A publisher that contributes to cats' happiness
A publisher that likes books and loves cats: Yaong Seoga. The following interview introduces the uniqueness Yaong Seoga carries by lovingly creating books with the keywords 'healing' and 'growth' to address the relationship between humans and cats.
Could you introduce Yaong Seoga for us.
△ Logo of Yaong Seoga, portraying a combination of a book and a cat's face
Ko Kyoung-won (Ko below)
Yaong Seoga was created in July 2017 as a one-person publisher specializing in cat books by myself after having written books on cats for 15 years. Our company's name starts with 'ya-ong' which is the Korean onomatopoeia for the sound cats make and we have combined it with the word 'books'.
Our logo is the work of Lee Jae-min, a graphic designer at Studio Fnt. The book in the logo resembles a cat's face and it carries the meaning that books are the window to the heart. The dots on the book look like whiskers on a cat's face and represent stars in the sky. Lee told me he put the dots there thinking of all the cats who have died and become stars in the sky. The cat's mouth in the middle is also the Korean character 'ㅅ' and the Chinese character for 'person'. The logo may simply look like a cat's face at first glance but after hearing this explanation one may think it looks like a person from behind as they long after a cat that has left them. We also created the logo in Korean typography thinking of a cat's footprints in the snow.
△ Books written by Ko as a cat author before the publishing company was created.
They include essays on street cats, travel logs and interviews.
What compelled you to found a cat publishing company?
I started taking photographs of street cats in 2002 and since then I've seen how desperate their lives are and also have been awe of them of how they live their lives so proudly despite their circumstances. As I started writing about their happiness, their sadness, I wanted to show people that cats are valuable and beautiful life forms. In the early 2000s Korean books on cats were guides to raising them or books on their anatomy. I also wanted to write books I wanted to read on cats.
My first book I Indulge in Street Cats (2007) created a bit of a fuss as there had been no photo essays on street cats. I'm Going to Meet Cats (2009) was a travel essay on locations in Japan where you can meet cats, while The Workroom's Cat (2010) was a collection of interviews of 15 cat artists. I felt pride in forging a new genre. I introduced the story of street cats I'd accumulated over 10 years in Ko Kyoung-won's Story of Street Cats (2013) and the tale of 100 pairs of cats in seven countries in Two but One (2017) which was a photo essay.
I had much experience as a cat author, but it was a completely different story to create and distribute books. As I prepared to launch the publishing company for five years I wondered whether I could pull this off alone. From 2013 I published three cat books and in 2016, I published Indifferent but Friendly, an essay on adopting adult cats, as a book planner. It was my first attempt at publishing a cat book where I was the planner and not the writer. It contained the story of a street cat called Sundol and an old woman from the viewpoint from the woman's daughter over the course of three years. This book went to publish three versions and had good reviews. With this, I was determined to have my own business and registered the publisher in April 2017 and completed the process in July that year.
Another reason I created my own publishing company was that there were limits to books I could write with just my experiences. For example, I can't write books on raising cats and children because I am still single but they can be written by people who have both. Also, people living in different countries with cats could be in a better position to write about cats there than I. Even today, I take photographs of street cats and learn about cat cultures in different countries, but I plan to take a hiatus as a writer and focus on my new role as a planner and producer.
What was the key to the success in your first book under the publishing company's name?
△ Heek's House, the story of an abandoned cat living on Jeju Island
Heek's cuteness certainly helped, but I think the warm message that cats and people can save each other was what moved readers. In October 2017 when this book was released, Heek(@sina_heek) had 100,000 followers on his social media account and those fans ended up buying the book, leading the book to become the bestseller at Kyobo Book Centre in a week. The 3,000 copies of the first print were sold out in four days while the second print, 3,000 copies, was sold out in just two. We've gone to the fifth print and the book is now a steady seller.
We had publishing events at bookstores nationwide and this also helped. In addition to Heek's pictures, we had a cutout of Heek as well as treat bowls and a stamp resembling his paw at these events and visitors would take photos and upload them to their social media accounts. Beginning at Schrodinger, the bookstore, we visited the Kyobo Book Centre in Hapjeong, Shopmakers in Busan and a YES24 in Hongdae and Busan.We plan on holding a relay exhibition as well. We've also held a book report party on Heek's book on the internet and a photo contest on Instagram for those who bought copies of the first edition. We've really tried to communicate with readers as it's difficult to spend too much money on marketing with limited resources as a one-person publishing company. I think our attempts at spreading the word on Heek's House where cat people could happily join in contributed to the book's fame.
This wasn't a Yaong Seoga publication, but the Big Issue where Heek was on the cover sold out nationwide. I think this easily shows how much Heek is loved everywhere.
△ The cover of Big Issue Korea No. 171 with Heek on the cover
How do you find new subjects for new books?
Before I was a publisher I was a cat person and still am. I follow many cats on social media and have fun reading about them. If I see a cat that I like, I'll observe their story and see what values their owner sticks to. I don't reach out to people and accounts because they have many followers or just because their cat is cute. I look for whether the owner and cat go well with the words 'healing' and 'growth' and how responsible that person is in raising that cat.
△ Yaong Seoga's second book, Hongzo Diary
I also go to independent bookstores that actively deal with cat content and tend to look out for potential authors at independent publishing festivals. Our second book that was published in December 2017, Hongzo Diary was written by Min Jeong-won. I ran into Min at the country's biggest independent publishing festival called 'Unlimited Edition'. The author had adopted a five-year-old cat, named it 'Hongzo' and was narrating the cat's life in its elderly years through comics. In the book, we combined the year and three months’ worth of comics displayed on the author's Instagram account (@cathongzo) as well as new comics, some essays and an interview by the author.
What are some pros and cons of being a cats-only publisher?
When you select something as your job, you need to think about whether you can do that job for a long time happily. I started this company because I like books and love cats and this way I can do both together. I feel I am being healed whenever I see street cats go to a new family and transform into loved beings, or I edit a story on how a cat comforted someone.
There are people who worry about whether we are sustainable as a cats-only publisher, or whether we'll run out of elements to write books on, but before I founded this business, when I was working as a cat author, there were so many things I was unable to write about because I didn't have the time to do so. I don't worry about running out of things for books. One thing that I do feel is unfortunate is that the speed of publication can't keep up with our planning process because I have to do everything by myself.
Also, there are some in the publishing industry who write off our cat books as being 'too light' and others who see cat photo essays as easy ways to fill a book with content. When looking at some of the online comments for Heek's House there are people who say they were touched personally by reading the book after initially thinking it was a regular photo collection of a social media star cat. I think we can overcome some of these issues if we keep convincing our readers that books from Yaong Seoga are meaningful.
△ One publication event for Heek's House at a Kyobo Book Centre branch in December, 2017
What is the most important thing for you when you make books?
Yaong Seoga's mission is to make books that contribute to the happiness of cats. We truly wish for Yaong Seoga to influence society so that there are fewer abused street cats and abandoned cats and more people start thinking of cast as part of their family. This is why when I try to bring in a new author, I don't look at how great their writing is, but rather what they think of cats and how fresh their material is. I feel I have more in common with someone who wasn't an animal rights activist or pet owner whose life was turned around and changed after they let a cat into their lives. I want to continue turning the stories of those who adopted abandoned cats or street cats into books even if they are not famous authors. This is why I'm continuously on the lookout for writers who can address raising cats with children or adopting adult cats.
The strength of photographs cannot be ignored, so I ask these potential writers whether they can take photos as well. Writing has strength, but if the authors cannot provide us with photographs or vice versa, we will try to bring in someone who can fill that blank space. Books can change drastically on the ability of the person planning it, so if there is anything lacking in a book, I will try to boost the book's finished quality with the strength of planning.
What are your plans for the future?
From July this year to year end, I plan on publishing three photo essays. One is the latest publication from author Jeong Suh-yoon of Indifferent but Friendly while another is by a veterinarian who is raising a daughter and cat - both for the first time. The third is the story of a person who brought their first cat from a pet shop but later realized the brutality of pet shops and ended up adopting their second and third cats from the street. The three books are all different, but they all have in common that they are about adults becoming better people through cats. In 2019, we plan on releasing a cat-themed travel guidebook, a cat craft book and a cat-friendly interior design book.
It hasn't even been a year since we were founded, but there are authors who have happily signed on with us by trusting the 15 years of experience I had as a cat author. I am further strengthened by readers who tell us of their trust in our books. I want to keep making books that reduce misunderstandings about cats and help us continue receiving that trust.
Yaong Seoga Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/catstory_kr
Heek's House Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sina_heek
Another publisher for cat lovers
Organized by Kim So-hee (Petian Books)
Photographs provided by Petian Books
Q. What compelled you to create a publishing company on pet books?
A. As I was working as an animal columnist for a long time, I saw so many people and animals suffer from misinformation. The correct information, sometimes, is directly linked to an animal's life because it can easily lead to abuse or abandonment. I felt there was a need for books that would help people understand their pets from a scientific point of view rather than simple how-to books. This is why I create books focused on behavioristics because I feel animal behavioristics have a big effect on improving the quality of life for both pets and their owners. I have a master's degree in animal behavioristics from Seoul National University and I also wanted to put my 20 years' worth of experience to use.
Q. What is most important for you when creating a book?
A. Two things: "combining scientific facts" and "making it easy to read". I prefer books that have scientific facts that have been acknowledged by academics rather than books that offer information based on someone's personal life. Whenever someone tells me they learned so much from reading our books, that they understand their dogs or cats better, I feel a great sense of pride. All animals have feelings and thoughts, just like people. I will continue to make better books for those who want to study for the betterment of their pets.
Q. What new books are you preparing? What are your plans going forward?
A. There is a widespread belief that cats cannot be trained, leading to many owners and their cats suffering. However, many animals, cats included can be trained. If you learn properly about cats you can enjoy a happy life with a special bond with them. The book I'm preparing now aims to address prejudices about cats and help people understand cat behavior. I plan to continue publishing scientific books to help people properly understand their pets. If we learn how to understand and communicate with pets, I am certain we will have fewer abandoned or abused pets.
Petian FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/PetianBooks
Organized by Gwon Ji-hye