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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.