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BECOMING BUNUN
By Kan Yao-Ming
Translated by May Huang
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  • 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.

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

    (This article is a condensed version of one originally published at Readmoo: https://news.readmoo.com/2021/07/20/taipei-rights-workshop-2021/)

     

    “Over the last few months, I think children’s books have been something of a survival tool for parents stuck at home and a major way for them to connect with their children,” says Gray Tan, founder of The Grayhawk Agency, in his welcome speech for the 2021 Taipei Rights Workshop, Summer Edition, co-hosted by The Grayhawk Agency and Taiwan Creative Content Agency (TAICCA).

    This was the fourth session of the summer edition of Taipei Rights Workshop, but due to the pandemic the roundtable discussion was hosted online for the first time. The eight children’s publishers who were invited to participate had a wealth of industry experience and included: Supawee Supatit, foreign rights executive at Amarin (Thailand); Purichaya Asunee Na Ayuttaya, rights editor at B2S Co. (Thailand); Nguyen Thi Ha, rights executive at Thai Ha (Vitenam); Phan Thanh Lan, rights executive at Kim Dong (Vitenam); Yuliani Liputo, rights executive at Mizan (Indonesia); Shera Sihbudi, rights executive at Noura (Indonesia); Ally Bang, rights executive at Changbi (South Korea); and Su Shin, special assistant to the chairman of B.K. Agency (Taiwan). Together, their frank discussion focused on how the pandemic has impacted their respective book markets, as well as on the proportion of local or translated works in each market and what selling rights is like behind the scenes. Even though the pandemic prevented us from having the chance to get together in person, the children’s book publishers of the Milk Tea Alliance (an online democracy and human rights movement consisting of netizens from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia and South Korea among others) were still able to gather online and share their insight on fighting the pandemic.

     

    Publishers Fighting the Pandemic: The Rise of Shopee, Using Pre-orders to Determine Print Runs, and Curated Livestreams to Interact with Readers

    “As readers turned to purchasing books online, e-commerce site Shopee has started to become more important. Many of the book fairs have also been held online,” said Su Shin. This was a situation that a lot of countries’ book markets faced during the pandemic. Taiwan had the pandemic well under control during its early stages but in mid-May 2021 restrictions were escalated to Level 3 which was a hit to physical bookstores, especially independent bookstores who really bore the brunt of the new rules. Staying home long-term has led to an increase in book sales for certain genres: “Self-help books, books about exercise, and children’s books have responded particularly well, and recently we’ve also seen an increase in sales of colouring books and children’s study aids.”

    “Ultimately, we always have to find something for the children to do.” The same situation occurred in Indonesia where a third wave of the pandemic broke out last month and physical channels for book sales halted business one after the other, forcing publishers to switch to online platforms and hold virtual storytelling workshops to reach readers. “Some publishers have official online stores on Shopee, and they’re finding that children’s board books, story books and picture books are all extremely popular.” However, inevitably most book sales are still suffering and the sales for new titles are so much lower that a lot of publishing houses in Indonesia are starting to offer the book as a pre-order one month before publication and then only print copies after confirming the number of pre-orders.

    It’s a very similar situation in Vietnam. In response to the pandemic, there has been an increase in sales of health-related titles and children’s books. High school students have been particularly drawn to comic books that come with tasteful free gifts and the students are happy to buy the comics with their own money. Shopee plays an equally important role in both Vietnam and Thailand’s book markets. Thailand’s previous pandemic response meant that the book market remained relatively stable, but sales have declined since a new wave of infections broke out in March and publishers have needed to rely on more diverse forms of online marketing and livestreaming. However, the restriction of physical publicity events has led to reduced visibility for new writers. Literary works have been a favourite of Thai readers during the pandemic and they’ve been particularly keen on romance novels, perhaps as a source of comfort during this period of public anxiety. Children’s books have also been a saving grace and parents have been willing to order them online.

    In South Korea, even though the scale of offline activities has been small, online book fairs have been extremely active. “Kobo, the largest publishing house in South Korea, increased its book fair activities by 17% and saw a 30% increase in online sales, but by contrast they only saw a 0.7% increase in sales from physical bookstores,” said Ally Bang. With children’s books, it can help sales immensely if a teacher includes a book in their recommended reading materials.

     

    Read On: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=175

  • The 12th Golden Comic Awards: A Guide to Taiwan’s Unmissable Comics Extravaganza (II)
    Dec 23, 2021 / By Chi-An Weng ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=172

     

    3. The Endless Possibilities of Comics

    This year’s shortlist revealed once again just how unlimited the possibilities are for comics. New opportunities are brought about by changes in the media landscape, for example San Ri Juan Zi’s self-published comic Hi, Grandpa! Being Together and Then Saying Goodbye has a lot of traits that are common in today’s web comics, such as the way it uses sincere feelings that are true to life, like those stories you read on the internet that suddenly leave you teary-eyed and heartbroken. This multimedia approach is also reflected in the nominees for Best Cross-media Application: Tong Li Publishing Co’s work on The Monster of Memory: Destiny; and Secret Whispers which was a joint venture between Chimney Animation and Fish Wang, an illustrator, animator and director who won Best Animated Short Film at the 2019 Golden Horse Awards for Gold Fish.

    The Monster of Memory was originally a comic by author-illustrator Mae and featured an ingeniously designed setting as well as a truly mind-blowing plot that was filled with metaphors of real-world relationships. It’s the sort of story that is perfectly suited to being adapted into a game as a more immersive way for readers to experience the world of the book. Fish Wang meanwhile, is known as a great all-rounder in Taiwanese comics and Secret Whispers can be seen as an “original multimedia work” because from the outset he uses different types of media to portray the teenagers’ “secrets” through different perspectives as the tension rises between them. In the future, the work might be seen as an important reference point in the development of Taiwanese comics, not just because it was set up as a cross-media project from the beginning but also because of the way it was a joint creative venture in the studio.

    In addition to the possibilities brought about by other media, a lot of graphic novels have emerged among Taiwanese comics in recent years. The term “graphic novel” has been adopted from the West and encompasses works that are deeply experimental and avant-garde. A lot of readers who have been familiar with Japanese manga from a young age can’t help but flip through graphic novels and wonder uncertainly “Is this book really a comic?” This completely new experience and the excitement it provokes are precisely what makes graphic novels so fascinating.

    A Trip to the Asylum by Pam Pam Liu was the most provocative, nerve-wracking book of the year. A fictional story about mental illness and a psychiatric hospital, the comic is an all-out sprint that thrusts you straight into the darkness of the subconscious where you have no defences and there are no taboos. Reading it is like being in a comic book version of a Lou Reed song.

     

    A Trip to the Asylum by Pam Pam Liu

     

    It is hard to think of a comic more different from A Trip to the Asylum than the nonfiction series Son of Formosa. The series is based on the life of Tsai Kun-lin, a political victim of the White Terror who published comics despite the authoritarian environment in Taiwan from 1949 to 1987. He won the Special Contribution Award at the 2018 Golden Comic Awards for his courage and perseverance in fostering the development of Taiwan’s publishing sector. For the Son of Formosa series, author Yu Peiyun conducted extensive research when writing the text and illustrator Zhou Jianxin used a range of visual methods to convey the myriad of twists and turns that Tsai Kun-lin experienced over the course of his life. It doesn’t just relay the facts but the images invite the reader to extend their imagination and in doing so the comic conveys a level of empathy that goes beyond the words of the text. Son of Formosa is a graphic novel that can be cherished as a classic both in Taiwan and internationally.  

     

    Son of Formosa by Yu Peiyun and Zhou Jianxin

     

    In this new era of comics, even the older forms of comics that followed a reliable, clear-cut path are no longer restrained by the same rigid set of standards as they once were. In addition to graphic novels, works like Illustrated Taiwan Keywords: A Hand-Drawn History of 1940-2020 by Chiou Hsien-Hsin which look like picture books or nonfiction books centred around infographics will also have an impact on what are stereotypically considered to be “comics” in the future. There is an almost unlimited number of paths an image can take, so rather than holding onto outdated beliefs of what a comic should be, both comic creators and readers alike should adopt a more open-minded approach and embrace the endless possibilities comics have to offer.

     

    Summary

    These three points are just my suggested highlights for anyone looking at the online exhibition of this year’s Golden Comic Awards. As with any exhibition, each visitor should use their personal interests and preferences to unearth their own understanding and appreciation of the exhibits. It is also important to acknowledge the work done by editors to help bring these visual adaptations of literature and history to life. Lin Yi-Chun (Managing Editor at Locus Publishing Company) won this year’s Best Editor Award for her work on The Ren Zheng-hua Collection: Drawn to Life + The Human Bun and on Secret Whispers; while the shortlisted editors included Huang Pei-Shan and Ho Szu-Ying (Editor-in-Chief and Editor at Slowork Publishing respectively) for their work on Son of Formosa, and Tan Shun-Hsin (Editor) for her work on Fantastic Tales of Splendid Blossoms. These exhibits are all undoubtedly great works of art which deserve to be poured over by visitors. However, there are physical limitations with all exhibitions and this was no exception. With a total of 226 works registered this year it was inevitable that some talent would go unrecognised, so this exhibition should only be seen as a starting point and readers should take their initial interest a step further because there are just too many beautiful Taiwanese comics out there waiting to be read.

    Comics are a medium where stories are told through images and by using different themes or illustration styles what you are ultimately trying to achieve is a great story. Over the last few years, Taiwanese comics have produced countless great stories regardless of whether they are shortlisted for the Golden Comic Awards or not. These are stories that will make you laugh, make you cry, and at some point they might even accidentally become something that saves your life, and this, more than anything, is what I want you to know about the Golden Comic Awards and the corresponding exhibition, not just this year but in all the years to come.