Literary agents open new chapter in China
Updated: 2013-03-02 08:03
By Mei Jia (China Daily)
The need for literary agents - a vital third party between publishers and writers - has become a hot topic in Chinese publishing since a February announcement by the country's first Nobel laureate in literature.
To concentrate on his writing, Mo Yan, whose real name is Guan Moye, announced in mid-February that his daughter Guan Xiaoxiao has full rights to represent him in copyright talks and any other negotiations on cooperation.
"I recognize any commitments and signing my daughter does," Mo said.
Established Chinese writers, including Mo, are not as lucky as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Dan Brown, who have handy literary agents around to sell their stories worldwide and save them the trouble of squabbling over contract details with publishers.
Chi Li, known for her realistic novels on grassroots life, said she has six assistants, including her daughter, to help with her affairs besides writing.
"But none of them are real jack-of-all-trades like literary agents," Chi told Chinese media.
Chinese publishing professionals believe the lack of a mature literary agent mechanism has pushed writers to employ relatives as trustworthy middlemen.
Though there are already scattered efforts, the rise of a new profession will boost Chinese writing and promote Chinese writers to a more global audience, they said.
"Without the agents, the writers' domestic copyright authorization is sometimes a mess, as their works are often published by several different publishers, which is harmful for publishers to utilize their talent to the best," Liu Feng, veteran publisher and editor-in-chief of Yilin Press, told China Daily, "not to speak of publishing the writers abroad".
Liu has had business talks with Deborah Owen, who represents Israeli writer Amos Oz and has sold Oz's works into 39 languages.
"They joke that their cooperation is like a marriage," Liu said, adding that good agents are good for the whole business.
Chinese publishers and writers have also tasted the power of literary agents as in the case of Carmen Balcells and Toby Eady.
An agent for six Nobel-winning writers, Balcells has finally approved the publication of authorized Chinese versions of Garcia Marquez on the Chinese mainland after the publisher Thinkingdom House tried all means. The first book, One Hundred Years of Solitude, appeared in 2011 and has since led to a series of phenomenal successes.
Eady is the one who made both the Chinese publishers and officials aware of the importance of literary agents. Through his channels, Chinese scholar Yu Dan's Confucius from the Heart has been translated into 28 languages and has made bestseller lists in the Western world, becoming a legend in the global performance of Chinese books.