Hey everyone, etvo here. I sat down with the folks from Peking University, a notable heavyweight in the Chinese web novel sphere, back in the beginning of May for an in-depth interview. Some recent events delayed the publication for a bit, so some of the information you’ll find below will be a bit dated. There’s a part II to follow with an in-depth interview with yours truly!
It’s always interesting talking with folks in China about our scene, in part because they delineate very heavily between male and female novels. A fast and loose rule would be, anything involving a harem, wuxia/xianxia, and action would be male novels, and anything with a female MC or romance is a female novel. That’s not quite the kind of categorization we employ in the West, as we tend to separate on basis of genre more often, so it’s often an interesting exercise explaining the quirky, off-the-beaten-path focus that volare has. Hence, volare is often categorized as a romance novel site in Chinese media, something belied by our actual selection of novels. 😀
Another point worthy of note is that folks tend to look at the number of comments on TOC’s to judge readership engagement, as that’s how reader behavior functions on the Chinese raw sites. Our engagement tends to happen in the chapter comments, which (particularly in cases like DCF) can absolutely bury the TOC in terms of number of comments. My interviewer hadn’t realized this, and it was something I noted, but sadly we weren’t able to rectify that in time for publication.
volare novels is a North American-audience-focused Chinese-English translation website. As of the end of April 2017, volare has had up to 1M daily pageviews, roughly 100K daily visitors (unique IP), and approximately 1.5M monthly visitors (unique IP). Based on our observations, volare novels—second only to Wuxiaworld and comparable to Gravity Tales—is presently one of the largest of the three English translation websites.
“Volare” originated from the Latin word meaning “to fly”. The founder’s username, “etvolare” or Ai Fei Er (艾飞尔) in Chinese, is the words “et” and “volare” joined together to signify “and fly”, expressing hopes of leading readers in flight into the worlds of stories as well as letting the imagination of the translator soar.
The feather in the logo of “volare novels” also signifies the meaning behind the name.
etvolare, a Taiwanese-American, has loved wuxia television shows and romantic fiction novels since she was a young child. Putting it in her own words, she is “an unabashed and utter bookworm.” During school she studied finance, but outside of school she was already starting to get a taste of translation work. In the year 2015, she inadvertently broke into the field of translating web novels and reignited her love of literature and translating. In December of the same year, she founded the website “volare novels”. At first it was only to showcase her own translated works while sharing them on Wuxiaworld and Gravity Tales, but when she later realized that some of the alternative (e.g. science fiction, comedy, etc.) and lady oriented novels that she really enjoyed were not popular with the readers on either of the two sites, etvolare thought of developing volare as a place where these types of novels could be amassed. She quit her job in New York City on Jan. 1, 2017, returning to Taiwan to focus on running volare and registering it as a company.
As such, each and every one of the translation works on volare were personally selected by etvolare herself and deemed to have distinguishing qualities. etvolare doesn’t really look at novel rankings; rather she finds Chinese literature through the recommendations of other readers. By May 2017, volare already had 28 novels, 4 of which are completely translated (book lengths all under 100 chapters) and 24 of which are serialized. Of these novels, 14 are male-oriented and 14 are female-oriented. The novel count in accordance to their raw sites are as follows: 10 Qidian, 4 Yunqi, 4 JJWXC, 3 iReader, Xiang5, 1 Qidian MM, 1 Tadu, 1 ReadNovel, 1 Zhulang, 1 17K, and 1 XXSY.
(This is now a rather outdated listing of the novels on volare.)
The translations of these works are done by roughly 30 translators and 30 editors, hailing from around the world from North America, Europe, Southeast Asia, etc. The large majority of these translators are ethnic Chinese, while the small minority are Westerners who have learned Chinese. The editors are readers who have a comparatively high proficiency with the English language and are responsible for polishing the flow of the writing, correcting spelling and grammar, and more. These translators and editors too had to pass etvolare’s standards via a test before they could join the site. Counting one book as one team, income is distributed to the other team members by the novel lead and mainly comes from reader donations, crowdfunding (Patreon crowdfunding platform for creators), advertisements, and future ebook sales from e-book platforms like Amazon.
According to statistics, 30% of volare’s readers are from America; 5% are from Canada; 17% are from Western Europe; and 12% are from southeast Asia. etvolare believes that most of these readers are foreigners and not ethnic Chinese, because those who are ethnic Chinese might not need Chinese novels translated into English and perhaps prefer Chinese movies and dramas.
A quick breakdown of our top traffic sources in May.
Compared to other sites, volare’s reader comments and reviews aren’t regarded as especially passionate, but readers can be found on Discord, reddit, and other social platforms participating in discussions; in fact, volare’s Discord server has already passed 2500 members (number updated as of early June).
Comparing to the mature process in which English bestsellers are produced, etvolare feels that the reason why Chinese web novels are able to attract foreign readers’ enthusiasm is because the novels have a more exquisite and rich depiction of emotions, along with the interplay between characters. Not only that, some of the most innovative elements to date can be immediately reflected in web novels. This is demonstrated in the recently announced iReader novel, Red Packet Server, portraying a heavenly chat room on a similar platform to WeChat, where the protagonist fights with the Monkey King and other celestials for red packets. This is something that definitely cannot be found in Western literature and is rather interesting, especially since one can also learn about Chinese culture.
Following the growing impact of Chinese web novels abroad, volare has already attracted the attention of many Chinese literature companies, such as iReader, 17K, and Zongheng, which have already reached an agreement to work together with volare. According to etvolare, volare will retain a significant leaning towards female-oriented novels and look to translate Chinese media, comics, games, etc., with the aim of spreading popular Chinese literary culture.
However, the website presently has not touched boy’s love (BL) and slash fiction genres. First, this is because the company is taking a traditional path and hopes to first establish a contract for the authorizations of their works, though currently volare has yet to reach an agreement with main BL website JJWXC. Secondly, these two genres already have an English translation front—”bl translations” (Peking University Literary Forum is about to release a special introduction of “bl translations” and an interview with its website manager).
Article in Chinese can be found here.