+PNII1HENWzEl8qiFfwAwJw7oJCOHz4L408lIe/efs7z+WTtc3mBJBkYvZhpy/Mg9Q=

    Or contact: books@moc.gov.tw

  • How Children’s Book Publishers in Asia Are Fighting the Pandemic (II)
    Dec 23, 2021 / By Alice (Readmoo) ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=174

     

    Children’s Book Markets by Country: The Proportion of Local vs Foreign Titles

    At the moment it seems like most children’s books in Taiwan are translated titles, but Su Shin also wanted to note that in the last five years there has been a steady increase in the number of local children’s book authors and illustrators. In 2019, nine Taiwanese illustrators were selected to display their work at the Illustrator’s Exhibition at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, which was a new record for Taiwan. This year, Lin Lian-En’s picture book Home won the 2021 Bologna Ragazzi Award for Fiction, and Animo Chen’s picture book Love Letter which was written in Taiwanese received a special mention for the 2021 Bologna Ragazzi Award for Poetry. These internationally recognised awards are not only a boost for Taiwanese creators but also bring increased visibility and publishing opportunities. Su Shin also candidly acknowledges that in reality these awards might not necessarily translate into sales: “Ultimately, is it more important for a book to be a bestseller or to be publicly lauded? Even at this stage, we still can’t avoid that struggle between critical acclaim and book sales.”

    In Thailand and Vietnam, the majority of children’s titles are translated books. “The proportion of original Vietnamese books is about 20-30%, with translated books accounting for nearly 70% of the market. The main reason is that it’s hard to find professional Vietnamese children’s writers.” Take picture books for example, the author has to co-create with an illustrator but since most illustrators in Vietnam work part-time or are moonlighting: “It takes a long time to create children’s books and it doesn’t generate much income.” Therefore, most children’s books in Vietnam tend to be translations of foreign titles. The same is true in Thailand, where over 80% of children’s books are translated titles. In the past, they have been published in co-edition with European publishers which not only reduced production costs but also served as professional guidance for Thai publishers by giving them the chance to collaborate with a lot of highly-skilled children’s book printing specialists.

    By contrast, translated books account for a smaller proportion of Indonesia’s publishing market, and the number of translated children’s titles is even smaller still. “Many local authors are very keen to interact with fans on the internet which makes marketing and publicising their books relatively easy, whereas translated works are never quite as effective at achieving this as their local counterparts.” Editors at Indonesian publishing houses often find picture book creators who have already a certain number of fans on social media and invite them to publish a physical book. Generally speaking, the market response is pretty good. Adapting books for the screen and selling the rights to streaming platforms is one of the ways they can promote local Indonesian books. “We actively contact domestic production companies as well as trying to sell international translation rights, but for the most part we tend to sell them to domestic production teams.” Filming brings the text to life on screen, making it more vivid with new layers of storytelling. In addition to Netflix, there are local Indonesian streaming platforms that bring great stories to readers.

    The children’s publishing market in South Korea is also dominated by local books. “In the past, domestic and foreign titles used to be a 50/50 or 60/40 split, but recently over 90% of books have been written by local authors.” There are two South Korean organisations that are investing resources in local authors, in particular the Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea (KPIPA) is there to assist translators, plan book fairs, and contact foreign publishing houses. They are one of the most important advocates for selling South Korean works overseas, and readers from neighbouring countries such as Japan, Taiwan, China and Vietnam are all very fond of Korean children’s books. Within South Korean children’s books, young adult novels have sold especially well and in recent years there has also been a significant increase in sales of Japanese books about economics targeted at middle school students. “Soaring stock prices, Bitcoin and so on have become hot topics in the last few years which has made parents hope that their children can learn how to use money from an early age.” It might seem unfathomable that middle school students would be studying economics but financial investment has been a popular subject in general over the last few years. For example, 25% of the books on Taiwan’s bestseller charts last year were related to personal finance.

     

    How Do You Detect Trends and Decide When to Follow Them?

    By chance, all eight publishers agreed that social trends and readers’ needs were their main points of reference when publishing a book. “Often, readers are hoping that a book will help them solve their problems, so it’s absolutely crucial to understand the difficulties people are facing.” For example, at the beginning of this year Thai publishers found that popular science books were doing very well. Meanwhile in Vietnam, publishers feel that the “loneliness economy” is an area that can developed further given that industry has already seen readers gravitate towards loneliness-related books about managing moods and healing anxiety. Brick-and-mortar bookshops, book reviews and the fluctuations of online bestseller lists are all equally important observation points, while social media is a crucial tool for grasping popular societal trends. As the various forms of book promotion become more and more diverse, “It’s imperative that publishers keep observing trends, and that they create new trends of their own.”

    At the end of the roundtable discussion, the publishers couldn’t help reminiscing about the warmth of talking in-person at physical book fairs. In particular, Taiwan and Indonesia both felt as though they lacked a unified central platform like South Korea’s which serves as a channel for fielding inquiries. For many of the local children’s books that have already been translated, it feels like the only way for people to find out about them is at or around the book fairs, and a lot of books are difficult to promote without physical book fairs. For the Summer Edition of this year’s Taipei Rights Workshop, The Grayhawk Agency used Gather Town to build a virtual space which international delegates could “visit”. Some of the publishers candidly stated that it was much easier to use and far more interesting than Frankfurt Book Fair’s digital rights portal, but it’s only natural that as publishers around the world continue to solider through this pandemic with no end in sight, we still look forward to a future where we can meet in person to listen and talk about all the great stories that deserve to be read.