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The Story out of China Continues to be Phenomenal Opportunity for Publishers


“Just like Confucius said, ’A man at 30 should have planted his feet firm upon the ground,’ and BIBF has developed quite a lot since the start. … After 30 years, BIBF has become the leading platform for not only the Chinese market, but the broader Asian market too.“ Lin Liying, VP, China National Publications Import & Export Corporation

This is an open letter to those who exhibited with he Foreword Indie Press Collective and our sister company, Children’s Books USA, at the Beijing International Book Fair 2016.

The Fair and Its History

The Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF) celebrated its thirtieth anniversary this year. The recent rapid increase in sub rights (copyright) activity in China marks the continuing development of the country’s economy. Although it has always been called “international,” the fair truly became a large-scale, competitive foreign rights event in 2000, and in the last couple years has become even more important than BookExpo America for some foreign publishers, making it third on the list after Frankfurt and London for many publishers.

Victoria Sutherland
Foreword Reviews Publisher Victoria Sutherland is honored for longtime participation in BIBF.
BIBF was held August 24-28 at the China International Exhibition Center’s “new” venue (NCIEC). This year’s event hosted 2,407 publishing houses as exhibitors in 78,600 square meters, second in size after Frankfurt with over 300,000 visitors. The expansion to a new convention center six years ago has delivered an increased sophistication level as well, making it feel much more like the established international trade shows we attend in Bologna, London, and Frankfurt.

This was the second year BIBF offered a dedicated space for children’s books in the central hall, which dramatically improved traffic and excitement all five days of the show. The children’s book sector is experiencing exponential growth for a variety of reasons, not the least of which includes China recently ending its one-child policy. Predictions of three to eight million more babies born each year fuel children’s books as the fastest growing segment in the market.

The Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs) were the Country of Honor, and showcased the increasing engagement of China with countries along the former Silk Road.

Just over ten years ago, a “Going Global” initiative was led by the government to stimulate the growth and export of China’s culture, language and literature. Still fully controlled by the state, 582 official publishing companies in China have been organized through this development plan that builds on a strong print and retail market with a focus on mobile.

While book markets in the West are flat or declining, China is still experiencing phenomenal growth despite a slight slowdown. The Chinese currently produce over 440,000 new titles and re-editions annually. Total book revenue is valued at over $13 billion, and 20 percent of books sold in the Chinese market are imported. The United Kingdom and United States account for 57 percent of those imports. More than half of the new content is for the children’s books category, which bodes well for participants in the booth we host at China Children’s Book Fair (CCBF) being held in Shanghai this November.

Our Booths: Foreword’s Indie Press Collective & Children’s Books USA

This year, our eleventh year exhibiting at the BIBF, we hosted two stands in the same location in the very busy area between trade books and children’s: Foreword’s Indie Press Collective and Children’s Books USA. For most of the first three days, the traffic to our booth was indeed “frantic,” with visiting publishers and rights professionals. We had a wonderful young university student, Veronica, who served as our translator, which definitely improved the quantity and quality of leads.

During thirty-minute intervals, most of my first three days of any show are spent sitting across a table meeting with agents I have developed a relationship with in the last twenty years. Determining their needs through the course of conversation, I present your titles and sell sheets, note their interest and request for PDFs to review, and have two notebooks with over 150 leads to follow up on in the coming weeks. I was also pleased to see we had interest for titles advertised and reviewed in the Summer issue of Foreword Reviews distributed to visitors.

Children’s picture book titles were the primary lead generators in our booth, followed by business leadership, fiction, and self-help titles. The books we had on hand featuring Foreword’s INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award winners and finalist seals and other award seals were also a draw with many of our visitors.

We do not bring your books back home at the end of the fair due to the high cost of shipping. Instead, we partner with the show’s organizers, CNPIEC, a Chinese distribution company, that will load your ISBN metadata into a database used by bookstores and libraries in China. If there is sales activity for your title, you will receive a validated request via their offices in New Jersey. This is the same place that you will ship additional copies of your books to if demand requires. It is nearly impossible to get into Chinese bookstores without the help of a licensed importer like CNPIEC. In fact, Chinese publishers are subject to vetting by government censors for approval in stores!

What’s Next

Over the last eighteen months, I have spent hundreds of hours training to become a foreign rights agent with the help of a colleague and mentor Sylvia Hayse. While publishing Foreword Reviews is still my primary job, it was clear that providing assistance to smaller publishing houses and authors without a dedicated rights department would make attending these shows more successful for everyone. If you would like me to help you with follow up to the leads for your titles, let me know when I send the details in a forthcoming email outlining the publisher contacts for those who expressed interest.

I have already begun contacting and will continue to notify individual publishers with specific requests for review copies of your titles from visiting agents. If your titles have not yet received a specific request, try to be patient, the global publishing community does not move all that quickly. Also realize that we gave away several hundred copies of our print magazine, Foreword Reviews, and cards with a link to our rights catalog to agents who were too busy to stop and have a conversation. Historically, scores of publishers are contacted after the fact through the catalog and magazines we distribute.

This year, I am following up with every lead we got from the fair to confirm their interest before passing the lead on to you. This is my way of providing a more robust vetting system that should help you get to your deal faster. I will pass along those confirmed leads in the next few weeks.

If you receive leads from the fair via e-mail from me, or directly from an agent who picked up a catalog, magazine, or your materials, they will typically ask for a review copy or PDF sent via e-mail. Please do some research on the company prior to sending your book. We vet as much as we can, but it is necessary to do your own due diligence on the publisher. And remember to send a watermarked PDF, a smart step to avoid piracy.

If you have interest from more than one publisher and/or distributor in a single country or language area, we recommend that you write each an identical letter offering the rights to the company that bids the highest amount above a minimum advance and/or royalty percentage. You should also set a deadline date—for example, December 31, 2016—for bids. Also note that although there are 1.2 billion people in China, average print runs for books are usually no more than 5,000 copies for the first time.

Thank you in advance for the courtesy of letting the interested agents know if you are not interested or cannot pursue a contact. If you don’t at least acknowledge the contact, it reflects negatively on all the publishers participating with Foreword’s collective stand. Please keep us apprised of any activity you garner for your titles.

We now offer our visitors access to title information via an e-catalog, so be sure your title info has been updated here: On this page, click the edit button next to the book you would like to add to our Rights Catalog. All books that have been presented at a trade show with Foreword since we implemented the catalog are eligible to appear, so update all books that comply. This helps us to continue recommending your title at other shows if there are requests for a particular subject matter (Frankfurt is next month!).

For book publishers and authors, Beijing increasingly asserts its role as the Asian center for the exchange of subrights to books. For independent presses in particular, it is an excellent venue to begin a rights program if you don’t have one in place. It’s also an interesting fair option to attend in person due to its manageable size. It is still abundantly clear that China is in an amazing period of growth, and when you think about the sheer number of people who are anticipated to become English readers there in the next couple decades, you can’t help but be enthusiastic about publishing opportunities.

Victoria Sutherland
Victoria Sutherland is the publisher of Foreword Reviews. You can e-mail her at

Victoria Sutherland

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