Christine Sun, ALLi’s China Ambassador, provides a general introduction to the Chinese market for self-published authors and their books, including a helpful case study of Dutch author Jen Minkman’s work in Chinese translation.
“Globile” authorpreneurs of the 21st century cannot ignore the Chinese market. In this year’s Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF) alone, nearly 40% of the copyright deals – 1,834 signed over five days – were to acquire foreign titles. According to an August 2014 report by Publishing Perspectives, the number of foreign rights bought by Chinese publishers increased by 61% from 2004 to 2012. On average, translated titles represent nearly 8% of the total number of new titles published each year.
Meanwhile, China’s e-publishing market keeps booming. While reading on smart phones continues to be more favourable than e-readers and tablets, sales from online bookstores also enjoyed considerable growth (20-30% annually) in recent years. Although the average price for an ebook remains low (ranging from 1.28 to 8 Chinese Yuan, or 0.21 to 1.30 U.S. dollars), sales results can be significant when one takes into consideration China’s huge population. According to China Internet Watch, the number of Internet users in that country reached 667 million in June 2015. As of July 2014, mobile Internet accounted for nearly 90 percent of the total Internet audience.
Issues of Concern
It is important to keep in mind that Chinese readers exist not only in China (Simplified Chinese) but also in Taiwan and Hong Kong (Traditional Chinese) and other communities across the world (both). This is worthy of note when granting rights to Chinese publishers, but it also matters to those authorpreneurs worrying about piracy and censorship.
In terms of print books, only those with government-issued ISBNs are sold in brick-and-mortar bookstores across China, so international publishers would require local partnership in order to promote their titles there. In comparison, titles in Taiwan and Hong Kong do not need to go through such assessment and approval process. On the other hand, various reports have suggested that online publishing and ebooks (particularly those published and distributed in diverse formats) are good ways to work around China’s censorship.
Finally, Chinese readers, like their peers in the West, desire content that is fresh, diverse, original and of good literary quality. Apart from professional cover design and formatting, authorpreneurs are advised to invest on experienced literary translators who are capable of producing accurate, fluent and elegant results. This is despite the fact that other translation services are available for those who are interested in promoting their titles as Chinese ebooks (and even print books), in which royalties are split between authors, translators and service providers.
Case Study: Jen Minkman
Jen Minkman started writing in 2010 as the first-ever published author of paranormal romance in the Netherlands. She has self-translated her novels from Dutch to English and found translators to convert them into German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Afrikaans as well. Having enjoyed strong sales in the United States, Netherlands and Spain, her novel Shadow of Time won Gold Medal in the romance category of the eLit Awards in 2014. The book has been available in the Chinese Market since October 2013.
Jen paid for the translation, publishing and promotion of Shadow of Time as an ebook in both Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese. At one point the title received more than 700 reviews on Google Books, with readers in Taiwan and Hong Kong praising the title’s literary merits and translation quality. In 2014, using the same translation, Jen got Shadow of Time onto China’s Douban by suggesting a royalty-split contract between her, the translator and the platform. Established in 2005, the Chinese social networking service website had a total of 200 million registered users in 2013.
Jen said in a recent email interview: “I’ve been selling quite well [on Douban], considering the fact that [Shadow of Time] mainly deals with Native American mythology – something that must be very foreign to the average Asian reader.” To further explore the Chinese Market, she submitted another book, The Boy from the Woods, to Fiberead. In January this year, the website organised a team of voluntary translators to turn the book into Simplified Chinese. (More details about Fiberead can be found here.)
Jen said: “Communicating with translators was very easy: they have an online message board and they also emailed me directly with questions. They work in teams, so the book is always meticulously proofread by several people. Someone on that team also takes care of the marketing aspect. Although the book isn’t live yet, I have high hopes for what Fiberead can do for me. One thing I’m thrilled about is that my book will also be for sale on Amazon.cn… that’s something I myself could not have made happen.”
In terms of monitoring the quality of Chinese translation for The Boy from the Woods, Jen said she could always hire someone to proofread it. “As it is, I trust Fiberead to do a good job on my book, since it’s their reputation on the line as much as it is mine. If they were to publish books in crappy Chinese, people wouldn’t buy from them again!”
“I don’t really have experience with other platforms, except eBook Dynasty, the service I used to get [Shadow of Time] into Chinese. That experience was very positive. Fiberead is bigger, with many translator teams working at the same time. eBook Dynasty is a one-woman show, so it took a bit longer,” Jen said. “What’s good about both eBook Dynasty and Fiberead is that they help you with a bit of marketing (newsletters, press releases and so on) and they know what the market’s like. I don’t have the know-how to make the most out of my titles over there, and they do. I think it’s very important that you think about how to get your book into the hands of Chinese readers, or else people might not find it.”
Advice for Other Authors Interested in Chinese Translations
Jen’s advice for other authorpreneurs who are interested in employing Chinese translation services: “Go for a service that offers a lot of personal care and/or a team of translators. Fiberead gets your books onto all the important platforms. There’s another, similar translation service called Babelcube, but I wouldn’t use them for Chinese translations since they have no way of getting your book onto Amazon.cn. You have to know where you want your books to sell before you decide on a service.”
Finally, Jen’s advice for those who are interested in succeeding in the Chinese Market: “Be willing to invest some time and money before it starts to pay off. I invested in the translation of my book into Chinese the first time around; in the meantime, I have almost made my investment back, but it was a struggle. Also, educate yourself about all the different Chinese ebook platforms and try to go direct with each and every one of them. It will pay off in the long run if you do it that way. Be proactive; contact Chinese websites [and] write a very simple letter asking about the possibility to upload your Chinese ebook to their site. You never know!”
Declaration of interest: Christine Sun is the translator of Jen Minkman’s Shadow of Time and manager of eBook Dynasty, the Melbourne-based Australian publisher that published and continues to promote the title as an ebook in both Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese. Details about the Chinese ebook can be found here. eBook Dynasty is a Partner Member of the Alliance of Independent Authors.
Author’s Note: This article is a general introduction to the Chinese Market. I have previously discussed the success of Fiberead and how it can help authorpreneurs to translate, publish and promote their titles as Simplified Chinese ebooks here, and will continue to explore the pros and cons of crowd-sourcing translation in the near future.Useful overview of #Chinese market for #selfpublished books in translation with @JenMinkman… Click To Tweet