Getting a Read on Taiwan: the 2023 Taiwan International Book Exhibition Fellowship
By Joshua Dyer
Jun 05, 2023

On January 30, the evening before the opening of the 2023 Taipei International Book Exhibition (TiBE), a diverse group of publishing professionals from seven nations met at Kuo’s Astral Bookshop in the historic neighborhood of Dadaocheng for a talk on Taiwanese history and identity. The ideas presented that evening by Albert Wu, assistant research fellow at Academia Sinica, and his wife, author Michelle Kuo, would continue to reverberate through the coming week as the attendees, the 2023 TiBE Fellows, enjoyed a catered experience of the exhibition featuring guided tours, mouth-watering meals, meetings with local publishers, and, of course, more talks aimed at familiarizing them with the Taiwan’s book market. For early and mid-career publishing professionals working in rights acquisitions, or as agents, the TiBE Fellowship provides a structured format for engaging with the wide array of resources found at the book exhibition, and the opportunity to forge personal connections with their counterparts from other countries. It also happens to be a lot of fun – the adult equivalent of that childhood summer camp where you found your new best-friends-to-be over the course of one activity-filled week.



On a guided tour the following morning, the TiBE Fellows had their first experience of the exhibition floor, including introductions to key publishers and organizations. The complexities of Taiwanese identity, shaped by successive waves of immigration and accreted layers of colonial influence, were once again on display at the Taiwan Literature Museum Booth, where the fellows learned about the 2022 Taiwan Literature Award winners. Guest-country-of-honor Poland arguably had the most stunning booth, with a medieval Bible on display and regular performances from folk musicians in traditional garb. The Taiwan independent publishers booth, dressed up as a construction site, was another favorite among the fellows.



At noon, less than 24 hours into the fellowship program, a wealth of information was being processed as small groups of fellows sat down to enjoy their boxed lunches. Hot topics of conversation included impressions from the morning, which foreign titles were doing well in which markets, and best reads of the past year. It wasn’t all business, though – one group of fellows was overheard passionately proclaiming their favorite Bob Dylan lyrics. In the afternoon, more talks and panel discussions provided further opportunities to better understand foreign book markets.


As the week progressed, the schedule of events increasingly included activities geared towards empowering the fellows to hone their professional skills and engage in the business of rights acquisitions. After morning talks that provided a deep dive into developing trends in the local book market, fellows spent much of their day in the rights room, a suite of meeting spaces set aside for rights negotiations.[1] Under the auspices of fellowship organizer TAICCA (the Taiwan Creative Content Agency), fellows received assistance with contacting publishers, making appointments, and in-meeting translation services.


One of the more memorable events of the fellowship was a speed-dating style whirlwind of pitches by publishers and agents, held on the final morning of the four-day program. Every twenty minutes fellows rotated through meetings to hear book pitches catered to their individual tastes and markets. Fellows had the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of recent Taiwanese titles while the local publishers and agents honed their English-language pitching skills. Though the format was playful, forcing the presenters to deploy their best elevator pitches in rapid succession, it also generated substantial follow-up from fellows eager to learn more about specific titles. All in all, the event was characteristic of the fellowship as a whole: facilitating serious business with a light-hearted and personalized touch.



Of course, no book fair experience is complete without meals and drinks on the town, all the more so in a foodie paradise like Taipei. The first evening of the fellowship concluded at Jin-Zhu, a unique establishment that gathers dozens of Taiwanese specialties only available at food-stalls and cramped holes-in-the-wall onto a single menu to be enjoyed at spacious dining tables with comfortable seating. Subsequent evenings saw fellows roaming the stalls of the Linjiang Night Market, exploring Taipei’s hidden watering holes under the guidance of a local literary agent, and testing the limits of their taste buds with the piquant flavors of 1010 Hunan Cuisine, located above Taipei’s iconic 24-hour bookseller and lifestyle retailer Eslite Bookstore.



The schedule of events concluded with a farewell dinner at Le Ble D’Or, a European-style brewpub, where the fellows were joined by officials from TAICCA. The chance to make last-minute connections, enjoy a final drink with newfound friends and colleagues, and thank the organizers in person was greatly appreciated. Despite the exhaustion induced by four days of hard work and after-hours socializing, the last call came too soon for most. At closing time, groups of fellows lingered by the front door, bidding their heartfelt farewells and snapping the all-important commemorative selfies.


As we all learned the hard way during the pandemic, the rights industry thrives on personal connections, and book fairs are the place where those relationships are forged and renewed. Book fairs are also where you can gauge the barometer of interest in a new title, learn what is on offer in an unfamiliar market, and, most importantly, make the deals that drive the industry forward. The TiBE Fellowship is designed to enhance the book fair experience for international publishing professionals, easing them into the Taiwan book market, while also catalyzing the formation of the personal connections that will shape their future career trajectories. As world events thrust Taiwan deeper into the international spotlight, and interest in East Asian authors surges, the TiBE Fellowship can provide that extra support you need to grasp this dynamic book market, setting you up for one of most inviting, memorable, and successful book fair experiences of your career.


[1] Disclosure: the author presented a talk to fellows on the recent trend of Taiwanese fiction featuring the supernatural creatures of traditional folklore.