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MY DEAR
By Arlene Hsing
Translated by Helen Wang
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  • 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!

  • Bringing Books from Taiwan Around the World
    Aug 27, 2019 / By Michelle Tu ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    For 16 years, the Taipei Book Fair Foundation has been actively learning and co-operating with the international publishing community. In 2012, the Taipei Book Fair Foundation held Asia's first Conference of International Book Fairs, inviting the presidents of the Frankfurt, Leipzig, Seoul, New York, Bologna, Guadalajara, Warsaw, London, Gothenburg and Prague book fairs to come to Taiwan. They brought reports detailing the book market developments in their respective regions and exchanged the latest publishing news with their Taiwanese counterparts.

     

    Taiwanese Publishing Bases Overseas

    In addition to inviting international publishers to Taiwan, the Taipei Book Fair Foundation is also committed to promoting Taiwanese writers and works in international markets. Over the last few years, the foundation has participated in the Bologna Children's Book Fair, the Thessaloniki Book Fair, the Prague Book Fair, the Warsaw Book Fair, the New York Rights Fair, the Seoul Book Fair, the Moscow Book Fair, the Frankfurt Book Fair, the Guadalajara Book Fair...over time, Taiwan’s footprints have gradually made their way across the world.

    Every year, the Taipei Book Fair Foundation organises a “Taiwan Pavilion” in the exhibition halls of overseas book fairs, giving Taiwanese publishers, large and small, the opportunity to gain international exposure for their works, so they can establish links with publishers around the world and maintain long-term partnerships. There are various activities hosted during the exhibition, such as writers' events and “Rights Matchmaking” sessions for book publishers, which are held at the booths of the Taiwan Pavilion. They also bring many Taiwanese authors abroad every year to meet overseas readers.

    Italian readers who grew up with Jimmy Liao’s picture books were moved to tears when they saw him in person.  Similarly, Mexican fans were driven to tears when the Spanish edition of Have You Seen Me? by Zhou Jian-Xin was launched at the Guadalajara Book Fair. The History of Gay Literature by Chi Ta-wei received special recognition from the vice-chairman of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Holger Volland; and the life-sized cardboard cut-out of Nezha the Third Prince by comic artist Zuo Hsuan was a huge hit, earning her a lot of German fans.

     

    Chi Ta-wei and Holger Volland at Frankfurt Book Fair

     

    Brilliant Content and Exquisite Design Put Taiwan on the International Stage

    One particularly notable example is the 2017 Bologna Children's Book Fair, where the Taipei Book Fair Foundation invited internationally-renowned illustrator and curator Page Tsou to design the Taiwan Pavilion, who turned the booth into an exhibition with the theme “Museum of the Fantastic”. The international children’s book industry was stunned by the exhibit, demonstrating just how much the aesthetic qualities of the Taiwan Pavilion have evolved over the years. After the fair, the entire exhibit continued to be displayed at the Bologna Municipal Library, and the enthusiastic media response made its way from Europe back to Asia, prompting the Gwangju Cultural Centre in Korea to inquire about displaying the exhibition.

     

    2017 Bologna Children's Book Fair, Taiwan Pavilion

     

    Last year (2018), the Taiwan Pavilion at the Guadalajara Book Fair won “Best Booth Design of the Year” for how it used illustrations and design to create a reading ambience whilst still functioning as a professional space. The same year, Lee Chin-Lun, the illustrator recommended by the Taiwan Pavilion, also successfully sold the Spanish rights of her book How Pets Used to Be. It was exactly what a perfect book fair should look like.  

     

    2018 Guadalajara Book Fair, Taiwan Pavilion

     

    Book fairs of the future will no longer be just platforms serving readers and exhibitors, they need to become creative exhibitions that cross borders, provide experiences, and give visitors the chance to meet new people. The TiBE is striving forward to create that sense of awe and wonder, as reflected by the combination of these experiences from three friends of the Taipei Book Fair Foundation:

    “From a professional point of view, I think that Taipei Book Fair actually is a very CREATIVE book fair.” – Barbel Becker, Frankfurt Book Fair (Germany)

    “This Fair has grown over the 17 years that I've be been here, it's very IMPRESSIVE.” – Gloria Bailey, the Publishers Association (UK)

    “It's a vibrant fair, compared to many others in Asia; it is COOL!” – Nicolas Roche, Bureau International de l'edition Franciase (France)

  • Taipei International Book Exhibition: A Gathering Place for Publishers and Book Lovers Alike
    Aug 20, 2019 / By Michelle Tu ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Every February, while most cities in Europe and North America are snowy and battling the cold, it’s flip-flop weather in Taipei, with comfortable temperatures and cherry blossoms blooming. The MRT makes it easy to get anywhere in the city, whether you want to head out to the green mountains in the suburbs, or enjoy the hot springs, visit museums, go for tea, or visit a temple. There’s delicious food, great places to wander around, fantastic shopping centres and all the cultural activities you could want.    

    With the incredible city and all the publishers visiting from around the world, the Taipei International Book Exhibition (TiBE) allows people to catch up with old friends, network with industry contacts, and attend thousands of literary events, all in a welcoming, easy-going atmosphere. Every year, it attracts internationally renowned authors such as Nobel Laureate Gao Xingjian, Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winner Kitty Crowther, Hans Christian Anderson Award winner Lisbeth Zwerger, and the youngest ever winner of the Booker Prize Eleanor Catton, generating a tide of half a million visitors who make the fair feel like a carnival.  

    The Taipei Book Fair Foundation was co-founded in 2003 by 18 different-sized domestic publishers and various big names in the industry. Each year, the foundation organises the TiBE, which is hosted by the Ministry of Culture and actively encourages international cultural exchange, enhancing publishers’ skillsets and promoting reading in a wide variety of ways.

                                               

    Reading in the City: The TiBE and Reading Promotion

    The Taipei Book Fair Foundation starts gearing up for the coming year’s TiBE in about November and, as the Christmas bells ring, bookstores and art venues across Taiwan are buzzing with “Reading in the City” events. At the same time, there are Bookmobiles driving from Taipei, New Taipei City and Keelung to different corners of the island, bringing with them a huge range of writers’ events. Book lovers everywhere can use the “Maps for Reading in the City” to find events they want to attend and take the chance to meet authors and illustrators whose work they enjoy.

    For years, the national library’s “Winter Vacation Reading Manual” has acted as a publicity generator, letting children get to know more about that year’s TiBE guest of honour country. Children can also actively participate in events run by libraries which encourage them to read books from the guest nation.  

     

    Guided Tour for Children

     

    In recent years, the Taipei Book Fair Foundation has encouraged teachers to bring students of all ages to the fair, organising a range of recommended itineraries and challenges where they can win prizes. The most popular events of all are the guided tours of the international exhibits, where the students can get to know the local customs of the different countries. At the same time, the Ministry of Culture also subsidises transportation for children from rural areas to visit the book fair and works with the Taipei Book Fair Foundation to give each student a free book voucher. While the TiBE is on, there’s still a sea of student groups pouring in even during work hours, it makes for a great scene!

     

    Taking the TiBE to the Next Level

    To encourage local creation and book design in Taiwan, prizes are also awarded each year during the fair. The Taipei Book Fair Award is given to up-and-coming creatives, while the Golden Butterfly Prize is awarded for excellence in book production and design, and particularly outstanding works go on to compete at the Leipzig Book Fair for the “World’s Most Beautiful Book Award”.

    As well as encouraging local publishers with awards, the TiBE also invites industry leaders from around the world to Taiwan, and strives to inspire professional exchanges through the sharing of knowledge and greater interaction within the industry. Over the last six years, the TiBE has partnered with the Frankfurt Book Fair to produce training courses and a wide range of forums on digital publishing, children’s books, international publishing, book design, and corporate CEOs; as well as forums exploring the power of publishing in the face of dramatic changes in the publishing landscape, in accordance with annual trends and the different influences which develop each year.

     

    Guests of Honour: Promoting Publishing and Culture

    As with other global book fairs, each year the TiBE invites a country to be the fair’s guest of honour, focusing on significant authors and fostering the in-depth exchange of industry expertise on both sides. The guest nation often takes advantage of the opportunity to plan rich and unique cultural exhibitions, using their position at the fair to highlight their own national brand image.

    For example, Israel, which was founded as a country relatively recently, created an enticing Middle-Eastern style market in the middle of their national pavilion in 2018. In addition to selling fresh fruits, vegetables and Israeli wine, they also sold contemporary literary works and had a VR experience where visitors could see Israel’s fashionable architecture, which gave a refreshing image of the country’s culture. In 2011, the TiBE invited Bhutan, the world’s happiest country according to the World Happiness Index, to be the guest of honour. For this mysterious, mountainous country to agree to reveal their culture in this way was unprecedented, and they very carefully displayed the Heart Sūtra (Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya), which had never been overseas before, demonstrating the importance of the TiBE.

    In addition to promoting their own culture, the guest of honour’s activities are often linked to Taiwan. As a response to Taiwan’s love of Thai cuisine, the 2009 TiBE featured a special Thai kitchen serving fine food in a huge range of colours, flavours and smells, cleverly using lemon grass as a way to bring the cookery books to life by getting readers to connect with the smells. In 2013, the Belgian-themed national pavilion created a “Genius Inventor: Adolphe Sax” exhibition displaying musical instruments, which reflected Taiwan’s position as one of the top three saxophone manufacturers in the world. When New Zealand was the guest of honour in 2015, they focused on indigenous literature which is an equally important issue in Taiwan. The Nga Kete Tuku Iho Aboriginal dance group was invited to come to Taiwan and gave such a bold, hot-blooded performance that their stamping almost broke the floor of the exhibition hall!