- 1. How do I get started writing children’s books?
- 2. How does SCBWI membership benefit me here in Japan?
- 3. I have written a children’s story set in Japan. Where and how should I try to market it?
- 4. How can I get my English-language book translated into a Japanese edition?
- 5. Where can I find lists of Japanese publishers and literary agents?
- 6. How should I approach publishers in Japan?
- 7. As an illustrator do I need to be able to read/speak Japanese to work with Japanese publishers?
- 8. I’ve heard that Japanese publishers dislike making contracts for illustrators. Is this true?
- 9. Where can I get legal advice for book contracts in Japan?
- 10. Where can I find English language children’s Books in Japan?
- 11. Are there any galleries in Japan that specialize in children’s illustration?
- 12. Can you recommend some books about writing and illustrating for children?
1. How do I get started writing children’s books?
Visit the SCBWI Resource Library of www.scbwi.org and read The Book: The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children. There is a wealth of information in this extensive guide, free to members of SCBWI.
2. How does SCBWI membership benefit me here in Japan?
The Japan chapter of SCBWI holds regular monthly events. Most events are in Tokyo or Yokohama, or remote via Zoom, and feature guest speakers, creative exchanges, workshops and other activities related to the writing, illustrating and translating of children’s and YA literature.
SCBWI members receive reduced entry fees at these events, which present opportunities to network with other members of SCBWI and to hear the words of published authors and illustrators and industry specialists. Visit SCBWI Japan website for a list of current SCBWI Japan activities and see the archived issues of the newsletter Carp Tales for coverage of past events.
Across the country SCBWI Japan maintains a nationwide network for members to share information, advice and support through the main SCBWI Japan Google Group and SCBWI Japan Translation Google Group. In addition, all SCBWI members can upload information about their books via their SCBWI member profile, illustrators can display work in the SCBWI gallery, and P.A.L. (Published and Listed) members can be featured in the Speakers Directory. We hope that SCBWI Japan volunteers outside the Tokyo area will step up to help organize critique groups and creative exchanges in their local regions in order to increase the range and scope of support we are able to give members throughout Japan.
Membership in SCBWI Japan is included as part of membership in SCBWI worldwide, a major international society with more than 22,000 members across the globe. Those able to attend the range of major conferences and events in New York, Los Angeles, Bologna, Singapore and elsewhere benefit from unique networking opportunities with not only other writers and illustrators, but also editors, designers and other professionals in the field of children’s books.
Each year SCBWI Japan can nominate members to be considered for scholarships to attend the Los Angeles summer conference or the New York winter conference.
SCBWI produces a range of publications aimed at supporting its members. Visit the SCBWI Resource Library. The International Market Report is SCBWI’s guide to international publishing (available in The Book). In addition members receive the monthly digital publication Insights, featuring current children’s book news, hot topics, helpful hints, exclusive interviews, and monthly contests. The quarterly SCBWI Bulletin received by all members contains comprehensive and current information in the field of children’s literature. The PRO-INSIDER is a quarterly digital publication for PAL (Published and Listed) members, filled with information on building and maintaining a successful career as a professional writer, illustrator or translator.
Through the main SCBWI website members from anywhere in the world can participate in discussion boards—the SCBWI BlueBoards, where they can interact with other members online through various Posting Forums and share current marketing, craft and business information. Numerous critique groups, organized by genre, are also available to writers.
Finally, SCBWI members have access to a host of professional development events, marketing and promotional opportunities, online and print resources, and awards and grants. See below for the benefits your SCBWI membership brings you. Visit the SCBWI Membership Benefits page to see what SCBWI membership brings you.
3. I have written a children’s story set in Japan. Where and how should I try to market it?
Most publishers who deal with children’s English-language fiction with Japan content are found in North America, the United Kingdom, Australia and other countries with large English-language populations. Bear in mind that to be successful, your book set in Japan should have universal appeal. Also keep in mind that Japan’s children’s book publishers publish and seek books in Japanese, not English.
Writers might first approach a publisher in North America or the U.K. that deals in international, multicultural or Asian interests. See the Market Surveys and Directories in SCBWI’s SCBWI’s The Book: The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children for lists of publishers, agents and much more.
Writers should also keep in mind the children’s magazine market. Many children’s magazines seek stories set in countries around the world. Available in the SCBWI Resource Library SCBWI’s The Book: The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children includes a Magazine Market Guide.
Most Japanese publishers will only consider a manuscript if it is written in Japanese. If your manuscript is in English you will need to produce a Japanese language synopsis before submission. (Some Japanese publishers do publish bilingual children’s books with text in both Japanese and English.) Nonetheless, see below for a list of literary agents in Japan who promote new manuscripts and translations rights to Japanese publishers. For nonfiction there is a large domestic market for educational English-language teaching books for children. Writers interested in developing their work for this market should approach publishers that specialize in education and English teaching textbooks.
4. How can I get my English-language book translated into a Japanese edition?
SCBWI Japan thanks the Finnish Institute in Japan for the following information.
A literary agency handles most of the translation rights to foreign publications. It also acts as a negotiator between the copyright holder or foreign publisher and the Japanese publisher. The agencies are always in search of promising books, which they send to Japanese publishers in hopes of having them published. Thus, the agencies regularly ask for books, new title information and other useful information from foreign publishers. The literary agency then sends the book or the synopsis to an appropriate Japanese publisher for consideration.
When a book is sent to an agency, a synopsis in Japanese or at least in English must be attached. If the synopsis is in Japanese, the agents can see the translator’s style of writing, and this is naturally valuable information for them.
The following is the recommended procedure when a copyright holder (i.e. an author or publisher) wants to publish a book in Japan (= sell translation rights to the publication):
A. If you use a literary agency
Picture books In the case of picture books, when the illustrations speak for themselves, it is possible to send only a copy of the picture book directly to the literary agency or even to the publisher. A synopsis in Japanese or English is always recommended.
Other categories In the case of any other book, a synopsis preferably in Japanese should be attached. A translation can be seen as a very good investment and an assurance that the Japanese publisher will not ignore the book. The literary agency will then see if another agency has an exclusive agreement with the book’s publisher or possibly the copyright holder. If not, the agency contacts the appropriate parties and gets permission to handle the rights. It then negotiates a contract between the Japanese publisher and the copyright holder.
After a contract has been negotiated, the Japanese publisher pays a royalty advance, from which the tax has already been deducted, to the agency. After deducting a 10 percent commission, the agency remits the balance to the foreign copyright holder or publisher.
B. If you go directly to a publisher
A copy of the book concerned and a synopsis in Japanese or English should be sent directly to the Japanese publisher. However, be prepared for the fact that the publisher may never respond. At minor publishing houses, this may be due to the lack of staff with knowledge in English. At bigger publishing houses, the lack of translators specializing in foreign languages other than English may be the problem.
Note: It is, however, advisable to act through a literary agency. The copyright holders are usually able to get better terms for the translation rights this way. The literary agencies have the appropriate contacts and know the procedures and the process will be more likely to work out smoothly.
The following is the standard procedure when a Japanese publisher wants to buy rights to a foreign book:
In the case when a Japanese publisher takes the initiative to negotiate translation rights for a foreign publication, they either proceed through their own channels or contact a literary agency for assistance. The literary agency then finds out if another publisher has already bought the rights. If not, the agency checks if another literary agency has an exclusive agreement with the book’s publisher or the copyright holder. If that is not the case, the literary agency contacts the appropriate parties, gets permission to handle the rights and negotiates a contract between the Japanese publisher and the copyright holder. Only rarely are translation rights obtained by direct communications between publishers.
5. Where can I find lists of Japanese publishers and literary agents?
SCBWI Japan has compiled a list of Children’s Book Publishers in Japan. Click here for a PDF file of the list:
PDF List of Children’s Book Publishers in Japan
The Japan Book Publisher’s Association has an English page with an English-language list of all its member publishers. The list includes all the major children’s publishers in Japan. Their site also includes a link to “An Introduction to Publishing in Japan.”
See also the website for the Publishers Association for Cultural Exchange, Japan (PACE) (1-2-1, Sarugaku-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0064, Tel: 03-3291-5685 Fax: 03-3233-3645); on their English page is a link to the “Practical Guide to Publishing in Japan.”
Following are the major literary agencies and agents dealing with children’s literature in Japan:
The Asano Agency
Mr. Kiyoshi Asano
Tokuda Bldg. 302, 4-44-8 Sengoku, Bunkyo-ku Tokyo 112-0011 Tel: 03-3943-4171
Specializes in non-fiction
The English Agency (Japan) Ltd
Ms. Noriko Hasegawa, agent of children’s literature
Sakuragi Bldg., 4F, 6-7-3, Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku Tokyo 107-0062
Japan Foreign Rights Centre
Ms. Yurika Yoshida, agent of children’s literature
Sun Mall No. 3, Rm. 201, 1-19-10 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0022
Concentrates on selling foreign rights to Japanese works
Japan Uni Agency
Ms. Tatsuko Nagasawa, executive director
Ms. Yuki Katsura, agent of children’s literature
Tokyodo Jinbocho Dai 2 Bldg., 1-27, Kanda-Jinbocho, Chiyoda-ku Tokyo 101-0051
Motovun Co., Ltd. Tokyo
Ms. Mari Koga, President
Co-op Nomura Ichibancho 103, 15-6 Ichibancho, Chiyoda-ku Tokyo 102-0082
The Sakai Agency
1-58-4F Kanda-Jimbocho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0051 Tel: 03-3295-1405
Mr. Yoshi Iwasaki, Executive director
Kanda-Jinbocho Bldg. 4F, 2-17 Kanda Jimbocho, Chiyoda-ku Tokyo, 101-0051
6. How should I approach publishers in Japan?
The following is adapted from a talk given by Akiko Beppu, Editorial Director of Kaisei-sha for SCBWI Tokyo (now SCBWI Japan) in February 2004.
Phone calls and emails in Japanese are really the way to make first contact. If you are unsure whom to ask for, you may call the editorial department. Since everyone tends to specialize, your call will be routed to the appropriate person.
Authors/illustrators are usually asked to send a copy of the manuscript, or a color copy of artwork. If interest is there, an editor meeting may be arranged. When you visit a publisher, be sure to leave them with your address, phone number, and if you have one, web site information. Even if your current project may not be right at the time, they may wish to contact you later.
If an editor says ‘keep in touch,’ they mean it. Be sure to send announcements, invitations to exhibitions, holiday greetings, etc. Maintain the contact. For illustrators, Japanese publishers may find you as they are always on the lookout for talent. Exhibitions could be a good way to attract attention. Many galleries specialize in children’s illustrations, and publishers often visit these galleries (see gallery list below). Send postcards to publishers. Even if they can’t make it to the show, they will keep the postcards they like and may call you at a later date. Maintaining a website or blog showing your work.
The trend for picture-books may be that publishers are seeking illustrators who can write their own text, but some editors are seeking artists willing and able to illustrate existing texts. In high demand are illustrators able to produce good pen drawings; if you are an illustrator interested in working on such projects, you should make yourself known. Editors like to see copies of work in both color and black and white, and in different mediums. Be careful about choosing too many different styles, however. The editor will not be able to see what your real direction is.
7. As an illustrator do I need to be able to read/speak Japanese to work with Japanese publishers?
It is generally essential for someone around you to speak and read Japanese, as few publishers outside English educational publishers have bilingual staff. This could be a coordinator, partner, or artist’s agent. However, depending on the project, because illustration is a visual communication, it is sometimes possible for artists to work with publishers without a deep knowledge of Japanese. Even if you do not read Japanese, if your portfolio is strong enough, publishers may be prepared to work something out. (Alas, the same is not true for writers. Many houses do not work with English language authors at this time.) Even so, it is highly advisable to have a bilingual Japanese national you can rely on to explain contracts and briefs and if necessary participate in meetings as this helps avoid misunderstandings.
8. I’ve heard that Japanese Publishers dislike making contracts for illustrators. Is this true?
This is a common problem that illustrators may face when working with some smaller Japanese publishers. Although companies are not obliged to write contracts for book illustrations, it is in the interests of the artist to ensure they do. Normally with larger publishers this is not a problem, but many smaller houses are not accustomed to writing contracts for illustration work. The onus therefore is on the illustrator to provide an estimate of costs (mitsumori) before beginning work on a project, stating exactly what terms they will agree to. Legally the publisher must provide a contract If requested, however, any document, even an estimate, will stand up in law if it is stamped with the publisher’s seal (hanko).
Copyright law in Japan generally follows internationally accepted standards, so in general what holds good in the West can be said to be the same in Japan. It should be noted that most contracts with Japanese publishers only cover domestic rights within Japan. International publishing rights to artwork are by default held by the illustrator, however you may like to have this clarified in writing.
9. Where can I get legal advice for book contracts in Japan?
At this time, SCBWI Japan cannot offer legal advice for artists or writers directly. However most town or Ward Offices in Japan offer a free weekly or bi-weekly consultation service known as horitsu sodan (in Japanese). They would be able to advise you where to find legal help specializing in publishing.
In English you may find lists of law firms on the websites of the British or American embassies.
10. Where can I find English language children’s Books in Japan?
Following is a short list of shops that contain a good selection of children’s books including imported titles. See the full list of bookstores in the SCBWI Japan LINKS.
Crayon House (Tokyo Branch)
3-8-15 Kita Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Crayon House (Osaka Branch)
3-34-24 Tarumi-cho, Suita-city, Osaka
2-20-13 Higashi #401
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0011
Kyobunkan – Narnia
6F Kyobunkan, 4-5-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku Tokyo 104-0061
11. Are there any galleries in Japan that specialize in children’s illustration?
Please visit the SCBWI Japan LINKS for lists of galleries and museums in Japan.
Major exhibitions of well-known artists are often held in department store galleries such as Mitsukoshi and Takashimaya.
There are also displays at the International Library of Children’s Literature in Ueno, and some large museum institutions sometimes have shows by artists of international reputation.
Smaller displays of new books and their art can often be seen in bookstores that have a substantial range of children’s literature, such as Crayon House in Aoyama, Maruzen in Marunouchi or Kyobunkan in Ginza. These kinds of shows are nearly always organized by publishers and other sponsors.
For exhibitions organized by artists themselves, often the first places considered by non-Japanese speakers are the many cafes/bars/restaurants that have exhibition spaces for hire. We recommend, however that illustrators NOT exhibit original artwork at such venues, as the venues often have no insurance to cover damage or loss of your work, and in a bar or restaurant almost anything can happen!
Although more expensive, there are many professional private galleries available for hire with solid links to the professional illustration market in this country. Following is a selection of Tokyo spaces specializing in illustration:
5-101,Futaba Bldg.B1, Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo,107-0062
Tel : 03-3409-8268
Fax : 03-3498-5978
Gallery House Maya
2-10-26, Kita-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan 107-0061
Tel : 03-3402-9849
Fax : 03-3423-8622
1F Hayakawa Blg, 3-4-11 Minami-Aoyama, Tokyo 107-0062
Tel : 03-3479-5889
Fax : 03-3479-1913
Opa Gallery & Shop
1F 4-1-23 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001
Tel : 03-5785-2646
Fax : 03-5785-2647
2-2-10 Kichijoji Honcho, Musashinoshi, Tokyo 180-0004
Tel : 0422-21-2177
Fax : 0422-21-2166
1F Imperial Blg, 2-12-5 Kyobashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0031
Tel : 03-3567-0005
Fax : 03-3566-0150
SCBWI Japan welcomes suggestions of galleries specializing in illustration by members across the country.
12. Can you recommend some books about writing and illustrating for children?
Here are a few to get you started:
- • Visit the online SCBWI Resource Library for The Book: The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children.
- • Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (Writer’s Digest Books).
- • How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books edited by Treld Pelkey Bicknell and Felicity Trotman (Writer’s Digest Books)
- • Writing With Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books, by Uri Shulevitz (Watson-Guptill Publications, New York)
- • Illustrating Children’s Books: Creating Pictures for Publication, by Martin Salisbury (A & C Black Publishers Ltd)
- • The Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook (A & C Black Publishers Ltd) for the UK/European market.
- • Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul (Writer’s Digest Books)
- • The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books by Harold D. Underdown (Alpha Books)
- • Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang (Chronicle Books)