Chinese Market Q&A #2: What Appeals to Chinese Readers?

BookAppeal

To follow up with my previous post regarding my response to a European author’s proposal to promote his book to the Chinese market, let me quote his question here, with all specifics already modified to protect his privacy:

“I have just finished an adult fiction book (not yet published). The preliminary name is: ‘Little China Woman’, and it’s a story about a 17-year-old country girl who realizes her dream to at least leave her family and her evil stepfather and move to ‘the big city’… Shenzhen. The main part of the book handles all fascinating things that happen to her in Shenzhen. Totally alone… as she is… at least in the beginning. Since this novel takes place in China, I believe that it could be well received by the Chinese people and perhaps especially by the younger ones.”

Below is my response:

“Promoting literary works that are set in China to Chinese readers can be risky. I am sure you have unique insight into life as a rural person in Southern China, so the only concern would be whether your potential Chinese readers can be convinced that you have represented such a life in your novel both realistically and poetically. After all, they are there and have indeed lived such a life themselves.”

This leads me to one of the most frequently asked questions I have encountered, which is the focus of this article. Exactly what appeals to Chinese readers? Please, take Novak Djokovic’s Serve to Win: The 14-Day Gluten-Free Plan for Physical and Mental Excellence as an example (see image above):

The book was published in August 2013 and currently sits at #28 on Amazon’s “Sports & Outdoors > Individual Sports > Tennis” bestselling list. In Amazon’s “Health, Fitness & Dieting . Diets & Weight Loses > Gluten Free” category, the book currently sits at #63 on the bestselling list.

In the Chinese world, the Simplified Chinese version of Serve to Win will be published in September 2014, in anticipation of the forthcoming China Open in Beijing from September 29 to October 5. Interestingly, in the subtitle of the Simplified Chinese version, the word “gluten free” is missing. Only the general concepts of health, physical exercise, weight loss and dieting plans are emphasised in the promotional materials.

So, in this case, the question “Exactly what appeals to Chinese readers?” is easy to answer. Your book will definitely sell in China if:

  • You are already a celebrity;
  • Your book is already on the bestselling list;
  • Your book has won a certain major literary award;
  • Your book has been or will be adapted into a movie; or
  • Your book corresponds to a major event or trend that has recently taken place or will take place in China and/or the West.

However, if none of the above applies to you, then I think Chinese readers, like their peers in the West, enjoy good stories. They particularly like fresh and diverse content from the West, because this is something they cannot easily get in their daily life. Despite all the complaints about piracy in China, I have found that Chinese readers are indeed willing to pay for good content. What we can do is to provide them with as many choices as possible at affordable prices, and if everyone can afford the books, piracy will surely cease to exist.

 

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