Posted by Joel Martinsen on Saturday, December 22, 2007 at 7:16 PM
Guo Jingming, Luoluo, Cai Jun, Sharon, and GirlneYa
Over the past year or so, the biggest names in Chinese young adult literature have used their fame to launch magazines.
The industry calls them "mooks," or magazine-books (杂志书), and traces their origin to Japan. They have the colorful layouts and periodic publication of a magazine but are printed and bound like books, making them both long-lasting and attractive to young consumers. The concept of a book-like magazine is not a new one, but its application to the young adult market is relatively recent.
Technically, some of these new mooks are actual books; because of the way that periodicals are regulated in China, it sometimes makes more sense to publish under a separate ISBN for each issue rather than going to the trouble to obtain a magazine registration number (it also may help a newly-launched title by allowing its issues to remain on sale longer). Each issue of Top Novel, for example, is a separate book published by Changjiang Literature and Arts Press.
From the launch of Guo Jingming's Top Novel and Ming Xiaoxi's Princess at the end of 2006, through Sharon's new M-Girl in October, these mooks have found quite a large market, even at a cost of around 12 yuan per copy, more than twice what conventional short story magazines like Stories or Wuxia Stories sell for. According to a report in Southern Weekly this past September, Guo's Top Novel has reached sales of 500,000-600,000 copies per issue. GirlneYa! has a circulation in the neighborhood of 160,000, and book agent Lu Jinbo estimates that Sharon's new magazine M-Girl is somewhere in the middle.
But their importance is not limited to sales numbers; these magazines are often just one part of a multi-pronged media strategy. They may be used as platforms to serialize novels that will later be released as stand-alone volumes, or to run teasers for books that have already been published. A number of authors are involved in film and music projects that are connected to the magazines.
Here are short profiles of six magazines from some of the most well-known YA authors:
Top Novel (最小说)
Founded: November 2006
Type: Mook. Beginning in January, 2008, Top Novel will begin publishing as a true periodical using the license of Birch Forest, a magazine of student literature put out by Changjiang Literature and Arts Press.
Famous Name: Editor Guo Jingming, author of such best-sellers as City of Fantasy and River of Sorrow.
Age Range: 13-17. Guo's other marquee project, the I5land series, is aimed at "people between the ages of 16 and 25, including high school and college students, as well as white-collars who have just started their careers," according to Li Bo, general manager of the Beijing office of Changjiang Literature and Arts Press, which publishes both series.
Cost: 10 yuan (this will likely change with the format switch)
Offerings: Campus literature, lavishly-illustrated sentimental essays and prose poems, reader interaction section at the back.
Current Serial: Guo's Tiny Times (小时代). Like River of Sorrow, his previous novel, this is being promoted as an "all-new style."
Princess Monthly (公主志)
Founded: December 2006.
Type: Magazine. Originally published using a license from Young Life (少年人生), it now comes out under the Feixia (飞霞) label.
Famous Name: Ming Xiaoxi (明晓溪) is a prolific author of Korean-style YA romance; her works are adapted in graphic novel form for the magazine.
Age range: According to the Southern Weekly article, "Lu Jinbo believes that China's book market has entered an age when secondary-school students occupy a dominant consumer position: 'Post-80s writers like Han Han, Guo Jingming, and Zhang Yueran have extended their readership to 16 and 17-year-olds, while GirlneYa and Ming Xiaoxi have readers in the 12 to 16 age range'."
Cost: 10 yuan
Offerings: General YA fiction, tending toward romance but incorporating fantasy and adventure. Some of the writers have connections to the Novoland fantasy project. Managing editor Shen Hanying told Southern Weekly, "I don't want Princess to be personal brand. I want to give a dream world to girls who like to dream: a rose colored fable, a glittering crystal conservatory, an extravagantly lovely pumpkin carriage, miraculous rose magic books, candy houses overflowing with fragrance and love, a place where you can drink your afternoon tea in the sunlight while reading lucid, transparent, romantic fairy tales..." The images Shen refers to are actually the names of magazine departments.
Current Serial: Vivibear, a writer who reportedly lives in Sweden, follows the popular Search for the Dragon (寻龙记) with Fantasy Knight (骑士幻想夜), a story inspired by Arthurian legends.
Founded: March 2007
Type: Magazine. Published under CN63-1052, the periodical license for Happy Youth (快乐青春), a Qinghai-based youth lifestyle magazine. The Chinese name of GirlneYa! translates as "Martian Girl."
Cost: 12 yuan
Offerings: 320 pages of stories about princes and elite boarding schools for royalty. Heavy use of emoticons, Guiyeoni-style.
Age range: See the note at Princess. GirlneYa's fans are called "Yayas", and judging from the letters sent in to this issue, they are mostly between the ages of 12 and 16.
Comparing GirlneYa! and Princess, one netizen wrote:
Indeed, the design of GirlneYa! is heavily inspired by the Japanese magazine Cobalt.
Joustar, the publisher behind GirlneYa! and scads of YA novels, is notorious for ripping off artwork from a variety of domestic and international sources. The company is unapologetic; according to Lu Jinbo, the more than 300 questionable images that have been discovered work out to around three per book, so it's not like they're copying entire graphic novels or anything.
Mystery and Thrillers (悬疑志)
Founded: May 2007
Type: Magazine. Nanye (南叶) is its official name.
Famous Name: Lead writer Cai Jun (蔡骏) is a best-selling thriller author.
Age range: Though he is not a post-80s writer himself, the audience for Cai Jun's books tends to be high-school through post-college age. In the current publishing climate, it's unlikely that the magazine would explicitly target younger readers. The Anti-Pornography and Anti-Piracy Office conducts periodic sweeps that nab unlicensed magzines devoted to ghost stories and horror fiction; these campaigns are typically couched in "think of the children" terms. Cai Jun has complained on his blog that the threat of seizure drives newsstand owners to keep even legitimate thriller and detective magazines under the counter. Zhou Dedong, another horror writer, even proposed slapping warning labels on thrillers so that they could be kept out of the hands of anyone under, say, 16 years of age.
Cost: 7.8 yuan
Offerings: Mystery fiction ranging from detective stories to ghostly tales to UFOs. The current issue has a piece on clones and a comic strip that ends "...and none of those people you saw on the bus were alive! And the engine was filled with blood instead of oil!"
Current Serial: Mysterious Messages II: Raksasa (天机第二季：罗刹之国). This was released in a standalone edition at the end of November
Cai Jun's basically just lending his name to the magazine—he's a "lead writer" rather than an editor. He did a music video for last year's Butterfly Graveyard, and he uses Sa Dingding's Alive (with lyrics by Gao Xiaosong) for Mysterious Messages. In an interesting twist, Sa actually appear as a major character in the novel (so far, she's been kind of a bitch to Cai's detective hero). Cai's also got his finger on the pulse of current trends: his books come in "seasons" like imported TV shows (Guo Jingming has started doing this too, with Tiny Times), and his Mysterious Messages jumps on the grave-robbing adventure bandwagon by setting much of the second volume in an ancient tomb.
Founded: October 2007 (trial issue)
Type: Mook (it says so on the cover).
Famous Name: Sharon (饶雪漫), a YA novelist known for the Sandglass series.
Age Range: High school. Sharon has said in interviews that she interacts frequently with her target audience, secondary-school students, so she knows what they like, how they talk, and what they care about.
Cost: 12.8 yuan. (This is the list price for the magazine itself; the trial issue + Farewell Song combo cost 25 yuan.)
Offerings: Campus tales (in settings more realistic than those of GirlneYa!), wuxia fiction, and sentimental essays about growing up.
Current Serial: The final volume of Sandglass (沙漏 III). The trial issue comes with Sharon's newest novel, The Farewell Song (离歌), which concludes with three potential endings that readers are invited to vote on.
M-Girl is the latest addition to Sharon's growing YA empire. For previous novels, she's held open casting calls for music videos, and has adapted two of them into low-budget teen soaps. The Left Ear Hears (左耳听见) (based on the novel Left Ear) can be viewed on Tudou; an adaptation of Sandglass is included with this issue of M-Girl and has recently been uploaded to Tudou as well. A music video is currently being prepared for The Farewell Song; Han Han is attached to direct.
Founded: November 2007
Type: Mook. Each bimonthly issue is oriented around a single theme: November's was "Vicissitude" (草木芳华); January's will be "Through the Looking Glass" (镜之国).
Famous Names: Hansey, who used to be Guo Jingming's art director, and Luoluo, who is still responsible for the text content of Top Novel, serve as co-editors in chief.
Age range: 16-26.
Cost: 20 yuan
Offerings: Short literary fiction, lavishly-illustrated prose poetry, translations.
Current Serial: Ishida Ira's Ikebukuro West Gate Park. The current issue also features excerpts from the Chinese translation of Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants. Clearly, the target audience for this magazine has slightly more elevated tastes than most of the rest of these mooks.
Alice is produced by MiMZii Work Party, which takes its name from the Lewis Padgett story "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" (Astounding magazine, 1943), and before that, Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll.
Novoland Fantasy World and Novoland Plus, which trade on the names of Jinhezai and Jiang Nan, could also be included here. However, they were started several years before this recent magazine explosion and seem to be on hiatus for the moment.
Links and Sources
Jobs in China
Henry on The Eurasian Face
Caroline W on Big in China
Michael on Julia Lovell on translating Lu Xun's complete fiction: "His is an angry, searing vision of China"
Brandon K. on Clueless academic takes on popular fantasy novels
China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
Books on China
The Eurasian Face : Blacksmith Books, a publishing house in Hong Kong, is behind The Eurasian Face, a collection of photographs by Kirsteen Zimmern. Below is an excerpt from the series:
Big in China: An adapted excerpt from Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China, just published this month. Author Alan Paul tells the story of arriving in Beijing as a trailing spouse, starting a blues band, raising kids and trying to make sense of China.
Pallavi Aiyar's Chinese Whiskers: Pallavi Aiyar's first novel, Chinese Whiskers, a modern fable set in contemporary Beijing, will be published in January 2011. Aiyar currently lives in Brussels where she writes about Europe for the Business Standard. Below she gives permissions for an excerpt.
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Korean history doesn't fly on Chinese TV screens (2007.09): SARFT puts the kibbosh on Korean historical dramas.
+ Religion and government in an uneasy mix (2008.03): Phoenix Weekly (凤凰周刊) article from October, 2007, on government influence on religious practice in Tibet.
+ David Moser on Mao impersonators (2004.10): I first became aware of this phenomenon in 1992 when I turned on a Beijing TV variety show and was jolted by the sight of "Mao Zedong" and "Zhou Enlai" playing a game of ping pong. They both gave short, rousing speeches, and then were reverently interviewed by the emcee, who thanked them profusely for taking time off from their governmental duties to appear on the show.