Publisher Sakyejul, frequently introduced at overseas book fairs, is a publishing company that has published the first teenage book in Korea with the motto “pursuing the meaning of growth.” The company has been working on books in areas ranging from children and teenagers to social science, liberal arts, and history, where readers can look back on their lives with a message embedded. They have built up a reputation as a general publisher by expanding their publication fields to novels, comics, and essays. Distinctly charming in four seasons – blooming spring, passionate summer, maple autumn, and snowy winter – as its name suggests, let’s meet Sakyejul and see what it has to say.
Please introduce Sakyejul to our overseas publishers.
Good to see you. Sakyejul has been growing along with the environmental changes in politics and society in Korea. Established in 1982, we had been mainly publishing books in the field of society and science under the flag of progressive social ideology until in the 1990s when we chose “pursuing the meaning of growth” as our motto and expanded our field to children and teenagers, publishing million-selling titles in each field and becoming a reputable general publisher. We have led the publication of teenage books by producing teenage literature and liberal arts series for teenagers for the first time in Korea. In the genre of picture books and children’s books, we are continuously publishing books that are greatly trusted by our readers. Still, we have not forgotten our founding spirit as a social science publisher with a philosophical value of “reflecting the spirit of the times in books,” producing books of liberal arts and history where we can look back on our lives with the readers of those times. Recently, we are also seeking to meet readers in various fields, such as novels, comics, and essays.
What is the standard and value that you have in mind when choosing writers or titles?
We like books that encompass the meaning of growth and the spirit of the times but are not heavy or greatly profound. They should be able to deliver the sincere message of the writer to readers naturally. These titles may not be fully in line with the trend, but provide everlasting joy and create an impression over time. So many of our books are not those that pop up and fade away in a short time, but are steady-sellers sought by word of mouth.
The philosophical value of Sakyejul is “to reflect the spirit of the times in books.”
Sakyejul provides various platforms where writers and readers can “interact,” such as Meet & Talk with the Author, and Sakyejul Book Club. Why do you think the interaction with readers is important?
We believe that books themselves exist to interact with readers. We interact with ourselves, others, and the world through books. But as we live in the hyper-connected era, we are exposed to too many contents that we have become desperate to have a warm and friendly communication where my opinion is well heard and respected. From the standpoint of a publisher and writer, such interaction with readers is earnestly needed as well. So we cherish those meetings with our readers who read and love our books and are willing to offer their precious opinion. As the coronavirus pandemic has significantly changed our daily lives, our communications with readers have turned contactless, with a majority of them being carried out online. We think that online meetings are also good in their own way. You can conveniently watch lectures of writers in your place, and type in and share your opinions through comments at any time. Also, we have had a time where a total of 16 children from an elementary school and branch school from far Ulleungdo Island and the writer met and had talks online looking at each others’ faces, which would have indeed been difficult to conduct in pre-pandemic times. Our writers get motivation and energy through such connection and interaction with readers, and we, too, get to put more effort into making better books and communicate with more readers.
What is Sakyejul doing, in particular, to communicate with overseas readers?
Well, we have been actively participating in several overseas book fairs such as the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and those hosted by governments. We are publishing English catalogs of our titles every year, and are introducing our books to overseas readers through the KBBY as well. The Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea (KPIPA) and the Literature Translation Institute of Korea are great supporters. Even though we may lack capital and human resources to do things ourselves, we will never give up working to interact with overseas readers.
If you could recommend three books to our readers, what would they be and why?
It even sounds cruel to pick only three among all the amazing books but to pick some, we would like to first introduce
The second book we would like to recommend is the <Hunter Girl> series by Kim Hye-Jung. Fans of children’s and teenage books have always been thirsting for series titles after the end of Harry Potter. This series is about an ordinary girl Gang-Ji, who realized that she is the “hunter girl” who is destined to protect kids from bad adults, and punishes them with other “hunter boys” through adventures. As our young readers recommend the book to their friends after reading, the series is gaining greater fans volume after volume. The series is expected to end with the fifth volume.
The last book we would like to recommend is <A Defense for the Disqualified> by lawyer Kim Won-Young. Written by a lawyer with a grade 1 physical disability, the book is about those that have been excluded from society,or disqualified from life for having a disability, disease, poor looks, lack of talent, different pursuit of sexual orientation, or being financially poor, and defends their dignity and the pearls hidden inside them. As the writer lays out the story of people suffering from being a minority in different parts of our society as a physically disabled person himself, the message is vividly and nakedly delivered to readers.
<The Origin of Evil by Darwin Young>, Volume 1 & 2 of the <Hunter Girl> series, <A Defense for the Disqualified>
Please introduce us to three books popular among overseas readers.
Amongst all, <The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly> by Hwang Sun-Mi would be the most popular book, which has been translated and exported to 29 countries across the world. And in countries like the US, <New Clothes for New Year’s Day> with the strongest Korean scent written by picture book writer Bae Hyun-Joo is currently a steady-seller. Meanwhile, Japanese readers are enjoying the <Atlas History> series, which we believe is because the series vividly and lively describes historic affairs putting time and space on an equal footing. The best team of writers have been sweating and endeavoring to publish the Atlas series about Korea, China, and Central Eurasia. We believe that readers across national boundaries have keen eyes and recognized the quality of the books and efforts the team has put in.
<The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly>, <New Clothes for New Year’s Day>, <Atlas History>
The president of Sakyejul said in an article that “the duty of publishers is to make books the generation wants and needs. The generation today is in need of a cure and healing.” Could you please introduce us to some of the “healing” books of Sakyejul?
Books good for healing yourself are first, picture books. A fun picture book <Iparapa Nyamu Nyamu> by Yi Gee-Eun was published recently, where a white marshmallow and dark fluffy character humorously walk through incidents surrounding a stranger. You will find yourself healed and energized as you draw the lovely characters and make a fluffy doll.
The next books are <It’s Hard to Believe, Elvis Boutique> and <Mysterious Guests of Elvis Boutique> by Choi Hyang-Rang. It is about an artist who began to live in a frog’s house, gets to own the house later on, and opens a boutique. It shows a combination of the odd imagination of Choi Hyang-Rang and natural elements, and recycles that which we can easily see around us. It may be difficult to believe, but readers with “bad” hands will be able to be possessed (even for a second) by the soul of an artist that encourages them to make something with their hands. The book offers a somewhat peaceful and warm happiness while helping the readers resolve to make something small and trivial with their own hands.
<Iparapa Nyamu Nyamu>, <It’s Hard to Believe, Elvis Boutique>, <Mysterious Guests of Elvis Boutique>
We would like to remain a publisher that is always trusted by readers
with our inner-pillar standing firm at the center just as the circulation of seasons.
Please tell us about the Sakyejul Literature Award and share with us the background and intention behind the new establishment of the Park Ji Ri Award and the Sakyejul Children’s Literature Award.
For the first time in Korea, we began publishing the <1318 Mungo>, a literature series for teenagers that provides joy and touching impressions to readers of the times in 1997. But regardless of the long history, there was no writer of teen novels that comes to mind other than Park Sang Ryool. Authors, in fact, do not know well about teen literature. So we established the Sakyejul Literature Award in 2002 to discover talented teen-literature writers and promote teen literature. It was the first award for teen literature in Korea, and new teen-literature writers such as Lee Ok-Su, Shin Yeo-Lang, Kim Hae-Won, Park Ji-Ri, and Tak Kyung-Eun made their debut through this award.
Establishing the Park Ji Ri Award has always been one of our plans since the year the writer passed away, and it has come to life after three years. The Award was set up to work as an experimental gateway for new novelists, and to honor the name and works of writer Park Ji-Ri who has left a significant impression on Korea’s literary community with her deep and keen examination into human nature and our society. The first award was given this year, and many people showed their great interest in it.
The Sakyejul Children’s Literature Award is an award for new children’s book writers, which we’ve been mulling over and over whether to host it or not. It was because there are many publishers that hold similar awards. We have been publishing fine children’s books for a long time, but it was upsetting to see promotions and sales mainly pursued centering around the awarded titles. But as we thought that we need to be different from others, we set a limitation in qualification to below 5 years of career. In short, the Park Ji Ri Award and the Children’s Literature Award are intended to serve as a tailwind for new writers that will lead Korea’s literature in the future.
What publisher does Sakyejul pursue to be, and what are your further plans?
We celebrate our 40th anniversary in 2022. Even though the weather is capricious day by day, seasons circulate in the expected order, from spring to summer, autumn, and winter. And just like the seasons, we want to be remembered as a publisher who keeps and takes the trust from readers further with our values standing strong at the center. Pursuing the meaning of growth and the spirit of the times will be our philosophy for publications. Of course, the trust from readers will be for steadily publishing fine books.
Organized by Lee Ji-Hyeon