Their books are great, but what about their magazines?
In hopes of increased fame and influence—as well as to attract other like-minded writers to their cause—many of China’s best-selling authors have recently taken to founding their own periodicals and installing themselves as editors-in-chief.
This phenomenon began with the writer Guo Jingming, whose work has been featured annually for the past nine years on lists of China’s best-selling young-adult novels. After publishing his first novel, The Edge of Love and Pain, in 2002, he was ranked 94th on Forbes China’s list of “China’s Top 100 Celebrities of 2004.” In addition to being an author, Guo Jingming has two other identities: CEO of Shanghai ZUI Culture Development Company, and editor of the magazines ZUI NOVEL and ZUI COMIC. Thanks to his deep interest in Japanese literature, comics and classical woodcuts, he primarily publishes works of fantasy that emphasize aesthetics, with characters that are elegant and super-stylish in looks, dress and personality. To date, he has single-handedly enticed a number of writers and artists with similar styles and subject matter to publish stories in his magazines and produce work for his company.
In 2006, Guo Jingming burst into the depressed Chinese magazine market with his self-edited periodical, ZUI NOVEL. Featuring an artistic, fashionable design, serialized versions of his and other writers’ young-adult fiction, and trendy photography and comics, ZUI NOVEL was, in every aspect, of a piece with Guo Jingming’s earlier work. By 2010, its monthly circulation had already exceeded one million copies per issue. And after having been famously accused and brought to trial on counts of plagiarism in late 2004, Guo Jingming has proven that not only is he a surefire publishing success, but that mere association with him is enough to make an unknown writer a star. (As for the accusations, he was forced to pay up, however he never stopped maintaining his innocence.) Now, so long as authors continue to obediently offer him their unpublished stories, his touch alone ensures that—whether serialized in the pages of ZUI NOVEL or sold in bookstores directly—the work will fast become a hit, and its writer a household name.
The next author has not been quite so lucky in the magazine world. We’re talking about Han Han, editor-in-chief of the short-lived periodical Party. Unlike the rigorously line-toeing public image presented by his contemporary Guo Jingming (accusations of plagiarism notwithstanding), Han Han has become the modern face of rebellious Chinese culture. After he discontinued his studies in high school to become a writer, Han Han’s very first novel, Triple Door, struck a vicious blow against Chinese educational practices of the time. To date, Triple Door has sold nearly two million copies, and in April 2010, Time Magazine selected Han Han as one of its “100 Most Influential People in the World.” In addition to his work as an author and editor, Han Han has a number of other identities, including: professional rally car driver, singer, lyricist, and famous blogger. (That last is of particular note: featuring Han Han’s incisive, humorous and often allegorical political and social commentary, his blog has garnered over 500 million hits to date.)
On July 6 2010, the first and, as time would tell, last issue of Party hit newsstands. From its name alone, the decidedly freethinking and unaffiliated nature of the magazine should be readily apparent (“Party” is its English title; in Chinese it’s roughly “Solo Society”). With its acerbic, cutting style, Party’s single issue ceaselessly mocked China’s status quo, while focusing much of its content on fringe groups and alternative culture. However it’s safe to say that not even Han Han himself could have expected his magazine to have such a short run. Readers were nearly unanimous in declaring the first issue a success, and yet for reasons undisclosed there was never a second. Some suspected that this was due to political pressure; others that the magazine was too idiosyncratic and too costly for investors to support. But in any case there would never be a “Party” Vol. 2; the first issue was also its last bash. Not that Han Han was particularly upset by this; having his magazine go out of print after only one issue was just another symbol of his independent, anti-authoritarian spirit.
Next we have Annie Baby, editor of the magazine O-pen and the first female author on this list. A published novelist since 1998, her books are introspective, romantic, and associated with China’s emergent petite bourgeois, their plots focused on self-awakening and self-extrication, on exploring higher heights and reaching deeper depths. Goodbye Vivian, her most representative work, is about the struggles of a young woman suffering from depression to find meaning in life. Along the way she becomes a volunteer teacher in a mountain village and pursues a passionate love affair, but in the end she is unable to escape her tragic fate. Annie Baby’s fans are many, and several of her books have found a long-term place on China’s nationwide bestseller lists.
This past march, Annie Baby announced the founding of O-pen, a new literary magazine to be released on a quarterly schedule, and for which she would be assuming chief editorial duties. O-pen has two distinguishing characteristics. The first is that it aims to publish only pure literature of the highest quality; the second is that it is not China-centric, but rather will be accepting submissions from all over the world. According to reports, O-pen, much like Han Han’s Party, sold over one million copies of its first issue. Doubts, however, have been raised about this claim, as literary magazines are a dime a dozen in China, and none of them ever sell particularly well. Another problem was that the main article in O-pen’s first issue was a “special interview” with the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, leading some readers to grouse that O-pen was merely a knockoff Japanese magazine and therefore fundamentally flawed. Of course it is doubtful that Annie Baby will alter the original intent of her magazine due to these complaints.
Our final writer turned magazine mogul is the literary grave robber Nanpai Sanshu. (Real name: Xu Lei; Nanpai Sanshu is his pen name, borrowed from a character in his series of novels: Graver Robbers’ Chronicles). Super Nice, his self-edited magazine, has none of Guo Jingming’s obsession with aesthetics above all else, nor is it so avowedly concerned with alternative culture as Han Han’s Party, and it is even less like Annie Baby’s O-pen, with its aloof fixation on literary purity and self-examination. All Nanpai Sanshu wants are good stories—well-told, free-flowing, skillfully plotted, good stories. Super Nice does not, therefore, discriminate between subject matter or genre when selecting the novels it serializes. All that matters is: do they captivate the reader? It should then come as no surprise that Nanpai Sanshu has only one goal in mind when putting together each new issue: enticing readers to consume the entire mag, from first page to last, in a single sitting. How to achieve this? By publishing stories so compelling that once readers start they’ll be loath to stop before they’re done.
Prior to the publication of Super Nice, Nanpai Sanshu announced that, beginning with issue one, he would be serializing the big finale of Graver Robbers’ Chronicles in the pages of his magazine. Given that the series’ previous seven volumes have sold a total of over five million copies, this fact alone seemed enough to ensure that Super Nice would be a success from the start. But that wasn’t all. For Nanpai Sanshu also recruited bestselling fantasy novelist Xiao Ding, author of Death of the Immortals, as well as several of China’s top suspense novelists to contribute stories to volume one. Nonetheless, investors remained nervous in the run-up to publication day. They needn’t have worried. Super Nice sold out all 400,000 copies of its initial print run overnight, putting its executives in the happy position of having to rush another 100,000 out the door.