Agent: Korean Titles Thrive in France on Good Translation and Universality

In News by Dennis Abrams

“What if a reader reads a Korean book for the first time and gets disappointed?” asks literary agent Im Young-hee. She has brought 70 or more Korean translations into France.


Image - iStockphoto: ruskpp

Image – iStockphoto: ruskpp

By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2

‘We Are Very Picky’
As South Korea took its place as the guest of honor at this year’s Paris Book Fair, Korean book agent Im Young-hee, in an interview with the Yonhap News Agency reported in the Korea Herald, said that “good translation on top of universal appeal are the requisite elements needed” for a Korean book to succeed in the international market.

Im is quoted in her interview emphasizing the importance of a good translation:

Im Young-hee. Image: Yonhap News Agency

Im Young-hee. Image: Yonhap News Agency

“Quantity doesn’t really matter.

“The bottom line is it should be in good quality to help a foreign reader’s understanding of Korean literature.

“What if a reader reads a Korean book for the first time and gets disappointed? Would the person choose a Korean book to read again?”

Im has close ties with the French publishing company Philippe Picquier, which specializes in Asian titles. Over the past 30 years, Picquier has published close to 80 Korean books—the largest number of any French publisher by far—including such bestsellers as Princess Bari by Hwang Sok-young and Our Happy Time by Gong Ji-young.

In 2004, Im translated Kim Jin-kyung’s Cat School, a best-selling children’s book for the company. Two years later, the book received Le Prix des Incorruptibles, awarded by readers throughout France for children’s and YA literature. That award seems to have been a watershed moment, sparking an interest in Korean titles.

ecole des chatsWith the success of Cat School, Im was given a larger role in bringing more Korean titles to Philippe Picquier. Since 2007, she has worked for the company as a contract agent, adding some 70 Korean books to the company’s lists.

Before her arrival, there were only 10.

Im tells Yonhap, “We publish around five Korean books a year … We are very picky when it comes to which book to introduce, because if we fail, say, two times in a row, it will have a lasting impact” on the business.

And while Im does keep a close eye on what’s selling in Korea, she says that she believes it’s “universality” that matters.

“A bestseller in Korea doesn’t mean it would work overseas,” she says. “The book should have a universal appeal.”

Her role as an agent, she says, is crucial in the effort to bring Korean books to the rest of the world, adding that “a small talent pool of book agents was partly to be blamed for the lack of interest by foreign publishers in Korean books.”

But for Im, her role as a “bridge” between Korean writers and a French publishing seems to be highly fulfilling:

“I feel rewarded when I think that I am helping promote Korean literature in France. I hope to introduce more Korean books that have literary value as well as popular appeal.”

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.