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Fandom and Publishing

Trend in the Korean publishing market in 2022




I have talked with a number of editors from publishing companies about “profitable books.” They all said, “The results are mostly determined by how influential the author is. How many readers it can attract is also one of the key points of signing a contract.”
While fewer people are reading books, more people hope to write books today. So, among the manuscripts flooding in, the writers who sign the contract at the end are those who are influential. The marketing capacity of the publisher is indeed important. But, in this market where capital decides the marketing power, it is more likely that you must bring in “people that don’t read” to make a book go best seller. Thus, it is clear that a publishing company prefers to publish books by those with a strong fandom, created before publication.





Officially making a debut was the most important thing in the past


How did things go in the past? Back then, when someone was called a “writer,” they were mostly those who officially made their debut. Unlike the Western culture, where it is natural for writers to submit manuscripts to publishing houses and publish books once chosen, there was this unique “debut” system in Korea and Japan. People say that it stemmed from the public examination system in the past, where only those that passed the exam could become public officials. So, people were recognized as “true writers” once they made their debut, after which they were tacitly given the qualification to publish books. Therefore, it was relatively hard for non-debuted writers to be recognized as writers, and even though they did publish a book somehow, they usually dreamed of making a debut later on.
However, it took a long time for newly-debuted writers to publish a book. It was because they had to write more stories, full-length stories, to comprise a book for publication. It wasn’t enough with the story they wrote to debut. Also, as publishing houses were the final decision-maker of whether they will be publishing the book or not, writers had double the pressure to wait for the publishers’ selection apart from the selection of the newspapers. In short, making a debut through the annual literary contest in spring was a chance for writers to receive recognition, while “heightening” the likelihood of publishing books further in the future.
This is why the contest system of each publishing house came under the spotlight. For example, Munhakdongne created the Munhakdongne Fiction Award in 1995. In 2010, it established the Munhakdongne Young Writer’s Award for short- and medium-length stories written by writers with less than 10 years of career. In 2017, the Munhakdongne Fiction Award, Munhakdongne Writers’ Award, and Munhakdongne College Fiction Award were all integrated into the “Munhakdongne Fiction Award.” (The length of the manuscript should be at least 500 pages based on a 200-character manuscript paper.) Apart from this, Munhakdongne has Munhakdongne Children’s Literature Award, Munhakdongne Children’s Poetry Award, and Munhakdongne Young Adults’ Literature Award. Another publishing company, Changbi, has been giving awards, too. For example, the Changbi Prize in Novel and the Changbi Prize for Young Adult Fiction have retained their reputation since 2007. Changbi also discovers new writers through the Changbi Prize for New Figures’ Literature (Poetry/Novel/Review). On top of the two publishing houses, Moonji Publishing has been giving the Award for New Figures in Literature and Society (poetry/novel) and the Mahaesong Literary Award, and Jaeum & Moeum Publishing has been presenting the New Writer Award and Young Adult Literature Award. The awards served as the cradle for publishers and writers to obtain manuscripts for publishing and debuting.



The 28th Munhakdongne Fiction Award



However, with the development of digital technologies, the number of people reading books began to fall each year as people spent more time on TV, OTT, and Social Media. As the so-called “worst depression since the founding of Korea” repeated every year in the publishing industry, “officially making a debut” lost its prestigious reputation. Opportunely, critical discussions about the debuting system began to surface around the same time. Criticisms targeting the power of the literary circle and the debuting system, which emerged since writer Shin Gyung-Sook’s plagiarism incident, were repeatedly aroused. In 2018, Chang Kang-Myeong looked at how literary awards became the “system of frustration” through his book Election and Hierarchy (Minumsa). Then, in 2020, two years later, the unfair contract issue surrounding the Yi Sang Literary Award was the case that burst out the ages-old social issue buried under the sand.


It is now an era where the author’s influential power matters


Years have passed, and now, it has become more important for the author to have a big enough fandom that can increase sales, rather than whether the author has officially made their debut or not. It is because, if a person is influential enough, literally anyone can write and publish books today. From this perspective, books recently published in the Korean publishing market can be divided into the following three significant parts.
First, there are books written by authors with a strong fanbase, as they have been continuously writing books for a long time. To take the best seller list as of August 12 as an example, there are Kim Hoon’s Harbin (Munhakdongne), Kim Young-Ha’s Farewell (Bokbok Seoga), and Lee Eo-Ryeong’s One Drop of Tear (Yolimwon).
Second, there are writers that enter the publishing market with existing fandoms. The so-called “influencers’” books are the case. These types of books have been there for a long time, of course. It’s just the writer’s job that’s changed. In the past, books written by celebrities were in this category. Then, with the new trend led by podcasts, books written by famous “podcasters” poured into the market for some time. In particular, for example, Broad and Shallow Knowledge for Intellectual Conversation (first edition published by Hanbit Biz, revised edition published by Whale Books) published in the winter of 2014, based on a podcast with the same title, became a million-seller. It was the beginning of influencers on Social Media such as Twitter and Instagram starting to publish books. YouTubers have started to write books, too, recently. For example, Counter Your Life (Woongjin Jisik House), written by Jachung, the owner of the Youtube channel “Life Hacker Jachung,” which is a 7-step life hack compilation for achieving complete freedom from money, time, and fate, Retire as a Rich Salary Man (RHK) written by Neonawe, the MC of “Rich Salary Man TV (월급쟁이부자들TV),” which offers tips to create a 10 billion won-worth financial system of your own, and How to Swim Every Day (Prunsoop), a picture essay written by YouTuber LeeYeon running the channel “LEEYEON” are such cases where influencers entered the publishing market with their strong subscriber base.





Counter Your Life, Retire as a Rich Salary Man, and How to Swim Every Day



Meanwhile, some books even became best sellers thanks to the power of their fandoms on the Internet. For example, Grey Man (KPM), The Weakest Monster in the World (KPM), and Kim Namwoo and 13 Days (KPM) by Kim Dong-Sik are compilations of 66 stories selected from among about 300 short-short stories he uploaded on TodayHumor’s horror category with the ID “Happy Days Go By.” He is said to have created a story in his head while sitting at a foundry in Seongsu-dong from 9am to 6:30pm, looking at the wall, and pouring zinc water into the casting mold. Beginning with the stories on the website, serialized since May 2016, he continuously wrote new stories, referred to comments, and edited, which eventually drew popularity as the series often became the “Best-of-Best” posts chosen by the website based on the number of views and likes. Then, when his first short-story collection was published in 2017, the users of TodayHumor ran a purchasing campaign in which they sent support to the writer by uploading “purchase receipts” one after another. The popularity continued, and in November 2021, Grey Man reached its 50th edition supported by this fandom.
Third, there are cases in which people “create new fans” and become writers. If one chooses to publish independently or through platforms such as Tumblbug, they can skip the intermediary process involving a publisher and do everything themselves, from writing manuscripts to designing, producing books, and distributing them. (Another option is self-publishing, where they pay the overall publishing cost to a publisher for it to make and publish their book. Sometimes they can get an ISBN, and sometimes not.) Some of these books have their commerciality recognized, entering the existing publishing market, and being republished as commercial publications. Books such as Dallergut Dream Department Store (2 volumes, Sam & Parkers) by Lee Miye and I Want to Die But I Want to Eat Tteokppokki (HEUN) by Baek Se-Hee are examples. Before the book Dallergut Dream Department Store, there was The Dream You Ordered is Sold Out. This book recorded 1,812% of the funding target on Tumblbug (987 sponsors), later published commercially, changing the title to what it is today as it went viral. Also, the start of I Want to Die But I Want to Eat Tteokbokki was an independent publication produced with 20 million won (1,292 sponsors) raised through crowdfunding. In particular, with the independent publication boom and the increase in the number of independent bookstores, private classes teaching how to publish independently have also ignited people’s desire to write and publish books. Independent publication is widely loved by readers as it allows writers to publish books with their distinct characteristics more clearly reflected than in commercial publications.


* K-Book Trends Vol. 25 – Go to the interview with writer Baek Se-Hee


The era of new connections will come in the future


Another notable trend in the Korean publishing market is the Brunch Book Project, launched in 2015. Brunch is a content-publishing platform owned by Kakao, and it has released a total of 131 books over 8 projects carried out from 2015 to 2021. It announced the winners of the 9th Brunch Book Project on July 18. There have been 276 winners and 289 winning works. According to Brunch, about 6,000 Brunch books applied for the 9th Brunch Book Publishing Project, which was a 58% increase from the previous year. Among the applicants, 10 partner publishers, including Munhakdongne, Wisdom House, and Minumsa, chose one work each, selecting a total of 10 titles to be published as a book. Unlike the annual spring literary contest, the Brunch Book Project connects writers and publishers, leading to publications and drawing attention as another channel for writers to debut. In particular, People Born in the 90s are Coming (Whale Books) by Lim Hong-Tek, the winner of the Silver Prize in the 5th Brunch Book Project, kept its 5th place on the best sellers’ list for a long time. It was even chosen as the “Business Book of the Year” by the Korea Economic Daily and Interpark in 2018, as the “Book of the Year” by major bookstores, and as the “Book of the Year Chosen by Bookstore Managers (for Business)” in 2019.


* K-Book Trends Vol. 21 – Go to the interview with writer Lim Hong-Tek



Brunch Book Project



Another case can be people selling e-books of their know-how in PDF format. These kinds of e-books can be commonly seen on platforms such as Kmong, an outsourcing platform for freelancers, Tal-Ing, an on- and offline class platform, and Class 101, an online class platform, where they provide 1:1 matching services that connect sellers (freelancers) and buyers (business/individuals). As people can make and sell books of their expertise-based know-how at an affordable price, given the nature of e-books, these platforms have been drawing a lot of attention lately, even creating a sideline trend where people made e-books as a side hustle.


New forms of publishing are emerging, such as the publication of books
written by fandom-based writers and influential figures.


So, we have discussed the trend in the Korean publishing market in 2022. Evolving from the debut system from the past, the current environment has given birth to more various writers with distinguished preferences and fandoms, and enabled people to build influence to enter the publishing market. Fandoms, which bring people together, convert passion into purchasing power. Also, we could witness the emergence of books and new aspects of publishing based on “connection.”
How will the Korean publishing market evolve, going through a time when there are more writers than readers? But one thing is certain - even though the industry has to compete with OTT, the Internet, and data, there are connections and experiences that only books can offer. Publishing in the future starts from this essence.



Written by Kim Mi-Hyang (@edit_or_h, Publishing critic and the editor-in-chief of the publishing magazine Planning Meeting)



Kim Mi-Hyang (@edit_or_h, Publishing critic and the editor-in-chief of the publishing magazine Planning Meeting)

#Fandom#Newly-debuted writers#Brunch#Platform#Award
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