Saturday, February 8, 2014

Selling Your Books Worldwide

Although globalization has hurt a lot of businesses in this country, it’s helping American writers. Adam Smith’s invisible hand has reached across the oceans, opening up new markets for thrillers and mysteries made in the good ol’ U.S.A. Even if your books aren’t so popular in the homeland, you can sometimes find a fervent readership in another corner of Planet Earth.

For example: I’m a bestselling author in Taiwan. The Mandarin translation of my first novel, Final Theory, sold more than 50,000 copies there. I can make this sound even more impressive by noting that Taiwan has only 23 million people, or about 7.5 percent of the U.S. population. Using some creative math, I estimate that my sales in Taiwan are the equivalent of selling more than 650,000 books in this country. Move over, Grisham!

Why did the book do so well there? I really don’t know, but I think marketing had something to do with it. My Taiwanese publisher, Fantasy Foundation, printed some posters showing the very nifty-looking cover of the Mandarin translation. Better yet, they encouraged bookstores to display the posters. Best of all, they put the same image on a variety of giveaway gewgaws -- tote bags, coffee mugs, flash drives. It’s old-school promotion, but apparently it works.

Fantasy Foundation also published my second and third books, The Omega Theory and Extinction. I was especially pleased to see the Mandarin version of Extinction (which was published last month) because most of the book’s plot is set in China -- specifically, in Beijing and Yichang and the highlands of Yunnan Province. I knew the book couldn’t be published in mainland China; the thriller describes the mistreatment of political dissidents, a forbidden subject in the People’s Republic. But publishing the book in Taiwan at least opens the possibility that some mainlanders will read it. (Here’s a problem, though: the Taiwanese use traditional complex characters to write Mandarin, whereas the People’s Republic adopted simplified characters after the communists took over the mainland, making it difficult for the Taiwanese and the mainlanders to reach each other’s books.)

I love seeing the Chinese websites that are now promoting the translation of Extinction. I can’t understand a word of it, but the sites look so cool. I’ve tried using the Google translation program to decipher the characters, but usually the software just spits out gibberish. When I applied the program to a Chinese Facebook page I uncovered only one coherent sentence, which turned out to be a comment from (I think) a prospective reader: “This book looks terrible!”

I’m going to assume that in this case, “terrible” is a mistranslation of the Mandarin character for “awe-inspiring.”


  1. Great going on the international market, Mark! Be interested to hear how you connected with that publisher in Taiwan.

  2. You're lucky you had publisher support. How can indie authors tap into this market?

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  4. Wow, if I could spell and form complete sentences, that would be a good thing.

    That is just awesome. This morning I saw a Facebook post from uber-sensation Hugh Howie saying the same thing about Taiwan.

    I have been in the pop culture business for many years and found that the Chinese and Japanese kids are hungry for it. Probably the escapism from the homogeneous society. I have shipped vintage pearl-snap western shirts from a garage sale in Kansas to Taiwan and probably made some Chinese kid the coolest rock-a-billy dude on his block.

    What better escapism than a novel that puts it mainland China? I'm sure there is a delicious sense of being a bit of an outlaw for even reading it. I love government conspiracy stories for the same reason.


  5. "This book looks terrible." So, terrible might be like bad. As in "That band last night was bad! They were the baddest band I've heard yet this year!"

    Yep. Definitely a compliment.