The Nuts and Bolts of Marketing a Book in China

China Book Market

A curious case has recently happened in the Chinese book market

A book by an American writer, Francis Fukuyama, has become a hit in China and a top reading recommendation on a local book review website within some two days, notwithstanding its controversial subject. The book has been present in the market for a few years already, and a happy chance made it top up the reading lists out of the blue. That was a perfect instance of how the tools to promote a book in China work.

How did that happen?

The outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan in late January, prior to the Spring Festival, made the hearts of the whole nation bleed. The time was tense, the minds were focused, and the attitudes were serious. The people plucked up the courage to give a swift response to the disaster, got a grip on themselves and built the first hospital designated specifically for the victims of the novel virus in 10 days.

A young post-doc surnamed Fu was among the first group of infected people to enter the module hospital as a patient on February 5. Fu was found reading a book staying calm and relaxed while being part of the taut atmosphere, hustling hospital life, and national anti-disease battle.

The photo of unperturbed Fu with a book in his hands went viral in China and quickly penetrated all the local social media via millions of shares. The patient unintentionally became an epitome of hope and inner peace. This was a relief of nationwide tension as it made the people empathize and look on the bright side of life.

What about the book?

Rating of The Origins of Political Order by Fukuyama, Douban, February 2020

The book was an indispensable feature of the photo shared throughout the Chinese Internet. Being now associated with something extremely positive and inspiring, the book became a top-read on February 7 as the sales increased.

Reviews on Douban as of February 2020 are abundant and all relate to Wuhan

It took the book two days to reach the top! This case can be a classical instance of how reputation, positive ideas and feelings shape success in China. Moreover, it proves the power of social platforms here.

Not every writer’s story ends with a miracle like that, in China. Neither ends with average success. Strenuous effort should be made to achieve the same result and promote a book in China via proper marketing rather than through waiting for a supernatural occurrence.

The rules of China’s book market are both a disaster and a blessing. They are impossible to know, to infer, and to comply with unless you understand the mentality and see it inside out. On the contrary, they are simple, narrow, schematic and standardized, which means that knowing them in and out is the key!

Book Market in China: Facts and Figures in Brief

If you are reading this article you already know that the book market in China is an attractive target because:

  • 1.4 billion people and almost 60% of active readers result in a target audience of up to 850 mln people;
  • China’s dynamic economy and literacy growth implies that 60% would one day approach the mark of 100%;
  • The book market size in China mounted to 14.9 billion USD as of 2019;
  • The book market has experienced a growth of more than 20% between 2008-2018 in China, and it has risen 11% due to an online retail increase in 2019;
  • Education and literacy development means Chinese people are craving for knowledge and are open to various subjects (you check one of the trends here);
  • 22% of all the books in the Chinese market are foreign books.

How to promote a book in China?

  1. Explore the market and choose the right book(s). P.S. The “wrong books” can also be marketed in China but there’s no guarantee the success will be long-lasting with the Party.
  2. Find a reliable local agency to translate your book(s).
  3. Go digital and get more exposure.
  4. Become a “must-read”.
  5. Enjoy the success:)

Sell Book in China: Translation is not an Option

If it’s not a language textbook, you should really take care of the translation if you want to promote a book in China. Even if it is in English, the books might be doomed to failure in China. Why? There are two very specific points here.

  1. They either only speak Mandarin

Despite your expectations of China being a definitely progressive country with a lot of huge cosmopolitan cities and, therefore, being one can speak English just like elsewhere in the world, China is an entirely different planet.

  • China used to be an extremely isolated and reserved state so the majority of people didn’t learn foreign languages even a few decades ago;
  • Young people who did/do learn English (and occasionally, other languages) in the overwhelming majority of cases don’t feel comfortable enough with it yet, which is particularly true for book reading;
  • They simply don’t need it, because it’s not them who urgently need you with the books (or any foreign products, in fact) but You who need them.
  1. Or they just don’t feel comfortable with other languages!

There is such a notion as mafan in the Chinese language. You will hardly find it in any other language; however, this word might be the perfect epitome of the Chinese mentality. Mafan generally relates to anything burdensome and causing inconvenience. To make matters worse, the scope of things causing inconvenience for the Chinese people is incredibly wide, which makes mafan a pervasive phenomenon. Everything ranging from locking one’s key in the room to formalities, troubles, dealing with a negative thinker, etc., is a potential mafan. Mafan is a reason to quit a job, abandon a partner in business, or opt for another product. Reading a book in English (even if they know some of it) which could be published in Chinese is a huge mafan too!

With all that said, make sure your book is not any type of mafan. Moreover, there should be a proper translation made by a specialized agency/service. The logical outlay of the Mandarin language is as unique as the people’s mentality here. A Google translation will provide a random unreadable script, a non-expert might come up with confusing alternatives, while a professional service will adjust your book in a way for it to fits the intricate Chinese minds.

Restrictions on selling book in China

Books comprise that type of market that requires attention to detail in China. Take a look at the following points:

  1. Subjects

To promote a book in China you have to be ready to deal with a communist party in a broad sense. Communist Party is a large filtering and sanitizing system here that does its best to eliminate any negative influence from the outside. Therefore, there are topics that are not welcome in China – consider that.

  1. Proper Wording

There are words, numbers, and even dates and events that are not welcome to be mentioned in Chinese books or any other pieces of writing. The reason is either their profuse culture or – again – the Communist Party. A reliable service dealing with translations will solve the riddle for you.

  1. Popularity

Foreign books, as I have mentioned before, are increasingly popular in China. This means that there’s a threat to the local aspirers and local ideology. So, the acceptance of foreign literature is continuously slowing down – only the best are making the cut.

Digital China

Nowadays China can boast the highest digital literacy level in the world. Technologies have penetrated the country to the extent that users are not confined to certain age groups. Even elderly people are digitally savvy here once compared with foreign peers.

Moreover, they can all be considered advanced users for the reason that all the major daily operations are now being done online in China:

  • Buying all products ranging from food to electronics is online (45% of books were bought online in 2019, and this rate is bound to grow);
  • Paying the bills is online;
  • Search for any type of information online;
  • Making all the appointments and bookings is online;
  • And they just spend over 6 hours per day online (which is twice more than in the US, for instance).
A Chinese saying 抬头挺胸 means “raise the head and straighten the back”

As a result, the most effective marketing means in China are all online! And it comes as no surprise because they spend:

  • 8 hours working,
  • 8 hours sleeping,
  • 6 hours online (which is normally combined with eating, communicating, shopping, commuting to work, etc.),
  • only 2 hours, let’s say, washing and cooking,
  • 24-8-8-6-2=0 time to “stand and stare” (i.e to pay attention to offline experiences, including promotions)!

How does it work with the books?

  1. Chinese nationals get recommendations from their friends online – that is ultra-effective content sharing.
  2. They stumble upon the books while surfing the net or social media, by chance.
  3. People here look for suitable books to read through online magazines and forums related to the target subject.
  4. They buy their books through e-commerce platforms and get them delivered fast from any corner of the country to the door.
  5. Chinese people also “report” what they read through posts on social platforms.

Exposure and Visibility

Most of you, the book writers, want China to become your first arena of success which is completely fair minding the market size. This means that you understand that you would have to start from scratch. However, some of you are already producing bestsellers outside China and think it will be plain sailing here. This is a common misconception, unfortunately, as in China your chances are even, and at the beginning, they are equal to zero.


As I have mentioned before, China used to be isolated from the rest of the world. They have developed their own systems and their own means and ways for everything, which makes them stay a little bit outside the common practices. Google, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and more international services are simply banned in China. Obviously, that makes it impossible for you to let them know about your wonderful self. Unless you try to make Chinese people see you, know your books, talk about them…

Of course, you might think they can search for the name/subject on the web and find it. But would they ever find it if it is not in their system yet? No. The system is different, and it is not connected to the worldwide network, by and large.

Getting into the system equals to having an optimized website (so that it is reachable and won’t get banned) and doing the SEO on Baidu (a local alternative for Google). You can rely on us for that.

Reputation and Branding in China

To promote a book in China, you make the first steps to be seen through the abyss of your competitors. Meanwhile, you need to work on your image – to get an advantage over them. Why is it so necessary?

  • Chinese people are not explorers – they want something trustworthy, 100% good.
  • This nation can be characterized by resistance to taking risks – they think a lot before they decide to spend their time and money on a book, and they will choose the top-recommended option.
  • They are not really used to making individual choices because of a strong sense of crowd also – they follow the general code.
  • They consider themselves to be ordinary people, so they rely on the majority of the experts before buying a book.

Marketing a book in China requires a positive image, obtained by Fukuyama’s book by mere chance.

Historical, cultural, political, and economic backgrounds are the factors that shaped them in a completely different way. All things considered, their consumer behavior might seem to be different from common sense. However, if you really want to achieve sensational success, you have to take it at face value and obey. After all, when in Rome, do as Romans do, right?

If you want to know how to:

  • benefit from social platforms to promote your book in China,
  • get through to local press and review websites and boost your image,
  • built a long-term successful strategy,

…and much more than that, drop a message and get a free consultation from our experts.

We have 7 years of experience and more than 70 people to guide you and make it work.

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  • Very nice article. I enjoy read that…

  • Thank you for this post. What a funny way for a book to become viral in China! This event literally made the book boom in china! It’s quite incredible but still believable if we know how much things can easily get viral here in China. I totally agree with you about translating your book before marketing it. The Chinese speak Mandarin and trying to sell them a book in a foreign language will probably not work… Of course some Chinese speak English or other languages, but it only represents a minority among the huge potential readers a single book could reach in China


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