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Literary agent Sue K. Yang, and publisher Martijn David

Sue K. Yang of Korean literary agents Eric Yang Agency, and Martijn David of Dutch publishers Mouria…

Say you were a publisher in Korea and you heard about a good novel that had been published in the U.S..
You wanted to translate the novel and publish it in Korea – what would you do?
Usually, you’d go to one of the four big agencies in Korea, like the Eric Yang Agency (EYA), and get them to check the status of the book.
An agent from the EYA would contact the author or publisher in the U.S. and see if the translation rights were available for sale.
Then you could buy the rights, get the novel translated into Korean, and publish it in Korea.
The sale of international rights is a growth area in publishing, and Sue K. Yang said the Eric Yang Agency had grown with the publishing industry since Eric Yang started the agency in 1995.

When you think of agents you might imagine someone who gets hold of a manuscript, sends it to an editor at a publishing house, ends up selling the rights to the publisher, then takes a percentage.
Ms Yang said being an agent didn’t just involve one-off deals; it was a full time job.
Agents had to read and understand books – all EYA employees needed a BA degree – checked submissions, took care of contracts, monitored payments, and handled termination of contracts; there was a long process to follow through.
The Eric Yang Agency had 15 employees; no legal qualifications were necessary to be an agent, and employees started out as assistants for about two years and learned the industry that way.

There are about 12000 registered publishers in Korea.
Ms Yang said most publishers were text book publishers, and many publishers were small and published one title per year; but there were 300 very active publishers.
Ms Yang said the EYA went to every major book fair to gather information on new titles.
And the EYA has links to hundreds of overseas agencies and publishers, to gather information about the latest books being published overseas.

As well, EYA had literary scouts around the world, looking for titles that publishers might want to publish in other countries.

CEO Eric Yang completed an MA at Macquarie University, Australia, (1987-1991) then returned to Korea where he worked in one of the two big agencies for three years before setting up his own business.

As far as Ms Yang’s favorite books went, she liked The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold; Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom; The Life of Pi by Yann Martel; The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis; and Korean poet Shi Wha Ryu.
I was toying with the idea of starting a publishing house -well, more like a publishing tent.
I asked publisher Martijn David if you needed extensive experience in publishing before starting a publishing house.
Martijn David co-founded the Mouria publishing house in Holland in 2002, having worked in some of the most prestigious publishing houses in Holland.
Mouria is part of the Veen, Bosch, and Keuning group, and publishes translated fiction and non-fiction, mostly literary, including Dutch authors.
Mr David said that many worthy books had been published by people who had simply started their own publishing operation, but it was difficult to make money unless you had experience working for publishing houses.
He said it wasn’t just the knowledge and technical experience you gathered over the years at publishing houses, but also the people you knew throughout all aspects of the publishing industry.
He said that when he and his colleague Marijke Bartels started Mouria in 2002, they knew cover designers and translators they could call on – so they weren’t starting from scratch.
They knew people in the big book chains, too; so, they could call these contacts and ask if Mouria could show them a new title.
He said it was good to know something about printing and technical processes, too, although you didn’t have to be an expert.
I asked Mr David about a couple of other aspects of the publishing business.
On market research, he said there is an old saying in publishing that market research is the first print run.
“There is something else you always have to realise and that’s almost 80 per cent of people who enter a book shop do not know which books they will buy.”
People picked up your book and decided in a few seconds whether they would buy it.

“First of all they look at the cover, then turn it over and read something on the back. The blurb. And that has to have some appeal and tell you what the book is about.”
So books have to be able to sell themselves.
On how Mouria found titles to publish in translation in Holland, Mr David said that Mouria had literary scouts in various countries around the world, and these scouts talked constantly to publishers about what they would be publishing, long before the books were even published in those countries.
They had a scout in England and another in U.S., and the scouts gave weekly and sometimes daily reports about what was coming out in these countries.
If something sounded interesting, Mouria would get reports on these books and decide whether they would go ahead and have the books translated and published in Holland.
Mouria successfully bidded for the translation rights to Living as a Bedouin by Marguerite van Geldermalsen.
Regarding auctions, Mr David said that in the past auctions were done by letter, then by fax, and now by email. Usually an agent would send a manuscript to quite a lot of publishers.
In the case of Living as a Bedouin, a sample chapter and an outline of what the book was going to be were sent to publishers.
One of the publishers might make an offer, and the agent would go back to the other publishers and ask who wanted to offer more.
Sometimes the rights would go straight to the highest offer; but if there were still two or three publishers left, the agent might say he wanted the best offer, with everything else, by noon the following day.
The agent and author considered the advance, royalties, and marketing. Marketing meant how the book was going to be published eg. on the commercial or literary list.
Then the author and agent decided where the book would be published.
Mr David’s favorite books included One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; the Russian novelists, like Dostoyevsky; The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger; the works of Charles Dickens; and Dutch poets like Bloum.