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(a literary imprint of Gimm-Young Publishers)
Quiet People in the Last Line: Today of Korean Publishing in Literature
Once I have been to a distribution warehouse, located in the northernmost part of Korea. I was there for work, but it still remains in my mind. It was in a remote area where North Korea could be seen at a dim distance and it was full of plastic-wrapped books published from all over the country. I couldn’t help tapping on a calculator in a such place. It was because keeping books must cost even in a such place. It was because we should build a warehouse where land was cheap, to make a bit more of a profit. In order to make one book, how many hands it has to be gone through? It has to be planned, written, designed, produced, delivered, stored, and managed. It goes without saying that it needs to be marketed and promoted. Being displayed at bookstores doesn’t mean that it sells. I do not know much about the situation in other countries, but I know that it needs some amount of money to buy promotional tables at bookstores in Korea. So when entering the bookstore, book covers are emitting light like neon signs on the streets in Korea, as if they are begging for picking them up.
We, Viche, are specialized in literature though, the question of the range of literature is always following us. Today, the keywords of literature publishing are ultimately convergent with this question. Is writing fiction literature? Then, isn’t nonfiction literature? A book with illustrations, for instance, comics, is it literature? Thinking about it over and over, then, it comes to the conclusion that literature is defined with the consent of readers of the time. We are carrying on our business with a motto: we cover all “from Korean literature to world literature, from traditional literature to genre literature, visual books for the image generation.” We are publishing genre fiction by young writers as well as prose by established poets. We are also planning new writers’ literary fiction that cannot be classified as a genre. We keep presenting works of world-class authors including Matsuie Masashi, Minato Kanae, Wu Ming-yi, and Annie Ernaux. Once we have published so-called ‘Instatoons’ being uploaded on Instagram into paper books. And we are carrying forward a plan of making web novels into books as well.
We are not the only publisher who does various attempts. Some publishers plan books following the trend, and some build marketing strategies for not-trendy books to show them as trendy. The drama script book’s case falls under the former. Scripts from OTT platform dramas such as <Our beloved summer> and <Extraordinary attorney Woo> and movies like <Decision to leave> are receiving a lot of love not only on screens but also in bookstores. Beyond the simple script itself, they make the script books that fans of the dramas or the movies want to keep, by adding behind stories of characters and detailed settings. There is also a case that a book published years ago, shows itself again in the spotlight by being adapted for the screen. In the case of the novel <Good-bye, Yonder>, as it was adapted into drama by director LEE Jun-Ik, the book was released again in the market with a new cover.
On the other hand, there are more cases to market traditional literature to fit into the current market situation. The case of Octavia Butler’s novels can be one of the good examples. <Kindred> and <Bloodchild> were originally published as a part of our classic series, but with a rising issue of feminism, we thought we should not keep them staying only on the shelves of classics. Therefore, we presented the limited edition of them with new covers which the young generation might like, and we got good responses in the market. And, Wisdom House made a brilliant case in the market by designing its classic literature covers, including <Demian> by Herman Hesse, with illustrations by famous webtoon artists. For great works of literature of all time, we should make them come out of the boring old frame.
All the above is one side of Korean publishing in literature. I feel like I am the slowest person in the world when I work on books. I feel like I am following slowly from the back seat while the world is changing so fast. When I feel like that, I recall the sight of the warehouse. The sight of books, longing for the moment to meet with readers, which were piled up so high that you had to be lifted by a crane like Aladdin’s magic carpet to see. Seeing today of the publishing market, there are some new nice tries, there are which aren’t. That makes me feel like supporting them, but at the same time, that makes me feel a little bitter. But I do believe that we all are sharing the desire to make good content, even slowly. I dare imagine that you who are reading this, might feel the same. We, Korean publishers, will make books slowly and slowly even today, thinking that we are connected to publishers from the whole Asia and from the whole world.
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