Friday, February 13, 2015

Working with a Foreign Market by Monica Harris


I’ve had the good fortune of writing books for two Korean children’s publishing companies - TunTun Publishing and Caramel Tree. When fellow writers discover this, they are immediately curious about the experience. So I thought I’d share some of the questions I’ve been asked and some insight on the opportunities.

The first question is always – “Do you speak Korean?”
No, I do not speak Korean. Both companies are educational publishers who create educational English as a Second Language (ESL) programs. Their programs involve leveled reading books and teacher materials to help Korean kids from ages 3+ learn English.

How did you get your foot into the door?
It’s all about connections! For TunTun Publishing, I had met the SCBWI International Regional Advisor from Korea while attending the New York conference. She was an American living abroad due to her husband’s job. The editors at TunTun learned about her and reached out with a request for native English speaking writers who specifically wrote for kids. They wondered if she knew any. She certainly did! The Regional Advisor sent an email to several writers with the details on how to submit ideas. I jumped at the opportunity and BOOM! Six books later, my foot is no longer pinched by the door.

For Caramel Tree Publishing, it was again by making connections. While at the 2009 Los Angeles SCBWI conference, I attended a presentation on writing for foreign markets. One of the gentlemen sitting in the audience talked about his experience with the Korean market. After the presentation, we struck up a conversation. It turned out that he was the Vancouver-based English Editor with Caramel Tree Publishing. Over the next several years, I sent him stories, which I thought might fit into his program. He loved them all, but just couldn’t find a good fit within their current program. Luckily, he believed in me and was willing to take a risk. He presented my works to the Korean editorial group and stressed that I had the skills needed to be “part of the team.” The group agreed and took me on as one of their work-for-hire authors (2014). I am currently working on 16 books for their upcoming list!
Work-for-Hire? What does that mean?
Work for hire means the publisher gives me writing assignments. They are often subjects that the publisher needs in order to round out their ESL programs. I work under a contract, which requires revisions, illustration suggestions, and readability statistics. Deadlines are usually quite short and the pay is reasonable ($300-$500 per book project). My name appears on the book, but I do not earn royalties on sales. Each contract states how many complimentary copies I will receive but, because they’re sold in Korea, I don’t usually have an opportunity to buy additional copies for school visits. So I usually ask for 10 copies instead of the standard 2.

What have you learned from the experience?
  • When communicating with editors whose first language is not English, keep sentence structure simple. Email miscommunications usually occur because of basic misunderstandings in the language.
  • Research the culture you’re writing about. When writing a breakfast scene, for example, don’t assume that Korean kids eat cereal, oatmeal, or pancakes. Korean breakfasts are usually hot soup. Don’t be afraid to ask the editors for guidance. It isn’t seen as a weakness; it’s seen as respectful.
  • My teaching degree is valuable. (Which makes my father very happy!) Having an understanding of the learning process and making sure the books are in check with learning objectives has certainly given me a leg up.
  • That there’s an extra element of intrigue when you receive a package with foreign words and/or symbols on it. It makes me appear worldly, mysterious, and secretive to my mail carrier too. (wink wink)

NOTE: The title reads as “Good morning” in Italian and “Welcome” in Malay.  Because I know you were going to Google it anyways.  J

Monica writes picture books, puzzles/games, magazine stories and articles, nonfiction easy readers, and educational materials. She lives in Kalamazoo where she enjoys hiking and belly dancing. She is the author of 14 books (16 more to come) and more than 230 magazine pieces. She is also an instructor with the Institute of Children’s Literature. Learn more about Monica at her website:

Coming up in the weeks ahead: take-aways from the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York, Small Press Success, Kiddie Litter cartoons, and another round of Hugs and Hurrahs. Subscribe to The Mitten blog and you'll never miss a post. Simply enter your email in the Follow by Email box at the top of the sidebar.


  1. Thanks for letting us know how this all came about. Interesting! And it sounds like those conferences were real turning points for you. Congrats! Shutta

  2. Awesome how you made the connections. Congrats on your book contracts, Monica!

  3. Thanks for sharing. This has been helpful in so many ways. Yet another great reason to attend conferences.

  4. I am also grateful to you for letting us know about your adventures with books! Congrats!! -Lori