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Successful Import Case of Korean Literature in the U.K.

Publishing the best literature from East Asia, be it classic or contemporary




When we started Honford Star, our original plan was to publish the short stories of Yi Sang, the tragic poet of early modern Korean literature. His bizarre imagery and youthful exuberance attracted us, even though the difference in language and decades between him and us. Unfortunately, we were never able to publish Yi, but our love of offbeat Korean literature continued.
At Honford Star, we aim to translate books right at the edge between genre fiction and literary fiction. So when Anton Hur sent us the first two stories in the Cursed Bunny (Arzak) short story collection, we bought the rights as fast as we could. The stories were absurdist masterpieces that showcased author Bora Chung’s ability to mix the fantastical with social critique. Her stories fit in perfectly with our other Korean books that straddled that line; Books like Bae Myung-hoon’s Tower (Moonji publishing) and Choi Jin-Young’s To the Warm Horizon (Minumsa Publishing).


* K-Book Trends Vol. 47 Go to the interview with Bora Chung



Bora Chung’s Cursed Bunny



After we buy a book, the first important sales choice we have to make is the cover art. A good cover makes booksellers more likely to buy the book and give it a good placement in their store. Striking covers also help attract social media attention. At Honford Star, we only use East Asian cover designers for our books, which makes us unique among publishers in the UK and the US. The main upside of this policy is that since East Asian designers are working with different trends than local UK book designers, they give us covers that appear unique and new to the average Western book buyer. The bright purple cover of Cursed Bunny by Choi Jaehoon is a perfect example of this.
Similarly, the covers of Bae Myung-hoon’s Tower and Launch Something! (Giantbooks) by Choi Jisu are similarly striking. Being Korean, she was able to read the original text to draw out interesting ideas for the cover. We love when a cover can perfectly capture a book’s spirit in a striking image. The covers of our books don’t look like anything else on the shelves right now. Most other books are designed by large corporations to look good in an Amazon thumbnail, whereas our titles look good when you see them in person. Furthermore, our method gives each author’s book a distinctive, personalized look and feel instead of a cover that feels mostly interchangeable. This strategy has worked well for us, and we’ve received feedback from our sales team that bookstores love the covers from our artists. When a title has a cover that booksellers love to look at and want to display prominently, it can provide a nice sales boost.




Bae Myung-hoon’s Tower and Launch Something!



The second step in promoting our books is doing events with cultural organizations. Before corona hit, we had planned to do live events, but we were forced to switch to online with social distancing. For various books, we’ve done successful events with the Korean Cultural Center UK, the Japan Foundation, and the Literature Translation Institute of Korea. For our books this fall, we are planning events with North American universities as well as things in Korea. For Cursed Bunny, we recorded videos with the author and translator for use online. Gathering media clips to distribute and share on request is a strategy that pays off slowly, but we’ve found that having a few clips of the author and translator talk to share with media outlets and cultural organizations can provide long-term unexpected benefits. You never know when a large outlet is going to want a clip of an author talking.
This brings us to our next point, having a charismatic author and translator is a real bonus. For Cursed Bunny, Bora Chung and translator Anton Hur are very funny, interesting people in both English and Korean. Bora has an air of “smartest person you’ve ever met” to her (even though she tries to hide it). She gave interviews to Korean and English language media. Then there’s Anton. If Bora’s the smartest person you know, Anton’s the most charismatic. He seems to be everyone’s friend and is always ready for an interview. They were a marketing powerhouse.


* K-Book Trends Vol. 37 – Go to the introduction of translator Anton Hur


* K-Book Trends Vol. 47 – Go to the article about Korean books recommended by translator Anton Hur


These steps alone were enough to make Cursed Bunny a steady seller. Word of mouth is an underutilized aspect of the book industry, where most publishers want to make a huge splash, sell a bunch of books in the first week, and then move on to the next thing. We’ve taken a slower approach to moving our books. This is partly (some would argue mostly) from necessity as we are a small publisher and can’t pump a huge amount of resources into an ad campaign or trying to get interest from influencers. What we can do is support the authors and books for a longer period of time. For example, we will participate in promotional events for books long after they come out and have regular sales on our backlist. Thanks to a slow but steady approach, Cursed Bunny and our other Korean titles continue to do well over time.
Of course, then came the nomination for the International Booker Prize. The yearly prize starts with a long list of ten books, before winnowing the books to five for a shortlist and then one winner. Just getting on the shortlist wiped out our stocks and forced us to scrabble for a reprint. In retrospect, we should have gone to reprint as soon as we got the news, instead of seeing what happened with our sales numbers. However, since this was our first time making the longlist of the Booker, we had no clue what was going to happen. So when Cursed Bunny made the shortlist, we were much quicker to pull the trigger on another, larger reprint. In the end, even though we didn’t end up winning, the steady bump in sales has remained. All in all, nominations for major awards are highly recommended whenever possible.








At the 2022 International Booker Awards


We believe that the popularity of Korean books is on the rise, even though most publishers are still slow to realize this. In all other areas of media – music, tv, film – Hallyu has had great success, to the point that no one questions when “Squid Games” or “Parasite” become huge crossover hits. It doesn’t seem quite the same in the book world, where publishers are not as quick to look for fun, weird thrillers that could become huge hits. We think that is slowly changing and are hopeful that a global hit on the scale of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or the works of Haruki Murakami is going to happen soon in Korean translated literature. And while Cursed Bunny wasn’t quite as massive as these books, we are proud of its contribution to making people interested in Korean literature.



Written by Taylor Bradley (Co-founder of Honford Star)



Taylor Bradley (Co-founder of Honford Star)

#Cursed Bunny#Bora Chung#U.K.#Honford Star#International Booker Awards
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