Saturday, November 18, 2017

Volare Novels: A Novel Start Up

The halls of mystery, where true warriors may suddenly appear....

Last week I got a very interesting email from a young woman who runs a very interesting company, seeing if I would be interested in her company’s interesting story. I was.

I met etvolare of Volare Novels in a bookstore cafe, appropriately enough. Her business, now one year old, is one of the few in a niche which was completely unknown to me: her company translates Chinese martial arts novels (武俠小說) into English and then hosts them on the company website, where they get nearly 20 million hits a month. Clearly there is a huge appetite in English for these stories.

This is not a small market, and etvolare's company is one of the Big Three publishing houses. She's also the only Taiwan-based business in this market, working with a variety of Chinese literature companies and directly with authors. The biggest publishing house in this market gets over 100 million hits a month.

The novels, etvolare explained to me, are serialized, with translators churning out a new chapter of roughly 2000 words every day or so and posting them to the sites. When I wondered aloud about whether I could write one, she laughed and said it's tricky: you have to leave the audience with a story that brings them back the next day for more, but if you write too many cliffhanger endings to chapters, the audience deluges you with angry letters. Her translators include both amateurs just starting out and professionals with major books and movie and TV work on their resume.

The novels are selected for quality but fundamentally, they are selected by the translators, who like them and want to translate them. This enthusiasm and passion is shared with the audience, who respond in kind and can leave more than a hundred comments on each chapter. She has a team of 30 translators scattered around the world. She herself has chosen many novels, and likes to have a selection of offbeat genres and unusual twists, describing Volare Novels' selection as "eclectic". Volare also has a "significant focus on alternative and women's interest novels." In China, she said, this world is not primarily divided by genre (comedy, horror, mystery) but by gender first: male (pretty much everything not romance) and female novels (romance tinged martial arts, romance tinged historic fiction, schoolyard romance…).

Because the stories are hosted on the net and posted frequently, they are quite flexible. This forms part of their allure, as the Chinese authors can adapt quickly to modern events and fads to incorporate them into the work. Her web-based business also emphasizes the use of not only of more conventional communication platforms like Skype to keep in touch with translators, but also Discord, a popular site with gamers (link on her sidebar).

How does the money flow in? Crowdfunding, reading donations, and advertising. Her audience is almost entirely people under 35 (hint: disposing of much disposable income hint hint) and living in Western Europe, Canada, and the US (high income countries hint hint). Oh yeah, many of these stories make great movies and TV shows, such as recent hits Princess Agents (楚喬傳), Nirvana in Fire (琅琊榜), and Just One Smile is Very Alluring (微微一笑很傾城). Hint.

At present etvolare is looking to build partnerships with Taiwanese publishers, given her local roots. Regrettably, getting the government to pay attention to what she is building is difficult. It seems likely to me that this is because etvolare's business lacks status, and so much of what the government does involving foreigners and outsiders is based at least in part on how much status such individuals or companies can confer on the government ministry they are interacting with.

In the meantime, I will be brushing up on my understanding of the mysteries of qi and Han dynasty geography. Where did I leave those Dungeons and Dragons reference books...?
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Anonymous said...

ICRT did a nice little interview with Etvolare back in July. Link below. Scroll down the page and search for "Volare - Latin for 'to fly'": . Or look for it on the Taiwan Talk podcast feed.

Anonymous said...

Hey Michael, Randy Thomas here just wanted to say hello ;)

Anonymous said...

I was an avid reader of Chinese novels on qidian, jjwxc, zhongheng, etc. The ugliness of the value system expressed in these novels, the narcissism, the avarice, the materialist views, the nationalism, the hegemony worship, the prejudice toward all of China's neighboring nations, was fascinating.