This post is about the partnership launch held on 15 March at the London Book Fair and also sets out my observations about developments in the realm of Chinese publishing, along with advice for Western publishing professionals who’d like to be China-ready.
We were announcing the launch of one of the largest global initiatives to be undertaken by a Chinese publisher. It was no surprise that Richard Charkin, executive director of Bloomsbury Publishing and immediate past president of the International Publishers Association, already knew Zhu Weifeng, director of the planning and development department of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of China and Jiang Jun, vice president of the China Publishing Group, which ECPH is part of. Richard gave a strong pitch for continued cooperation and mentioned our long-standing friendship, which goes back to days before I began focusing on China, when he was CEO of Macmillan.
Professor Kerry Brown delivered a stunning display of linguistic yoga by delivering his speech in English and Chinese, talking equally fast in both languages. Kerry and I met when he was at Chatham House in London. During the intervening years he went to Australia to start the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. He has now returned to London as a professor of Chinese Studies and director of the Lau China Institute. We’ve been working on Chinese biography together and he is the new editor in chief of a second edition of the Berkshire Encyclopedia of China.
I then said a few words that echoed the piece I’d written for the Chinese publishers’ book fair newspaper (“Completing the circle begun under DENG Xiaoping in 1980”). Our Chinese colleagues Zhu Weifeng and Jiang Jun talked about the significance of our shared enterprises, and the value of the friendships we have developed over the years. (Here we are, on Chinese TV.) This led into closing remarks by Carole Stone CBE, director of YouGov and London’s “queen of networking.” Carole knows more than anyone about the importance of reaching out and building relationships, and I’m hoping to write a book on networking with her with a special emphasis on global understanding.
The photo at the top, of Zhu Weifeng, Jiang Jun, Jiang Lijun, and me as we toasted the establishment of the International Editorial Center, became Publishers Weekly’s “Picture of the Day.” Jiang Lijun, assistant president at ECPH, is someone we know best as Lydia. She and I first met in late 2007, and you can see us here, along with Gong Li, the retired president of ECPH, whom I’ve met many times, and Ma Lina, the editor with whom we have been working for several years.
And what are we actually going to do? The Encyclopedia of China Publishing House (ECPH) and Berkshire Publishing will produce an English edition of the shorter version of ECPH’s famous Encyclopedia of China, completing a circle that was begun by the Chinese president Deng Xiaoping in 1980, when he encouraged ECPH to create a Chinese edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (Washington Post article here).
With China Encyclopedia USA, we will be offering international readers, for the first time, a famous work familiar to millions of Chinese students and educators. Equally important is the fact that China Encyclopedia USA is being developed in parallel with the second edition of Berkshire’s own Encyclopedia of China. The two works will be available separately or as a package, with articles on the same topics mapped from one work to the other.
Plans for the Beijing- and New York-based International Editorial Center are evolving. We aim to facilitate dialogue about issues facing publishers, research best practices, develop practical internships and training, and begin cooperative editorial development.
This cooperation epitomizes the state of US-China relations in 2017. While there are political tensions, the reality on the ground is that we want to work together and learn about one another. Back in 2007, I showed extraordinary hubris in deciding that I would teach the world about China. One of my colleagues passed on the remark of a Chinese scholar who said that he hadn’t thought such a project was possible, “But somebody has the nerve to try. Best wishes to them.” Ten years later, I am honored by the confidence my Chinese colleagues have in me and my company, and have a new commitment to sharing what I have learned.
Here are several things that were evident at the London Book Fair:
- Chinese presses are looking for new approaches to global publishing. While voting China into membership of the International Publishers Association in 2015 was controversial (because of concerns about copyright enforcement and freedom of the press), it’s created a more receptive and open environment, and laid the foundation for new relationships.
- Western presses are not much closer to understanding the opportunities in China than they were ten years ago. If you think that selling translation rights into China is the only thing, you’re missing out. Because we’ve developed some expertise and many relationships, we are looking to work with other Western presses.
- Publishing in general has a sloppy approach to accounting, rights management, and auditing, and hasn’t developed editorial and translation standards to meet the demands of twenty-first-century global business. This is why we are partnering with ECPH on an International Editorial Center, and starting a foreign rights division.
Here’s what Western editors and publishers can do to become China-ready:
- Learn some Chinese history and familiarize yourself with key concepts. To help, we’ve just made the ebook of our acclaimed primer, This Is China: The First 5,000 Years, available free through Flexpub. The book’s final chapter provides a summary of the most important Chinese concepts, including guanxi 关系 (networking) and mianzi 面子 (face).
- Read Chinese book catalogs in English. The English will probably not be great, but you can still learn a lot about what’s being published, and especially about what Chinese presses think will interest global readers.
- Talk to anyone you can who comes from China and credit them for their command of English. That’s one of the imbalances that makes partnerships so difficult. Chinese presses have international departments, yet the key staff are very much over-stretched at conferences. Often the people on the stands speak little or no English (or don’t have the confidence to try). This is frustrating when you want to get acquainted, but by politely exchanging name cards, you can start a relationship by email.
- Realize that China is very different from anything you’ve seen in the West. Chinese food is the best evidence of this: what we get here, even in New York, is just a tantalizing glimpse of what’s available in China.
- Go to China, and get off the beaten path. You won’t have minders (that’s ancient history now, from the 1970s and 1980s) but you’re likely to be coddled. Don’t let that happen.
- Work with Berkshire: we are now representing some nonfiction titles for other presses and individual authors and will be expanding this as we set up systems not only for making rights sales but for managing long-term relationships and royalty accounting and auditing.
Berkshire Publishing is an entrepreneurial academic press based in western Massachusetts and New York City. It is known for its China expertise and for works such as the Dictionary of Chinese Biography and the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Chinese Cuisines. Berkshire’s China titles are published online by Oxford University Press.
The Encyclopedia of China Publishing House (ECPH), founded in 1978, is one of the largest publishing enterprises in China and a member of the China Publishing Group. It is known for the Encyclopedia of China (seventy-four volumes) and Encyclopaedia Britannica, International Chinese Edition (twenty volumes) and also produces academic and reference books, children’s books, and books on popular science. ECPH is working on the third edition of the Encyclopedia of China, a national online project.
This is, of course, only the beginning. Questions? Please leave a comment, or email me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.