True crime does not sell in Taiwan, says director Wendy King of Big Apple Agency (bigapple1.info). “That is one category that may never make a breakthrough here. We have, however, seen some interest in kidnap victim Jaycee Dugard’s A Stolen Life, which is more of an autobiography than true crime. YA is another difficult genre since Taiwan’s YA market is not well developed. Often, an American or British YA blockbuster that catches on in other countries will fall flat here. Alyson Noel’s The Immortals is a good example.” In contrast, the success of The Kite Runner and The Last Lecture attests to the popularity of heart-warming fiction and inspiring nonfiction in a market that has a predominantly female readership. “Movie adaptation does give a novel a new lease on life. The contract for Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, for instance, was renewed this year.”
Big Apple’s business is up by 30% compared to the same period last year. “The economy may be in the doldrums, but that has not stopped publishers from buying rights. Big titles may even get higher advances than in previous years simply because publishers are trying to outdo one another to grab sure-sell bestsellers,” adds rights manager Vincent Lim. “But the market is overcrowded with titles on similar topics, which is a headache. Publishers will look for the same kind of book as the bestseller, except that they want a new title that would sell even more. Every publisher, for instance, is searching for the next Stieg Larsson, thus making it difficult to sell other titles from that genre.”
With most Taiwan editors fluent in English, titles from English-speaking territories naturally receive more attention. “But in the past couple of years, more editors have tried to bring in some Continental European titles even when they are not available in English yet,” says King, whose team recently made deals for Ron Clark’s The End of Molasses Classes, Kathleen MacMahon’s So This Is How It Ends, Seré Prince Halverson’s The Underside of Joy, Gareth Malone’s Music for the People, and Leslie McGuire’s Brush Your Teeth Please. “Taiwan’s publishing industry is growing, but at a slow pace, and that is not because of a lack of new publishing houses. In fact, there are now many small presses, mostly set up by editors who left big houses to go out on their own. They simply want to publish titles that they like.”
Meanwhile, over the past year, cross-strait publishing activity has revved up, with some mainland Chinese publishers establishing offices or editorial departments in Taiwan. Adds Lim, “They will purchase rights for both Taiwan and China for the same title, and this arrangement seems to work out pretty well. This means Taiwan publishers now face increased competition for rights. But whether these Chinese publishers can bridge both the language (simplified vs. traditional Chinese) and cultural differences remains to be seen.”
“Self-help, lifestyle, and design titles have become more popular, and YA readership is not limited to young adults here in Taiwan but extends to 30-year-olds,” says director Yu-shiuan Chen of Bardon-Chinese Media Agency (bardonchinese.com). Chen finds that while the U.K. and U.S. continue to be the main sources for translations (such as YA blockbuster series Twilight and Percy Jackson and the Olympians, which the agency handled), Japanese originals on lifestyle and design get better reception from publishers and readers here.
“Given Taiwan’s market size, I think we have way too many new titles out there. Making these titles visible has seen publishers trying ways to attract distributors and retailers. It is fair to say that marketing now consumes a much bigger chunk of the overall publishing budget than before. It is our job as a literary agency to provide publishers with as much information about the international market as possible to help them make the right choice when it comes to rights buying and translation.”
Speaking of translations, Chen finds that after all these years of exposure to foreign titles, both editors and readers have developed a localized taste for specific types of books. “Editors have become expert in adapting foreign titles to suit local readers.”
Fewer new publishing companies have emerged in the past couple of years, she adds. “Small houses can survive through focused publishing programs targeting niche readerships. But publishing alone, even good reads at that, is not sufficient to bring books to readers. Bookselling now requires other mediums, such as the television or movie tie-ins, to find readers.”
Chen and her team recently handled Thomas Friedman’s That Used to Be Us, Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness in My Mind, Brandon Mull’s Beyonders and Barack Obama’s Of Thee I Sing. Asked to name one big book (among those hyped at the London and BookExpo fairs) that will make it big in Taiwan over the next six months, Chen names Walter Isaacson’s iSteve without much hesitation. As for homegrown authors to recommend to overseas publishers, two names immediately come to her mind: Eileen Chang and Jimmy Liao.