The Korea Herald


Universality and marketability matter for Korean books to work in foreign market: agent

By KH디지털2

Published : March 18, 2016 - 16:14

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Good quality translation on top of universal appeal are the requisite elements needed for a Korean book to succeed overseas, said a Korean book agent on Thursday.

"Quantity doesn't really matter. The bottom line is it should be in good quality to help a foreign reader's understanding of Korean literature," said Im Young-hee at French publishing company Philippe Picquer, in an interview with Yonhap News Agency on the sideline of the Paris Book Fair. South Korea is the guest of honor to mark the 130th anniversary of diplomatic ties with France. The fair is taking place for four days from March 17-20.

Emphasizing the importance of translation that can deliver a writer's individual style as well, she asked, "What if a reader reads a Korean book for the first time and gets disappointed? Would the person choose a Korean book to read again?"

Philippe Picquer is a 30-year-old French publishing company that introduces mostly Asian books. Over the three decades, the company has published some 80 Koreans books -- the biggest number by any French publisher -- including Korean bestselling novels Hwang Sok-yong's "Princess Bari" and Gong Ji-young's "Our Happy Time."

In 2004, she translated Kim Jin-kyung's "Cat School," a popular children's book, for the company. Two years later, it received the Le Prix des Incorruptibles, a literary award for children and juvenile literature chosen by readers in France. Im said the event created a watershed-like moment where more French readers became interested in Korean books.

After the book became commercially successful, she was assigned to play a bigger role in introducing more Korean books to the company. Since 2007, she has been working as a contract agent and added some 70 more Korean books to the company's portfolio.

Previously, there were only 10 books.

"We publish around five Korean books a year... We are very picky when it comes to which book to introduce, because if we fail, say, two times in a row, it will have a lasting impact (on the business)," she said.

Closely following the Korean book market, she said universality was what mattered the most.

"A bestseller in Korea doesn't mean it would work overseas. The book should have a universal appeal," she added.

For Korean books to be widely read outside the country, the role of an agent like herself was also crucial, she said, adding that a small talent pool of book agents was partly to be blamed for the lack of interest by foreign publishers in Korean books.

A children's book writer and translator herself, Im said serving as a "bridge" between a Korean writer and a French book company was very fulfilling.

"I feel rewarded when I think that I am helping promote Korean literature in France. I hope to introduce more Korean books that have literary value as well as popular appeal," she said. (Yonhap)