By Chang Kuo-Li
Translated by Roddy Flagg
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  • Translation Grant Program, Ministry of Culture, Republic of China (Taiwan)
    Oct 01, 2019 / By Books from Taiwan

    Books from Taiwan supports the translation of Taiwanese literature into foreign languages with the Translation Grant Program, administered by The Ministry of Culture of Taiwan. The grant is to encourage the publication of translations of Taiwan’s literature, including fiction, non-fiction, picture books and comics, and help Taiwan’s publishing industry to explore non-Chinese international markets.


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

    •    Conditions:

    1. Works translated shall be original, published works (for example, fiction, non-fiction, picture books, and comics but not anthologies) by Taiwanese writers (Republic of China nationals) in traditional Chinese characters.

    2. Priority is given to works to be translated and published for the first time in a non-Chinese language market.

    3. Applicants are not limited to submitting only one project for funding in each application year; however, an applicant may only receive funding for up to three projects in any given round of applications.

    4. Projects receiving funding shall have already obtained authorization for translation, and be published within two years starting from the date of announcement of grant recipients (published before the end of October).


    •    Funding Items and Amount

    1. Funds may cover licensing fees going to the rights holder of the original work, translation fees, and promotional fees (limited to an economy-class airline ticket for authors who are citizens of the Republic of China traveling abroad to attend promotional activities), and book production fees.

    2. The maximum funding available for any given project is NT$600,000 (including income tax and remittance charges).

    3. Priority consideration will be given to those works that have not yet been published in a language other than Chinese, as well as winners of a Golden Tripod Award, Golden Comic Award, or Taiwan Literature Golden Award (list appended.)

    •    Application Period: Twice every year. The MOC reserves the right to change the application periods, and will announce said changes separately. The second application period for 2019 is October 1 through October 31.

    •    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 website (https://grants.moc.gov.tw/Web_ENG/PointDetail.jsp?__viewstate=4gSTKS2V5PTM1JCFQWT0yMDE5JCFQVD0yNDY0JCFTdGF0dXNQYXJhbWV0ZXI9S2V5LFBZLFBULCQh), and use the online application system.

    For full details of the Translation Grant Program, please visit http://booksfromtaiwan.tw/grant_index.php
    Or contact: books@moc.gov.tw


    *Recommended Books for Translation Grant Program 

  • Censorship, the Rural-Urban Divide, and We-media Integration: The State of Reading in Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia
    Sep 24, 2019 / By Lin Hsuan-Wei (Readmoo) ∥ Translated by Canaan Morse

    While the Taiwanese government’s commitment to a “South Bound Policy” has survived two electoral cycles without wavering, its plans for how to advance that focus and invite deeper cooperation with South and Southeast Asian nations are far from complete. By contrast, certain private and popular interests have been executing their own campaigns in Southeast Asia for several years already. This year the summer session Taipei Rights Workshop for publishing and rights professionals, organized by the Grayhawk Agency, invited Phan Thanh Lan (Vietnam), Fidyastria Saspida (Indonesia), and Jureeporn Somart (Thailand) to share their understanding of current trends in reading and publishing in South Asia with audience members at the Brilliant Time Bookstore, a well-known local purveyor of  Southeast Asian literature in its original languages and in translation.


    An Up-and-Coming Book Market

    Phan Thanh Lan works for Kim Dong, Vietnam’s largest publisher of manga and children’s literature. Founded in 1957, they are responsible for many of the titles that Vietnamese readers grew up with. According to Phan Thanh Lan, Vietnam represents a growth market for the publishing industry. The majority of its 95 million citizens are young, capable members of a burgeoning work force currently driving fast economic development. Unlike in Taiwan, Vietnam’s publishing industry is split between cultural companies and publishing houses; when the former wish to publish a book, they must first acquire a permit via the latter. About sixty-four domestic publishing houses and a multitude of culture companies operate in Vietnam today, with at least one publishing house in almost every province. Educational publishing accounts for a dominating 75% of the market, a testament to the influence of the nation’s school enrollment and testing system. Given annual sales numbers, Phan Thanh Lan estimates that the average Vietnamese citizen reads about four books a year. Meanwhile, children’s publishing now stands at a rising 10% of the total market, a trend she attributes to increased care on the part of Vietnamese parents for their children’s early education.

    One significant blemish on this otherwise sunny picture is the slow growth of digital publishing. To date, only twelve domestic publishers have entered the digital publishing space, many fewer than expected. Disparities in literacy between rural and urban centers have made publishing much less profitable in the countryside. Moreover, the nation’s Communist regime mandates that all books undergo central government censorship before publication, leading to situations in which, according to her, “even a fully finished book project can become unpublishable.” Meanwhile, bootleg publishing remains rampant, and continues to escape government control.

    Kim Dong publishes an average of three hundred new titles every year, including a significant number of Taiwanese works in translation. Yet cooperation is not always easy, as deals can get hung up on issues like licensing and list prices. Phan Thanh Lan notes that, for instance, while Jimmy Liao’s children’s titles are extremely popular in Vietnam, Taiwanese publishers worry that the lower retail prices of the same books in Vietnam will end up cannibalizing sales in Taiwan.


    Do Indonesians Really Not Like to Read?

    Fidyastria Saspida is an editor at Elex, a multimedia company founded in 1985 that has been a paragon of modernization in the publishing industry: In 2001, Elex set up a commercial products department to sell the literacy cards that had become extremely popular among pre-school children, and in 2016, the company started a IP department in order to stay at the cusp of digital publishing. Elex has published a total of nearly twenty thousand titles to date, with an average of 150 new titles emerging each month in every theme and market segment – the new biography of Jack Ma, for instance, was extremely popular with their readers. This trip to Taiwan has left Fidyastria with the impression that Taiwan’s reading environment is not so different from Indonesia’s. Both readerships share a love for genres such as romance and fantasy, leading Fidyastria to conclude that “We ought to have a lot of room for cooperation!” Elex publishes domestic manga as well as translated titles; religious tracts, owing to the strength of Indonesia’s Islamic population, are also quite popular. Furthermore, Elex has capitalized on a recent surge in international tourism to Indonesia by partnering with the Ministry of Tourism to produce guidebooks and other related titles.

    “A lot of people say, ‘Indonesians don’t read books, so the market isn’t good,’ but if the market weren’t good, how could we do so well?” She introduces audience members to a number of popular domestic writing and publishing events, including the Bali Readers and Writers Festival, a five-day event on the island of Bali that draws huge crowds of famous authors and enthusiastic readers; it’s “the best reader’s festival in the world,” Fidyastria avers. This year, representatives from Taiwan also attended. One widely-anticipated feature of the festival is a one- to two-day book sale in which prices drop as low as 70% off.

    But the Indonesian book market is also not without its difficulties. Since 2015, about half the nation’s bookstores have closed. The majority of publishers are located in Jakarta, the largest city on the island of Java, which means that readers on more remote islands usually have to rely on online retailers to buy books. Significant wealth gaps between the cities and countryside also create significant instability and inequality in the book market, despite its large size. Children’s literature remains the only dependable genre from a sales perspective, though other facets of the market still have room to develop.


    Thailand: Facing a Revolution in Publishing Practice

    Jureeporn Somart works for SE-ED Publishing House, a business whose name refers to science, engineering, and education. Founded by engineers in 1974, it publishes very popular titles in the hard and natural sciences, as well as in computer science. The business’s crown jewels are its dictionaries, which are the most trusted and best-selling in the country. The Thai people love learning foreign languages, and SE-ED’s TOIEC and English-learning titles are also hot commodities. “After all, these are the kind of books that can get you a raise,” Jureeporn notes.

    Jureeporn reports that over the last few years, Thai publishers have begun focusing on their online readership communities. Bricks-and-mortar bookstores, no longer the main vehicle for sales, have become more like exhibition spaces. Publishers have also warmed up to social media as a tool for understanding reader’s appetites more quickly and completely. “Tastes and reading habits are changing,” Jureeporn says. While DIY titles and “boy-love” romances have become extremely popular in recent years, she observes, hard-copy works on cooking, cosmetics, and nutrition have fallen off sharply as readers have turned to online outlets for that sort of information. “They believe the tips and tricks that internet celebrities teach them,” and therefore are less willing to buy printed books. SE-ED caught onto the global social media craze long ago. They encourage online authors to publish previews of their work in advance, so that customers may pre-order titles, which the publisher will then print and distribute according to demand. Jureeporn believes that traditional content and digital content can exist symbiotically; readers still want to feel the weight of a book in their hands, while digital publishing gives them more choices and a different method of reading.

  • An Unexpected Adventure
    Sep 12, 2019 / By Sandy Lin (Reve Books)

    Publishing and rights management are relatively closely related professions.

    I have been working in the publishing industry for over 10 years. I started as an editor, but now I oversee the acquisition and sale of foreign rights. This significant change in my career had its own unexpected turning point.


    From Editor to Rights Agent

    In 2017, I went to Beijing on a business trip with our Editor-in-Chief. While catching up on work in the hotel, we received a proposal from our editorial team: they wanted to acquire a title from Thailand, “SOTUS,” a popular novel that had been adapted into TV series.

    Yet in those days, our publishing house primarily focused on Chinese-language novels. We had never even considered other languages until our team brought up this new proposal.

    Based on their research, the acquisitions team believed that the widespread popularity of drama made it very likely that even a non-Chinese title would be worth a try for us. After hours of discussion with the Editor-in-Chief, we agreed that the project could work. Yet we had never acquired anything from Thailand before; we weren’t even sure how exactly to go about it.

    One might ask: did you think about engaging an agency to acquire the rights? The truth is that agents weren’t a part of our world at that point; we were accustomed to contacting copyright holders directly without help from agencies. When we first began acquiring from China, I communicated with rights holders via email or in person. So we sent a query directly to the Thai rights holder, and luckily for us, they responded positively. This moment, it turned out, was a watershed for my career.  

    In 2017, on the invitation of the Thai publisher, I attended my very first Bangkok Book Fair. There I met other publishers to whom we had been licensing our own titles, illustrations, and designs for years. It was a great opportunity for me to meet more editors and share my experiences with them, as well as to understand more about Thailand’s book market.

    After returning to Taiwan, I received letters from multiple Thai publishers asking me to help them to acquire rights to more Chinese light novels. Some were having difficulty contacting rights holders, while others were sometimes made to wait for six months or longer every time they requested a title. As I happen to have years of experience dealing with Chinese and Taiwanese light novel authors and utilizing online literature platforms, I could help them save a lot of time.

    As time went by, we began working with more Thai publishers looking for light novel titles. My Editor-in-Chief asked me if I would like to start working full-time in our rights department. As luck would have it, I found an opportunity to attend the Taipei Rights Workshop hosted by the Ministry of Culture, where I learned more about the responsibilities of a rights editor and was exposed to new ways to pitch work to clients – both crucial confidence-builders as I started a new career.   


    Hot in Thailand: Light Novels and MM Romance

    Our company has an imprint, Pinsin, that publishes exclusively light novels featuring MM romance. Many people may wonder what qualifies as a light novel, and what we mean by “MM romance.” The light novel initially developed in Japan as a category of fiction suitable for casual reading and aimed at teenage and young adult readers. The boundaries of that definition expanded when the light novel came to Taiwan, and it now frequently includes new or hard-to-classify genres of novel fiction.

    MM (Male-Male) Romance, more recently known as Boys Love (“BL” in Asia), refers to a genre of fantasy romance (not LGBT fiction) between men for female readers (to be known as Fujoshi). Boys Love romance also originates in Japan. Taiwanese readers first encountered it in novels translated from the Japanese, but domestic authorship of BL novels has been going on since 1998. Although most readers are female, it is my understanding that the population of male readers is also growing.

    In recent years, MM romance as a subgenre of light novels has exploded in Thailand. Its popularity has grown in other southeast Asian nations as well, though many of these countries – China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and others – restrict the publication of LGBT-related content. Close observation of the Thai market suggests that Chinese light novels (especially those set in ancient China) occupy a mainstream position. Some of the publishers consistently acquire titles that have already been published or become popular in Taiwan, and we have found that the tastes of readers in both countries share common ground: both markets love fiction involving fantasy, wuxia knight-errantry, mystical martial arts, and palace rivalry, while sci-fi or stories of modern China enjoy a much more limited readership.

    We start to recommend Taiwanese novels to Thai publishers in 2019, they are more than welcome to give a try. As licensing fees for Chinese titles increase, Taiwanese authors who produce work of identical quality have an opportunity to compete with their Chinese colleagues. Taiwanese titles also possess the advantage of lower average word counts; while a Chinese online novel might stretch to five or even ten volumes, Taiwanese authors frequently conclude their stories in one or two volumes. Taiwanese novels therefore cost less, from a publisher’s point of view. While Chinese titles frequently gain cross-media support from large companies that repackage them for television, web series, and games, thereby attracting new readers, these adaptations also inevitably result in substantial alteration to the romantic content.  

    Personal observation suggests to me that MM romances owe their growing popularity in Thailand to their adaptation of the traditional romance storyline. While most romance novels follow the formulaic story arc of meeting, falling in love, conflict, and happy ending, MM romances frequently incorporate adventure-based or fantastical plot elements that enrich the reading experience. Perhaps the most popular example at the moment is the Demon Grandmaster (Modao zushi) series; if you search for hashtags like #MDZS or #MoDaoZuShi on Twitter, you will be astounded by the number of fans it has. Rights to this series have sold in China, Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea, and Russia.


    Future Prospects?

    I was very lucky to attend the Taipei Rights Workshop. It greatly increased my understanding of international rights sales and taught me important new strategies for pitching work. I even made a few friends there whose positive influences make me a better agent and a better person. Those experiences remind me of how important it is to keep tabs on trends in both domestic and foreign markets.

    Although light novels never find their way to the top of agents’ lists for promotion, their potential market is huge. While some social barriers still exist between West and East, success stories are not unknown: the Japanese comic City Hunter, illustrated by Tsukasa Hojo, has done well enough to be adapted into a movie in France. Perhaps its example will pave the way for more Asian light novels to make inroads into the European market. All it takes are publishers who are ready to offer the right chance – and if you never try, you’ll never know!