Kai Kang, Journalist China Reading Weekly
Seven rules into China's book market
Dear Dutch publishers. The book fair is over. Perhaps you’ll now climb the Great Wall, or walk through Hutongs, then fly back to the Netherlands to prepare the contracts for your Chinese counterparts.
Here are some suggestions:
Who was this guy? Few Chinese readers can answer.
Do not believe the print runs which publishers told you, even the figures printed on the covers of their books. The former is often deliberately suppressed, while the latter often exaggerated. Suppression is in order to pay fewer royalties to the authors, and exaggeration is an advertising strategy. Both are open secrets. Last year, Yuan Tengfei, a middle school teacher in Beijing and author of best-selling book series What the Hell Is History?, sued his publisher, Motie Studio, accusing the publisher of concealing print runs and defaulting his royalties. While Motie brought out its accounts and exculpated itself, the public learned print exaggeration had become a common propaganda practice in the industry.
If possible, find your translator by yourself. Many young translators are very bad, this is due to their poor Chinese language and partly because they lack the relevant knowledge. In addition, the translation fees are too poor to give the translators motivation to use necessary dictionaries or encyclopedias. For example, a recently published book, State Bankruptcy, which was translated from French economist Jacques Attali’s Tous ruinés dans dix ans?, would be one of the worst translated books this year. As I said in a review last month, it’s totally not worth buying and reading, not any single paragraph of the translated text is not wrong, distorted or dubious. It mentioned an English king called “Jiyaomu Sanshi” (Guillaume III). Who was this guy? Few Chinese readers can answer. For the Dutch, this question should be easier. It was Willem III van Oranje, King William III of England. Multatuli, in his Max Havelaar, talked about the confused transformation of ‘Guild Heaume’, ‘Huillem’, ‘Willem’, ‘William’ and ‘Guillaume’ in the European languages.
Even our scholars often make ridiculous errors. Madame Wang Qi, an associate professor of history in famous Tsinghua University, translated Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek into a nobody ‘Chang Kaishen’ in one of her academic books. The scandal was well known, you can find it on Chinese Wikipedia.
There are many excellent sinologists in Leiden, I believe they can give you good advices when you want to find a competent translator in China.
If there’s sensitive content in your book, you’d better choose a big publisher, whose editors would more experienced and more skillful, that is: sensitive content could be retained more.
Do not do dangerous and pointless attempts. The most important thing is to make your book released in China and read by Chinese readers, rather than play some hide and seek games. But when your Chinese counterpart says, ‘I can’t,’ he does really mean it.
Homosexuality is still a sensitive topic.
Series or collection would be a good choice. The leaders of our publishing houses love big projects, which can be included in their year-end summary. So you can try to choose some similar titles under a certain theme, then package and sell them.
Do not rush into the Chinese e-book market.