Penguin Buys Rights to Chinese Bestseller, The Wolf Totem

Posted on October 20, 2005

The Chicago Tribune reports that The Penguin Group has purchased the English-language rights to the bestselling Chinese novel, The Wolf Totem for $100,000. The deal is being referred to as "record-breaking." Ok, we know that to jaded American publishing insiders, a $100,000 book deal is more likely to evoke yawns than shock. But one has to realize that this is the first book deal offered to a mainland Chinese author. So, trust us, it's a Big Deal.

Jiang Rong's 2004 Chinese-language novel about the struggle for life on the Mongolian grasslands will be published in English in 2007, An Boshun, Jiang's agent with Changjiang Literary Art Press, told The Associated Press. "This is the biggest overseas book deal in mainland China," An said. He said Penguin also agreed to a 10 percent royalty on each book sold, almost double what is standard in China. "We talked with a lot of big international publishers, but Penguin offered a very good price and a concrete and satisfying plan to publish the book's English version globally."

Jo Lusby, Penguin's representative in Beijing, said interest from several publishing houses had pushed up the price for "The Wolf Totem," which has sold more than 1 million copies and topped best-seller lists for months. "It's a very unusual book. It's a book we believe in and are very excited about," Lusby said.

Of course, books like this live or die based on the quality of the translation. Anyone who's ever read a lousy translation of a famous foreign book knows what we're talking about. Let's hope Penguin hires someone who really has the translation thing down.

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