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Literary Hong Kong

Mio Debnam 

Hong Kong-based writer and editor Mio Debnam, author of the award-winning KidsGo series


Last year, a travel series for children called KidsGo won a prestigious Parent’s Choice award. The seal, given by the Parents’ Choice Foundation, an internationally recognised United States-based non-profit group, highlights quality media for children. The series, published by local publisher Haven Books, was conceived and written by Hong Kong-based writer and editor Mio Debnam. 

 Jason Y Ng

Hong Kong blogger
Jason Y Ng turned to
local publisher, Blacksmith Books, to print his
first book

Responding to calls from readers for a book, blogger Jason Y Ng also turned to a local publisher, Blacksmith Books. The press, which publishes non-fiction about Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, was a good match for Mr Ng’s work, a collection of essays about daily life in Hong Kong. Mr Ng offered to pay for print costs; it was Blacksmith’s market support, connections and reach Mr Ng wanted to tap. His book, Hong Kong State of Mind, is now in its third printing, and sells across Asia and internationally through Blacksmith’s own website, as well as on Amazon. “I sell about 50 copies (on Amazon) a month,” says the author. 

Hong Kong Debut

Hong Kong State of Mind, a collection of essays about daily life in Hong Kong, is in its third print 

Hong Kong State of Mind, a collection of essays about daily life in Hong Kong, is in its third print run

Hong Kong’s writing scene may be small, but it is focused. Publishers are well-honed, connected and achieve successes with their lists. Janice YK Lee and Xu Xi are just two Hong Kong-based writers who have gained international recognition. A smaller literary circle is a good place to make contacts and get published, local writers say. 

“It’s easier to get your first publishing credits in a place like Hong Kong because people are more open and approachable,” says Ms Debnam, whose first work was published after it was passed on by her writing group instructor to the Asia Literary Review


Some of the world's leading writers will take part in public forums at the 2013 HKTDC Hong Kong Book Fair, 17-23 July

Publishing locally also helps establish a writer’s credibility and could hold sway with international publishers later, she adds. Having produced books previously demonstrates discipline and helps build a reader base. A blog and publicity trail is also helpful. “You are seen as less of a risk,” she says. 

Most local publishers, though, cater only to non-fiction or poetry, leaving a large number of writers looking for overseas publishing deals, says SCC Overton, a member and editor at the Hong Kong Writers’ Circle. The Writers’ Circle offers writers a route to publication through its own anthology, which is sold locally, as well as access to critiques, workshops and events. 

SCC Overton 

SCC Overton, member and editor of the Hong Kong Writers’ Circle

But writers in Hong Kong most commonly produce genre fiction, a harder product to sell locally, according to Mr Overton. Recent shifts in publishing offer alternatives to the traditional routes of getting published. “With the growth of e-publishing and print-on-demand, the real question is, “Why publish in Hong Kong at all?” he says 

Something Gained

 Philip Kim

Former banker Philip Kim considered self-publishing until his work was picked up by Penguin China

Some local writers have their eyes on clinching deals with major publishers, who are coming to Asia. Former banker Philip Kim was about to self-publish his first novel, Nothing Gained, an Asian financial thriller, after exhausting his list of publishers in the US – until a friend offered an alternative. 

“He had read my book and knew someone at Penguin China,” Mr Kim said. “They indicated to him that they wanted something with my book’s content, so I sent the manuscript to them in Beijing and forgot about it.” Weeks later, the author received a call from the publisher, who expressed interest. His book was released in March and is available in Greater China and in other Asian markets. 

Philip Kim’s first novel, Nothing Gained, is an Asian financial thriller 

Philip Kim’s first novel, Nothing Gained, is an Asian financial thriller


Mr Kim says the mainland market for English fiction is still small, but growing. Release in some of Penguin’s other territories, including the United States and Australia, is a possibility if the book sells well. Mr Kim is hopeful that his book’s subject matter will be an added draw. “People in the West want to read about Asia, about the new wealth happening here and the social change brought on by new money,” he says. 

The backing of a large publisher has helped garner more publicity for his book, he says. There is bigger incentive for a large publisher to push new releases, because its investment is often larger than a small press could muster. Mr Kim has done a number of radio and newspaper interviews, and each is linked to Penguin China’s Facebook page. Macmillan and HarperCollins are other international publishers working in Asian markets.

There is a well-regarded support network including the Writers’ Circle, Women in Publishing, and for children’s writers, the Hong Kong branch of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, of which Mio Debnam is a regional adviser. Two Masters of Fine Arts in writing, at the City University of Hong Kong and the University of Hong Kong, have been launched in the last four years.  

Writers Groups

Writers groups can play an important role in a writer’s development. Mr Kim, who attended critique sessions with the Writers' Circle, says he gained valuable feedback. Writers he worked with were of a high standard, according to Mr Kim, helping him with his manuscript. 

“It seems to me that writing needs to be very directed and purposeful these days, says the Writer Circle’s SCC Overton. “I think that even as we see the barriers to publishing break down, readers have little time for hack work – anything that is old-fashioned or clichéd or poorly researched.” 

The size of the pool in Hong Kong may be small, but talent, dedication and resources are all part of the territory.

Author Jason Y Ng will take part in the panel “Hong Kong Culture,“ 18 July, at the HKTDC Hong Kong Book Fair.

Related Links
City University of Hong Kong
Hong Kong Writers’ Circle 
Jason Y Ng 
Nothing Gained
University of Hong Kong

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