Germany was the guest of honor at the 27th edition of the Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE), which ended its six-day run on February 17. The contingent, exhibiting under the “German Stories” pavilion, included 14 children’s publishing houses. PW spoke with four of these publishers to learn more about what they were pitching at TIBE, the titles they have sold to Taiwan, and their perspectives on the Taiwanese children’s book market.
Picture books and children’s literature took center stage for arsEdition at TIBE. “We have a wide range of board books but rising production costs have made some formats such as touch-and-feel unworkable for a smaller market like Taiwan,” said foreign rights manager Mathilda Deroubaix, who was in Taipei with rights director Gaëlle Toquin. The company has sold more than 50 titles to Taiwanese publishers: Isabel Abedi’s Silly Goat, Stupid Goose, for instance, is on its third recontract with Commonwealth Education, while Bobbles, the Little Bumblebee by Britta Sabbag, Maine Kelly, and illustrator Joelle Tourlonias (300,000 copies of various formats sold in Germany) is set to captivate a new generation of young Taiwanese readers.
China and Taiwan are arsEdition’s major markets in Asia, said Deroubaix, adding that her company’s biggest market outside of Germany is Scandinavia. “In general, Taiwanese publishers are very careful in their title selection,” she said, “taking considerable time in thinking through every aspect of the production and marketing processes, which means that they are totally invested in each title that is chosen and are working hard to ensure its success. And if previously the publishers were into educational titles, they are now much more receptive to a wider range of themes—but remain partial to stories with moral values.” At TIBE, many visitors to the arsEdition stand were drawn to Thorsten Saleina’s witty four-title lift-the-flap series (Who’s Going to the Loo?/Whose Animal Butt Is This?/Splish Splash/The Cow Makes Mooooo), which was already sold to China and nine other countries.
Carlsen, one of Germany’s biggest children’s book houses, had a great year in Taiwan. Among the 40 titles that were sold was Margit Auer’s middle grade series the School of Magical Animals, of which the Traditional Chinese edition was just launched by Weber Publications, whose German-speaking editor makes the evaluation and translation process a lot easier and faster). At this year’s TIBE, foreign rights manager Sylvia Schuster was recommending to publishers Charlotte Habersack’s quirky series Please Don’t Open, Anca Sturm’s trilogy the World’s Express, and Marc-Uwe Kling’s picture book The Day Grandma Broke the Internet. “Single titles of all types work here, and since about 70% of our list are singles, this market is a great fit for us,” said Schuster, who works directly with publishers as well as through agents, adding that “Carlsen is the biggest graphic novel publisher in Germany and we translated all kinds of French comics. But this market still prefers Japanese and Korean styles and authors. Maybe there will be a market for us in this segment in the near future.”
“Well-prepared,” “less concerned about selling massive quantities than acquiring quality content,” and “very professional” were the descriptions Schuster used for the editors and publishers she met at TIBE and worked with in Taiwan. The number of German-speaking Taiwanese editors was a nice surprise to her. “What I see is that this market, despite the shared language, culture, and history, is not at all the same as China, and there are great opportunities for rights sales here even though the market is so much smaller.” For Schuster, TIBE remains a good fair—accessible and manageable—and she is already looking forward to her next visit.
This 150-year-old company, Germany’s fifth-largest publisher of children’s and YA books, was back at TIBE after a 10-year hiatus. “Rights deals had picked up recently, and we thought that it was a good time to return and establish new contacts while strengthening existing relationships,” said foreign rights manager Ching-hui Chen, who sold Dagmar Geisler’s Emotional Education picture book series (with My Body Belongs to Me and I Won’t Go with Strangers among the 13 titles) to Weber Publications last year. “We made contact with many small Taiwanese publishers for the first time last year, and we have sold more than 30 titles already. It is refreshing to see how open-minded—and brave—these publishers are in trying new ideas,” said Chen, who has received an offer for Karl Olsberg’s artificial intelligence-centric YA trilogy (Boy in a White Room/Girl in a Strange Land/Boy in a Dead End), which is a Speigel bestseller that has been nominated for the German YA Literature Prize.
Taiwanese publishers, Chen added, are not just chasing after bestsellers. “They are focused on finding the right titles that work for their publishing program and readers. For instance, they are interested in the A Guide to... series on fundamental knowledge and ethics that has titles on migration and integration, and human rights and democracy as well as publications on current events and issues. The latter has seen her actively promoting Sabine Zett’s Collins Rocks: Becoming What All Girls and Boys Dream Of—Influencers!, which targets budding YouTubers and is already translated into Dutch, Korean, and Turkish, and Annette Mierswa’s Instagirl, which addresses issues related to the use of social media such as cyber-bullying and self-esteem. “This being a stable market but one with fast-changing demands and preferences means that we have to remain attentive and innovative at all times,” Chen said.
When international sales director Ivana Bernhard first visited TIBE in 2012, the e-book hype had just reached Taiwan’s shores and whispers of the death of print were getting louder. “Today, we see the attention going back to print and print sales of children’s books continuing to grow, which is of course great news for the whole industry,” said Bernhard, who has been in rights sales for more than 20 years. (The number of children’s titles in the Taiwanese book market has increased by at least 10% annually since 2016.)
Taiwan is a good market for picture books, Bernhard pointed out. “We have sold quite a number of picture books here. In fact, Weber Publications has just translated Lev Kaplan’s Eisbjörn. Those we sold are doing great, and the standard of picture books is much higher here due to the sophistication of the market,” added Bernhard, who was pitching bestselling author Oliver Scherz’s middle grade fiction series A Friend Like No Other and Sabine Bohlman’s A Day at the Hairdresser to booth visitors. “But this market is also more difficult since children do not read as much due to their focus on school assignments and their tendency to read mostly to pass examinations. Having said that, Taiwan remains an important—and growing—market for Thienemann-Esslinger.”