五花八门的欧美1月热点新书 马金森谈出版业的趋势
Feb 17

By Bruce Humes (http://www.bruce-humes.com/)
原文链接:http://paper- republic.org/newsletters/china-publishing-news-0217/fk-afbe938cbec0fe65f295/

Back in the 1950s until the mid-1980, all China exports had to pass through state-run trading firms. Manufacturers did not export, period; only I/E firms could, and that made them very profitable (if bureaucratic) monopolies. It was only with the rise of Deng Xiaoping and economic reform that makers and Sino-foreign joint ventures gradually won the right to handle their own export business. And things worked pretty much the same for selling into China.

You will be forgiven if you think that it’s not all that different today in China’s publishing world. If you hold the rights to a foreign book and want to get it published in Chinese in the PRC, an ISBN—often called a shūhào or kānhào —is a must.

The catch is that the government grants an ISBN only to state-run publishers who are empowered to publish under their own imprint or “co-publish” as they see fit. So it’s hardly surprising that rights-holders cue up to get their foreign books published by big-name state-owned publishers like Yilin Press, People’s Literature Publishing House, Zhejiang Literature & Art Press, Shanghai Literature & Art Press, Nanking University Press and South Sea Publishing.

Estimates are that the top 15 percent publishers account for 80 percent of foreign books published in the PRC.

So what, you might ask? The answer: the rights holder (foreign publisher, agent, author, etc.) might well be able to get a better deal—and ensure the China edition is better packaged, translated and more sensibly marketed—if able to “shop around.”

In fact, since 2009 a variety of alternative channels have emerged. Call them what you will: middlemen, agents, “content providers,” co-publishers. Yes, all of them must eventually negotiate with a state-run publisher in order to obtain an ISBN, but they are a different breed; because large state-run publishers have long enjoyed a profitable monopoly on both ISBNs and traditional distribution channels, until recently they have had little incentive to invest precious resources in the books themselves.

Chu Chen Books is an example of these new-fangled hybrids that are beginning to challenge the monopoly of the state-run publishers. Dedicated to producing books in the arts and humanities fields, it is a new Beijing-based joint venture with Chongqing University Press founded in mid-2010.

General manager Chu Chen explains that thanks to its state-owned partner, obtaining an ISBN is not a problem, so he can focus on sourcing quality works—he employs an American scout in Beijing—and handling translations in-house via his team of bilingual editors. He can then take advantage of his partner’s longstanding industry connections and marketing muscle. As a small firm allied with a big player, Chu Chen Books arguably offers advantages to rights holders who want more attention to their book than they would get at a much larger state-run publisher.

To further explore the options that are emerging for getting published in China, we interview publishing professional Li Jihong (李继宏), co-founder of Shanghai Silk Books (上海帛书文化传播). In his former life as a freelance translator, he translated 19 different titles into Chinese—including the huge best-seller, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini—numbering 15 in mainland China, two in Taiwan, and three to launch in 2011. But as co-founder of Silk Books, he is now engaged in each of the key steps for publishing a foreign work in the PRC.

Below, italicized words are questions posed by Bruce Humes on behalf of Paper-Republic’s China Publishing Newsletter , while Li Jihong’s responses follow in the standard font.

You began your career in China publishing as an English-to-Chinese translator, and worked briefly for Big Apple Agency. What made you want to strike out on your own?

Early in my career, what annoyed me most was the way my translations were sometimes changed without my permission. There are many translators in China who don’t care how the editor handles their work, but I’m not one of them. For me, my name on the title page means I take responsibility for translation quality.

I don’t mean my translations are perfect; I’m not that arrogant. There were always dozens of typos or misinterpretations in my first drafts, but I caught them on the proofs. A few editors were considerate enough to highlight copy and request my input. But not all were so thoughtful and some even lacked the necessary bilingual skills. They misread the source text and arbitrarily replaced correct renditions with flawed, even absurd ones.

The literary translator rarely reaps major economic rewards, but being offended by inept publishing executives makes it worse. And that’s basically why I left my position as Content Director at Century Horizon (世纪文景) in 2007 when ridiculous changes were proposed to my translation of Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns .

As a freelance translator, I was still prone to such maltreatment, plus my income was unstable. In 2008 I did a stint as a literary agent for Big Apple, but the legwork was tedious and the Shanghai subway commute miserable.

So when my friend Xie Fangwei proposed launching a small publishing business, I thought: Why not? So we set up Shanghai Silk Books Publishing (上海帛书文化传播有限公司), and formed a strategic partnership with Oriental Morning Post (东方早报). This newspaper is the second largest in Shanghai in advertisement revenue, and we benefit from this tie-up mainly through capital that we can use to pay advances.

What’s the mission of your new firm? And how do you position yourself: As a literary agent? As an “independent” publisher?

Our mission is to introduce high-quality translations of English literature and works in the ‘New Age Movement’ genre. We believe that Silk Books can differentiate itself by providing healthier, more spiritually nourishing reading matter to its Chinese readership.

Silk Books cannot be defined as a literary agent or an independent publisher. It’s something new that I might label “content provider”. We secure the translation rights for a title we have targeted, render it in Chinese, and sell the translated texts to state-owned publishers for a certain percentage of the royalties. We decide the cover design in conjunction with the publisher. Crucially, the text cannot be altered unless I approve it. Silk Books determines the marketing plan and implements it, typically via book reviews and advertising. Printing and distribution are handled by the publisher.

Take us briefly through the major steps that a foreign book must undergo prior to publication in the PRC. Which are the most difficult to navigate, and why?

In our case, there are six key steps: (1) Acquiring the translation rights through negotiations with a literary agent; (2) Seeking an appropriate state-owned publisher and signing a publishing contract with it; (3) Application by the publisher to the local Press and Publication Administration Bureau for a Rights Contract Registration Number (版权合同登记号) and an ISBN, without which a book cannot be published in the PRC, and which can only be granted to an approved state-run publisher; (4) RCRN in hand, we pay income tax to the authorities on behalf of the literary agent; (5) Transferring advances to the account of the literary agent; and (6) Initiating the translation process. Thereafter, things proceed pretty much as in the US or the UK.

The first challenge we confront is proving that Silk Books is a trustworthy firm. For example, we tried to buy The Pillars of the Earth and World without End by Ken Follett and What Is the What by Dave Eggers a couple of years ago, but our offers were rejected by their agent, the Bardon Chinese Media Agency. Bardon advised us to find a state-owned publisher to sign the contracts on behalf of Silk Books. But we wouldn’t do that, or we would have lost control over the translated texts. So we have had to give up some good titles. Fortunately, there are agencies willing to cut deals with us, such as Andrew Nurnberg Associates, Penguin China and Grayhawk Agency.

The second challenge is to arrange a publishing contract with a state-owned publisher. Believe it or not, it took me almost eight months to conclude the final agreement on publishing Conversations with God (Book One) with Shanghai Bookstore Publishing House. The reason is simple: the role we play is, as I have said, utterly new. No one had done such a thing. Hence I must manage to convince each business partner that our approach is sound and potentially profitable.

To ensure publication within China, as I understand it foreign copyright-holders have three main options: directly approach a state-owned China publisher; select a foreign agent such as Big Apple to market their book to a China publisher; or work through a firm such as your own. Are there other options besides these three? What are the pros-and-cons of each approach?

There is another choice now. France’s Hachette and Phoenix Publishing & Media Group in China have formed a Beijing-based joint venture publishing firm, Hachette-Phoenix Cultural Development. We can safely say that more and more joint ventures will appear in the publishing industry in China.

As for the pros-and-cons of the approaches you’ve mentioned, by choosing to directly approach a big publisher or work through a small firm like ours, foreign rights holders can save on the costs they would normally pay to a large marketing-driven agency like Big Apple. But if they choose to work via an international agent, there is no real guarantee of getting a quality Chinese rendition. For example, Stephen King is a bestselling author in the US, but his works are unwelcome in the China market, because the translations are worse than bad!

You were recently featured in a New York Times article that identified you as the translator of “Conversations with God” by Neale Donald Walsch. Tell us a bit about this project.

When Mr. Xie and I resolved to extend our friendship into business, he suggested that perhaps Conversations with God as our starting point, for he had read the traditional Chinese edition translated by Wang Jiqing, and he loved it. One night I downloaded the original English text and was astounded by how inspirational it was. After a thorough read, my inner voice firmly told me I should share it with my compatriots. Luckily, the simplified Chinese translation rights were still available, and several months later we signed the contract with Andrew Nurnberg Associates.

Eventually I realized that the existing traditional Chinese edition was full of misinterpretations and unclear phrasing, and so I determined to render it myself. I negotiated the contract, finalized the paper type, size and design of the book, and arranged for reviews and media promotion.

Before I undertook this project, I already had eleven translated titles to my name, and three years in the publishing field itself. So I was confident that it would be a classic, and my gut instincts didn’t fail me— Conversations with God (Book One) was the Number 10 best-seller on Amazon.cn in 2010.

Unbeknownst to most authors and their agents outside China, many global best-sellers are significantly altered when they appear in Chinese. Some publishers commission translations from an English translation, rather than the original language, but hide this fact; others heavily censor sensitive text; and almost all pay miserable wages to their translators, refuse to share any royalties, and insist on the briefest of deadlines. In your opinion, how bad is the situation, and what advice can you give?

What you describe is commonplace in China. For example, my translation of La Caverna de las Ideas by Jose Carlos Somoza was based on its English version, The Athenian Murder , translated by Sonia Soto. But the publisher chose to omit any reference to Ms. Soto on the title page, even though I credited her in the Afterword to the Chinese edition.

Censorship in China is so notorious that it hardly rates a mention. The most famous case is Hillary Clinton’s Living History . Its Chinese Publisher—Yilin Press (译林出版社)—censored so much that the rights owner of original text was infuriated and insisted that Yilin recall all 200,000 copies from the market. But the situation is improving now. In a sense the real enemy of the integrity of the original work is not the infamous General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), but the internal self-censorship carried out by the publishers themselves.

As for your last question, I think what foreign publishers, agents or authors can do is to pray—may God place their works in the hands of a qualified and responsible translator!

Please name 3-4 firms that, like yours, are not large state-run publishers, but are in the business of helping foreign rights holders get published in China.

Thinkingdom House (新经典文化) for popular fiction, Tobebooks (立品 图书) for books in the religion/spirituality genre, and Huawen Tianxia (华文天下) for popular fiction and non-fiction all come to mind.