As Hong Kong prepares for its largest literary-themed event of the year, a casual glance down the schedule of events reveals just how much the fabric of the publishing industry in the city has changed over the past decade.

That the HKTDC Hong Kong Book Fair – to be held 21-27 July at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre – has this year been able to attract the likes of such celebrated international authors as Frederick Forsyth, Stephen Fry, alongside Chinese mainland blogging sensation Han Han and best-selling Taiwanese writer Chen Wen-hsien, speaks volumes about the important role Hong Kong now plays between the literary and publishing worlds of the West and the East.

The authors will take part in a series of “Reading the World, Writing the Future’’ seminars, and Sir David Tang, one of the event’s high-profile moderators, said the line-up was a reflection of the event’s growing position in Asia. “The Hong Kong Book Fair, the brainchild of the HKTDC, attracts close to a million visitors, which shows what a remarkable event it is,” Sir David said on announcing the seminar line-up.

David Tang

 

Businessman and author Sir David Tang will be among the high-profile moderators at a series of seminars during the HKTDC Hong Kong Book Fair

For those already closely involved in the local publishing industry, times are indeed changing rapidly. Not only is the very nature of publishing changing, through the advent of such developments as digital technology, there is also a growing interest in what is being published in the region and who is publishing it.

What that means, according to literary agent Marysia Juszczakiewicz, is that there are new and exciting opportunities arising for those already involved in publishing and for those who want to get involved.

Ms Juszczakiewicz ‘s Hong Kong-based Peony Literacy Agency plays a leading role in introducing Chinese authors to an international audience. Among those on her books are Su Tong – winner of the 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize for The Boat to Redemption – along with noted authors Yan Geling (The Lost Daughter of Happiness), Chan Koon Chung (The Fate Years) and Annie Baobei (Simple Years, Extravagant Times).

Ms Juszczakiewicz says that international interest in developments on the Chinese mainland in general have meant there has also been interest in what is happening in the country’s literary world and that agents and publishers are taking more notice than ever of Chinese writers.

Besides those authors, her agency is now scoping out the possibilities of introducing Hong Kong authors to the world as well – but it is still early days in that regard.

“In terms of getting Hong Kong writers out to the rest of the world, that is certainly the case,’’ she says. “At the moment, Hong Kong writers are not really thinking that way [internationally] – they often focus on a Hong Kong audience. But things are opening up a bit more and this is one area that will develop in the near future.’’

Establishing an international marketplace for mainland and Taiwanese authors and publications has been easier simply because of the established literary traditions there. But growing experience – and the development of the Hong Kong publishing industry – means that things here will soon keep pace, she says.

Marysia 1

 

Marysia Juszczakiewicz’s Hong Kong-based Peony Literacy Agency plays a leading role in introducing Chinese authors to an international audience

“Chinese and Taiwanese authors have been travelling and putting themselves out in the world for a lot longer,’’ says Ms Juszczakiewicz. “There will be more of an international market for those from Hong Kong as they travel more [and become more interested in the world].’’

Last year’s London Book Fair was told that the Chinese book market was worth around £7 billion, thanks to an annual output of more than six billion copies of 250,000 titles.

With that sort of volume developing, it is little wonder China’s market-savvy authors are looking for better deals. The Big Apple Agency currently lays claim to being the biggest literary agency working in China, and has been for more than 20 years. A recent report in Forbes.com estimated its project revenue for 2010 will top the US$14 million mark. That they can license more than 4,000 English-language titles to Chinese publishers each year shows just how vast the market has become; they are now working with more than 1,000 publishing houses on the mainland and Taiwan.

“The middle class, many of whom are university graduates, is looking to the West for their books,” the agency’s founder Luc Kwanten told Forbes. “The Chinese are very curious about things that become popular in the US and in other English-speaking territories. During the first two months of 2010, we did 300 deals.’’

Meanwhile, for most authors, says Ms Juszczakiewicz, the process of finding and developing a relationship with whom to deal with in the publishing industry comes simply through word of mouth.

“Literary circles anywhere are generally pretty small,’’ she says. “So people involved in this industry are always talking to each other, recommending people to each other. It is a small industry worldwide and even small, of course, in each territory.’’

But things are changing, Ms Juszczakiewicz stresses, and again the opportunities are presenting themselves. The Hong Kong publishing industry’s strength, in this case, may well be in its position as a link between the East and West.

“Up until recently there were few Asian titles heading outside the region, it had all been the other way around,’’ she says. “But the scope for authors to tap into the West is growing just as the market for publishing here is growing, too.

“More publishers from the West are looking to work in Asia, and Hong Kong has a significant role to play. Things are stepping in the right direction and there is certainly scope for the Hong Kong publishing industry to be involved.’’

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