Posted by Joel Martinsen on Tuesday, June 5, 2007 at 12:48 PM
Daniel Dan, architect of bestsellers.
In mass-market fiction this year, grave-robbing stories and palace romances are still hot, while fantasy and wuxia fiction are in decline. So says Daniel Dan Fei, the editor behind popular titles like Stories from the Ming Dynasty (明朝那些事), Notes on Grave-robbing (盗墓笔记), and most recently, Palace Harem (后宫).
Stories from the Ming Dynasty found an audience in the intersection of popular history with the current enthusiasm for things Ming, while Notes on Grave-Robbing and Palace Harem belong to two genres currently white-hot: tomb raider stories and palace romances.
Many of the titles that Dan has shepherded to market originated online. This is nothing new; what is notable is the controversy that several of these books have generated.
In March, the online version of Stories from the Ming Dynasty was the focus of accusations of click-fraud: the book was promoted as a "million-hits-a-month" forum post, which some online detectives decided was an inflated number (story at ESWN).
When an unfinished online novel is acquired by a publisher, the author might stop updating at the publisher's request (given how widely things are copied on the Chinese web, taking down the original is usually not an option). Readers typically do not do much more than grumble, but earlier this year, one group of fans took action - they launched a boycott of Palace Harem following the print publication of the first volume in February. In their opinion, author Liulianzi was reveling in her fame while ignoring the people who made her famous in the first place. Some fans were particularly incensed that she never gave a firm date for the release of the concluding volumes, resulting in fans compulsively refreshing her web-page and giving her clicks that she didn't deserve.
The publisher, Xiron, apologized to readers while simultaneously blaming rampant piracy for their decision to keep the story's conclusion off the Internet.
In the following interview (translated from the Mirror), Dan Fei acknowledges the positive effect that such a vocal opposition can have on sales. He also discusses the process of creating a bestseller, and offered his predictions of this year's hottest book trends.
Book designer favors newcomersManuscript's success or failure determined in an instant
An interview with Dan Fei by Qin Yuchun / Mirror
Mirror: What's your usual standard for choosing novels? Will you look at how they do online?
Mirror: Why are most of the people you sign newcomers?
Mirror: So is there more space for working with online writers?
Mirror: How much risk is there in promoting someone new?
Mirror: What's the lowest that that sum might be?
Mirror: Were the high click numbers for Stories from the Ming Dynasty any of your doing?
Mirror: The 100,000,000 clicks number is certainly fraudulent, right?
Mirror: Recently, there was a collective boycott among netizens of Liulianzi's Palace Harem. What's your take?
Mirror: What differences are there between promoting the grave-robbing stories and palace romances?
Palace stories depict the eternal story of Cinderella meeting her Prince Charming; they fulfill the dreams of female readers. Women today have new demands for their Prince Charming; first, he must be powerful and distinguished, and an emperor or a prince definitely can satisfy this end. Then he must have enough money, so much that it can't all be spent. A member of the royal household can be as romantic as he pleases without a thought for the cost of that romance. So this type of book needs fine packaging and detailed design. The cover must strive to use language to move female readers, to resonate with their experiences and emotions. Female readers should buy in after seeing the cover; it will tick the impulsive purchasing habits of the female reader.
Mirror: Out of the books you've done, which one are you most satisfied with?
Maybe Tina's Wronged Ghost Road (冤鬼路) and Piece of Candy's The Matrimony (心中有鬼) rate as successful, because thrillers and horror stories are harder to do. Tina's was her first book, and Piece of Candy's earlier books weren't really noticed. After I promoted them, they immediately doubled in value. Even so, I can't say that I've peaked. That Bloom (盛开), as a new-concept reader, can sell more than 100,000 might be a small success.
Mirror: Why do publishing people all like to write poetry? Or, why do poets like the publishing world? What's the relationship between the two?
Mirror: You first jumped from Bertelsmann to Xiron (磨铁文化), and now you're jumping from Xiron to ComicFans (漫友文化). What are your reasons for these moves?
I am leaving Xiron because through the efforts of myself and my colleagues, it has developed into a mature company so that I can leave with a clear mind. Coming to ComicFans is like heading toward a golden industry. For me, ComicFans has unlimited potential under the sustained, long-term gradual growth of the book industry. I hope that I can become a creature who dwells equally in the realms of books, periodicals, and comics.
Mirror: What would you like to say to all those online writers who want to become famous?
Mirror: The book market is so hot these days; is it because of hype, or are there really that many readers?
Mirror: Will grass-roots literature and vernacular histories be the next big trends?
Mirror: You've said that last year was the Grave-robbing Year. Is this year the Palace Harem Year?
Mirror: What subject matter will be popular next? Do you have any predictions?
For the time being, cross-genre romances are still a relatively large category. In addition, alternate history and grave-robbing will still be hot for a while. It's hard to find superior horror books. To date, Cai Jun and Guigunu are in the first wave, while Nalan, Tina, Piece of Candy, and Zhou Dedong are in the second wave. Who will join the first and second waves? I'm still looking.
Solid reading material for men and the humanities and social sciences may occasionally break out of the pack. Motivational, computer, and business books are still very profitable. But fantasy and martial arts are in decline.
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