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  • 2020 Translation Grant Program, Ministry of Culture, Republic of China (Taiwan)
    By Books from Taiwan
    Mar 31, 2020

    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 first application period for 2020 is April1 through April 30.


    •    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=5EIMFXS2V5PTM1JCFQWT0yMDIwJCFQVD0yOTAyJCFTdGF0dXNQYXJhbWV0ZXI9S2V5LFBZLFBULCQh), 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 

  • The 2019 Taipei Rights Workshop: Women Shifting the Market (II)
    By Alice (Readmoo) ∥ Translated by Roddy Flagg
    Jan 14, 2020

    The Korean Book Market: Female Writers on the Rise

     

    The Korean book market is becoming more diverse: market shares of books on philosophy, textbooks and careers advice are rising, while novels and travel books have fallen off a little. And since 2018 books on dealing with depression have attracted more interest. Kim Ji-young, Born 1982 struck a chord with female readers. Meanwhile, Korea is seeing a notable increase in the number of female readers in their 40s – up 11% since 2015, to 33%. And this is reflected in the success female writers are finding in the Korean bestseller lists: Eight of 2019’s ten top novels were written by women. These includes Cho Nam-joo’s Kim Ji-young, Born 1982, Son Won-pyeong’s Almond, Choi Eun-young’s Shoko’s Smile and Han Gang’s Human Act. Look at the Korean book market and the number and quality of novels written from a female point of view and books on social issues stand out.

    Korean literature is currently popular in Japan, but Michelle Nam doesn’t put this down to a perhaps similar cultural background. Success in overseas markets is still determined by how well publishers understand writers and their writing.

    “It took a long time for books like this, capable of having such a huge social impact, to emerge in Korea.” “As long as more people are reading it, everyone should read this book.” This is how Kim Ji-young, Born 1982’s two editors conclude their Youtube video. And the publishing industry may be facing tough challenges, but with hard work a good story can still find readers all over the world.

     

    Germany: Children’s Books Remain Popular, Ensuring Our Future Audience

    “I didn’t have any other paper with me, I had to make a note on a serviette.” Mona Lang, editor with German publishers Kiepenheur & Kitsch, describes how she first heard of Kim Ji-young, Born 1982 over dinner with a book scout. The treatment of gender issues convinced both her boss and the marketing department: this was a very promising book. Other books with similar themes, told from the viewpoint of young urban women, written by authors from Turkey and Eastern Europe, had already sold well in German bookstores.

    “Any topic could grab us,” said Mona. And while she and her colleagues are discussing a book, it is often the editorial and marketing departments working together to decide whether a book should be published, and if so how to promote it. In Germany, books used to be promoted by offering free copies of books to a limited number of readers who wrote in; while local guided-reading events see an hour of reading followed by an hour-long question-and-answer session. Interactive events like that are ideal for readers who like to meet their authors in person.

    “The German book market is healthy, even if we are struggling to survive like everyone else.” To laughter, Mona pointed out that steady sales of children’s books offer reassurance: “This means we will still have an audience two decades from now.” She added that they need trusted manuscript readers before publishing Asian books, and that books already successful in English-language markets such as the UK and US are more likely to pique the interest of German publishers.

  • The 2019 Taipei Rights Workshop: Women Shifting the Market (I)
    By Alice (Readmoo) ∥ Translated by Roddy Flagg
    Jan 14, 2020

    The 7th Taipei Rights Workshop welcomed publishing industry workers from around the world: agents who have sold international rights to Asian books; the overseas editors who have snapped up those books; and even book scouts on the lookout for compelling plots to tempt movie-makers with. Our theme this year - “from literature, to the world” – saw us discuss our views on the book market in different countries. 

     

    The Story Behind Kim Ji-young, Born 1982

    The film adaptation of Kim Ji-young, Born 1982, now in cinemas starring Gong Yoo and Jung Yu-mi, has sent the global bestseller back to the top of the charts in Korea. Michelle Nam, executive director of the book’s publisher, Minumsa, spoke at the workshop about the state of the book market in Korea and the story behind Kim Ji-young, Born 1982.

    And when she spoke about acquiring readers – “Youtube is a huge challenge for publishers, young people even treat it as a search engine,” – the publishers in the audience smiled in recognition. But Minumsa is now marketing its books via Youtube:  it launched a channel on the video-sharing platform in May, featuring editors talking about their books. A video for Kim Ji-young, Born 1982, answers readers’ questions and talks about the publishing process and how the movie adaptation came about.

    “And I was first to look at the submission!”, head of Minumsa’s Korean literature division, Seo Hyo-in, said. The author, Cho Nam-joo, already an award-winner, made a special request in her cover letter: “I do hope you reply, whether you want the book or not. It’s so saddening to get no response…” On reading the manuscript the entire editor’s office agreed: this had potential. But sales figures for this tale of one Korean woman amazed even them. “Initially I wanted to say it’d sell 10,000 copies,” laughs Seo, before recalling a colleague quietly advising less ambition. In the end a sales target of 8,000 copies was set. And actual sales so far? 150 times that target – 1.2 million. 

  • Books from Taiwan’s 2019 Book Fair Adventures
    By Catrina Liu ∥ Translated by Roddy Flagg
    Jan 13, 2020

    2019 saw Books from Taiwan attend the world’s two largest books fairs, Frankfurt and Guadalajara, presenting the best of Taiwan’s books to an international audience.

     

    The Frankfurt Book Fair

    The Taiwanese presence at the Frankfurt Book Fair expanded this year – as well as the usual stand alongside other East Asian publishers from Korea, Thailand, Japan and elsewhere in the Asian section, also had a Taiwanese Comic Book Stand in Hall 3, hoping to introduce Taiwan’s comic books to more visitors.

     

     

    So, making the journey to Germany alongside Liao Hongji (廖鴻基) and Syaman Rapongan (夏曼.藍波安), both known for their writings on the ocean, were three manga artists: Chang Sheng (常勝), who has sold international rights to his shonen manga; Hom, who excels at portraying urban life; and Chen Hanling (陳漢玲), cosplayer and shojo manga artist.

    And with two locations, we could take more books to promote. At our usual stand, the 10th issue of our catalog, still warm from the printing press; and 20 novels, non-fiction books and picture books. And as for our comic book stand? Well… comic books, of course!

    During three busy trade-only days, BFT met and talked shop with editors from around the world. Books that won particular interest include:

    1. Wild Boars Cross the River (野豬渡河), Zhang Guixing (張貴興): A literary epic set amongst the Chinese settlers of Borneo during World War II.

    2. What’s It Like Growing up? (長大是什麼樣子) Wu Yi-Ting (吳宜庭): A child-friendly look at growing-up, full of creativity and wisdom.

    3. Quiet Is a Superpower (安靜是種超能力), Jill Chang (張瀞仁): A workplace survival guide, helping introverts see their strengths. Based on the author’s own experiences.

    And alongside marketing our books, BFT met with our counterparts from around the world, such as Turkey’s Yatedam and Catalonia’s Intitute Ramon Llull, comparing notes and swopping advice – all of which will help in our future work.

     

    The Guadalajara Book Fair

    The world’s second-largest book fair, and the Spanish-speaking world’s largest, the Guadalajara Book Fair was yet again bustling with book-lovers from all over. Activities in the children’s book area were always popular with both children and adults; in the Mexican section books from Spanish-speaking nations including Spain, Argentina and Columbia were on display; and retailers from the US were snapping up books alongside the locals. In the international section there were international rights agents, a rights center and publishers from all over the world – and, of course, the Taiwanese stand.

     

     

    The Taiwan stand aimed, as always, for visual impact. Both illustrator Lai Ma (賴馬), a bold user of color whose images burst with movement, and graphic novelist Sean Chuang (小莊), known for detailed portrayals of events both everyday and extraordinary, were there to sign books, chat to visitors and show how they work. BFT contributed to the Taiwan stand by displaying 20 children’s books and comic books, offering a visual introduction to Taiwan.

    Mexico is a long way from Taiwan – a fourteen-hour time difference, and no direct flights. The journey takes a full day and more, so Taiwanese publishers aren’t regular visitors and there isn’t a great deal of back and forth communication. While at other book fairs we find ourselves expanding and consolidating our networks, in Guadalajara we were more starting from scratch, introducing people to Taiwan and its books and publishers.

    It was comic books that got most interest this time. Unlike with novels, it is the visuals, not the story, that grabs editors’ attention. The authors that got the most interest at Guadalajara were – apart from Lai Ma and Sean Chuang, who were present – as follows:

    1. 61Chi: 61Chi attended the Guadalajara Book Fair in 2018, and is known for the unique style with which she portrays life’s little details.

    2. Yellow Book: Bright colors, a somewhat American visual style, and satirical stories.

     

    After a long year of selecting books and translating and editing samples, international book fairs are BFT’s chance to shine and show publishers at home and abroad what we’ve spent the last twelve months doing. These events are also an opportunity for us to experience first hand how successful we are in promoting Taiwanese book rights and see how we can further improve.

  • Basis Books: A Secret Base for Taiwan’s Comic Book Fans
    By Books from Taiwan, Basis Books ∥ Translated by Roddy Flagg
    Jan 13, 2020

    Basis Books is found on Huayin Street, near Taipei Station, the Qsquare shopping mall, the North Gate of the old city walls and any number of hotels. The area is popular with tourists, yet remains one of the more peaceful parts of the city.

    The store is on the first floor of the Taiwan Comic Base, with which it shares a mission: promoting Taiwanese comic books. It aims to be comprehensive and it seems every original comic book ever published in Taiwan can be found here. From the earliest examples – Grand Auntie (大嬸婆) and Jhuge-Shiro (諸葛四郎) – to recently successful shojo and shonen manga, it’s all here. But being published in Taiwan doesn’t guarantee a place on the shelves here – Basis Books only stocks comic books both written and drawn by Taiwanese people.

     

     

    Comic books and picture books are sold here, along with magazines. Most are arranged by publisher – manager Min-hui says she did once consider arranging her wares by category, or theme, or some other method. But she soon realized one book could easily fall under several different categories. And, as Taiwan’s comic book publishers all have their own styles and audiences, it made sense to sort the shelves this way, highlighting those differing choices.

    Alongside the comic books, Basis Books also has an exhibition space, with displays tying in with the work of the Taiwan Comic Base: featuring nominees for the Golden Comic Award or the Angoulême awards, for example. And on a central table the staff create carefully designed displays on certain themes: works featuring Mazu, the local sea goddess, or Taiwanese history.

     

     

    Basis Books also holds events such as seminars and book-signings. One such event Min-hui remembers particularly clearly is a talk on Watched Woman (守娘), easily the most glamourous of their events – the author, the readers, the other writers, were all women who’d dressed up for the occasion. And not all the attendees were fans – many were friends of the author, or aspiring comic book writers themselves.

    Min-hui mentioned an interesting phenomenon – although Taiwan’s comic book artists, in theory, compete with each other, there is no sense of competition or mutual disregard. On the contrary, artists make an effort to attend each other’s events and buy each other’s works.

     

     

    When she opened Basis Books, Min-hui expected her customers to be like the people she saw at comic book exhibitions: young fans of shojo and shonen manga. She was surprised to find many of her customers have never read a comic book – they have simply come in for a browse. They are also older than she predicted, often university students or adults. And so they opt for a wider and more experimental range of books, not just the typical Japanese-style offerings.

    And the customers in Basis Books reflect the development of comic books in Taiwan. In the early days these were school contraband, frowned upon by teachers and parents, but not something to read when you were older. Unless you visit Basis Books and get nostalgic – or perhaps finally find the final entry in that series you never finished. And many visitors discover that, despite their prejudices, comic books aren’t just entertainment – they have a social role to play as well, offering a space for discussion of current affairs or a new angle on historical events. Parents often bring their children here, trying to understand why their offspring are so keen on comic books, and perhaps becoming less suspicious of them. Some even buy comic books for their kids as a reward for good behavior.

    Of course, Min-hui’s most important task is to sell books, and like any store, new releases and books featured in events sell best. But books featuring Taiwanese history and culture are popular with those who’ve popped in from the street out of curiosity. For example 1661 Koxinga Z (1661 國姓來襲), which describes Koxinga’s defeat of Dutch Formosa from the point of view of the Dutch, or 80’s Diary in Taiwan (80 年代事件簿), a nostalgic look at 1980s Taiwan, are popular choices. And what does Min-hui herself recommend currently? She suggests The Memory Freak (記憶的怪物), a sci-fi tale of male love and brotherhood.

     

  • An Overview of Taiwan’s Book Market
    By Su Shin
    Jan 06, 2020

    For those of you who are tasked with promoting literature from Taiwan, you might be familiar with these questions from international publishers:

    “Could you tell me about Taiwanese literature?”

    “What are people reading in Taiwan?”

    “What kind of books are published in Taiwan?”

     

    Before answering, it may be best to start with a brief overview about Taiwan. This might seem obvious, but it’s not one of the most well-known countries, and many people outside our neighbouring countries are often unfamiliar with it.

     

    We are a country of 23.5 million people. The official language is Mandarin Chinese, and we write using Traditional Chinese characters (Mainland China uses Simplified Chinese, but HK and Macau also use Traditional Chinese). The island is dense with nature; indeed, mountains and forests make up around 55% of the land.

     

    There are around 4,940 publishing houses in Taiwan, and 35,000-40,000 new titles are published each year, one quarter of which are translations. Translations are most commonly licensed from Japan (55.4%), USA (22.1%), United Kingdom (7.2%) and South Korea (5.1%). The bestseller in 2018 was Origin by Dan Brown.[1]

     

    Here are the genre breakdowns on books published and top-sellers:

     

    Top 5 genres published [ranked by number of books published]:

    • Humanities: 12.62%
    • Social studies: 11.06%
    • Fiction: 10.71%
    • Children’s Books: 9.68%
    • Arts: 7.18% [2]

     

    Top 5 best-selling genres [ranked by NT$ sales]:

    • Children’s books and YA: 17.2%
    • Business and finance: 8.7%
    • Self-help: 8.6%
    • Humanities: 8.1%
    • Language learning: 7.8%[3]

     

    The density of publishers is high. One reason for this is that we have many small publishing houses that are 1-2 people operations. Only a small percentage of publishers are corporate scaled companies. The same could be said about most other industries in Taiwan; our businesses are made up of small and medium enterprises.

     

    There are over 2000 book stores across the country. The biggest physical book store chains are Kingstone (金石堂) and Eslite (誠品). Eslite operates similarly to commercial department stores, in that it offers a wide selection of lifestyle concession brands, food courts, as well as books. The way they differentiate themselves is by utilising their cultural knowledge to curate shopping experiences that are distinguished and which appeal to a new group of discerning consumers. Aside from their operations in Taiwan, they have expanded into HK, Suzhou, and Shenzhen. In September 2019 they launched a new store in Tokyo. These expansions could be viewed as markers of their success and as evidence of the strength of their brand image.

     

    When it comes to online retailing, the key player is Books.com (博客來). It has a similar business model to Amazon, and is a part of the Uni-President conglomerate (統一集團). It takes advantage of the group’s highly developed logistics, and offers the delivery of books (and other goods) to your local convenience stores for pick-up and payment upon collection.

     

    Indie booksellers in Taiwan tend to focus on their niche for a more specific target audience, for example photography books, foreign picture books, books about Taiwan and the ocean, etc. They tend to be keen event organisers for book launches or readings, attracting more dedicated readers and paying attention to building their own communities.

     

    Most readers still read more physical books than e-books. Even though the usage of digital devices is common, there is no dominant e-reader in the market in the same way Kindle has penetrated in Europe & North America. One issue preventing e-reader adoption is that many bestseller translation titles are not available as e-books, making it harder to persuade readers to give up their physical books.

    The annual production value of the publishing industry in Taiwan is around USD $795 million. The average book price is around USD $14 per book, and the average amount of money spent on books per year is around USD $37 per capita.[4] That means each person buys on average just 2.5 books per year, a number that could be significantly improved. In terms of how best to cultivate regular book-buying and long-term reading habits, there are ongoing discussions and debates. It is worth noting that currently there is no fixed book price in Taiwan.

     

    Publishers have been keener to cultivate new local talents, and this trend can be seen across all genres. The Illustrator’s Exhibition at Bologna Book Fair, where images can speak as loudly as words, has frequently featured Taiwanese illustrators. This has been a strong area for foreign edition sales as well as for direct collaborations between illustrators and international publishers. Page Tsou’s (鄒駿昇) publication with Templar, along with Chunlun Lee’s (李瑾倫) picture books with Walker are some recent examples.

     

    The foreign rights sales to other countries have been steadily increasing too, these include licensing to China 82.7%, South Korea 6.5%, Malaysia 4.1%, Thailand 2.5% and Japan 2.1%.[5] The majority of the trade is still with China, where translation is not an issue. However, the current support scheme to make sample translations more available has already made an impact on foreign language sales and helped in broadcasting Taiwanese literature abroad.

     

    At Guadalajara Book Fair, the Taiwan pavilion makes a deliberate decision to showcase picture and illustrated books. So, when I am asked about notable Taiwanese authors or illustrators, Jimmy Liao (幾米) and Chih-Yuan Chen (陳致元) immediately come to mind. More than 20 Jimmy Liao books have been translated into Spanish, whilst Guji Guji by Chih-Yuan Chen has been a classic backlist in translated editions for many years.

     

    Taiwan has many authors well-known for their literary fiction. Sanmao (三毛), who was a translator and a writer, is most famous for her travel writing and reflective novels. Pai Hsien-yung’s (白先勇) Crystal Boys (1983) is notable as one of the classic LGBT novels. Li Ang (李昂) continues to be an important voice, and her novels still bring forth discussions on gender roles in our society. Huang Chun-ming (黃春明), one of the most important writers of country realism (鄉土文學), has depicted the way individuals maintain their dignity despite the harsh living conditions during Taiwan’s intense industrialization period. Qiu Miaojin’s (邱妙津) Notes of a Crocodile continues to have a profound impact on LGBT literature in the Chinese language world. Wu Ming-yi (吳明益) is probably the most well-known Taiwanese author internationally today. His environmental novel The Man with Compound Eyes has been published in multiple languages including in English. In The Stolen Bicycle, Wu takes the readers on a trip down the narrator’s unusual memory lane to discover the hidden history of Taiwan’s bicycle industry. This novel garnered considerable publicity and was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018, becoming the first Taiwanese novel to be included in the award.

     

    Taipei International Book Exhibition takes place during the Lunar New Year holidays in February each year. The book fair is becoming a strong hybrid festival, somewhere for readers to see local/international authors and to buy books, as well as a place for professionals to conduct business meetings. Elsewhere, Wordwave festival (華文朗讀節) is in its 7th year. This annual 3-4 day event invites authors and publishers to give readings to connect with readers of all ages.

     

    Lastly, I wanted briefly to mention social media and professional book review sites. OpenBook is one of the more established online platforms for professional book reviews. Okapi is another book review platform and is part of Books.com. Eslite prints a free monthly magazine, On the Desk (提案), in which they publish author interviews, articles on special topics, as well as coverage on new publications in Chinese and English language; the content is also available on their website.

     

    Aside from large platforms, personal blogs can be good sources of book reviews if you search by book title or by author. Youtube or Facebook influencers who specialize in book reviews can provide strong indications on books that are trending in the market. Non-fiction and children’s books tend to be featured the most on these channels.

     

    The summaries above are a combination of statistics from the Ministry of Culture in Taiwan, my personal observations, and informal questionnaires and exchanges with other industry colleagues. Taiwan’s publishing industry is vibrant, energetic and multicultural, but it would benefit variously from a little streamlining, from the regular gathering of accurate statistics, and from the centralization of information for professionals. In recent years, there have been different challenges facing the industry, but the passion of the professionals who work in publishing is clearly undiminished, and this means it remains an incredibly exciting part of Taiwan’s culture and economy.

     


    [1] Sources: National Central Library, Ministry of Culture, Directorate-General of Budget,

    Accounting and Statistics, Executive Yuan, World Economic Forum (2018)

    [2] As above

    [3] Sources: National Central Library, Ministry of Culture, Directorate-General of Budget,

    Accounting and Statistics, Executive Yuan, World Economic Forum (2018)

    [4] Sources: National Central Library, Ministry of Culture, Directorate-General of Budget,

    Accounting and Statistics, Executive Yuan, World Economic Forum (2018)

    [5] Sources: 106 年臺灣出版產業調查暨 107 年閱讀與消費趨勢分析, Ministry of Culture

  • Translation Grant Program, Ministry of Culture, Republic of China (Taiwan)
    By Books from Taiwan
    Oct 01, 2019

    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
    By Lin Hsuan-Wei (Readmoo) ∥ Translated by Canaan Morse
    Sep 24, 2019

    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
    By Sandy Lin (Reve Books)
    Sep 12, 2019

    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!