Janine Shepherd is an extraordinary person - a bestselling author, inspirational/TED speaker, Change agent, aerobatic pilot, and advocate for the invaluable notion that "a broken body is not a broken person". I first came to know Janine and her writing in mid-2010 via John Kiang, an air traffic controller of more than 40 years in Taiwan who was then blogging about famous female pilots around the world. Having read Janine's Never Tell Me Never (1994), John recognised it as a highly inspirational book and approached me in the hope that I could help to promote it in the Chinese World.
I managed to get hold of a copy of Never Tell Me Never and read it all in one sitting. An inspirational story indeed, it details how Janine's life as a champion cross-country skier gearing for the Winter Olympics was irrevocably altered in 1986 when she was run over by a truck during a training bicycle ride to the Blue Mountains. Janine's neck and back were broken, her collarbone and five ribs were fractured, and her right leg was ripped open. She had severe lacerations to her abdominal area, lost five litres of blood, and suffered serious internal injuries. At first the doctors thought she would not live. Then they said she would be bound to a wheelchair for the rest of her life and never bear children.
Throughout the following years, Janine remained a partial paraplegic and sufferer of chronic back pain. However, not only did she start walking again, but she also gave birth to three children, gained her pilot's license as well as a Commercial pilot's license, and went on to become a trained aerobatics flying instructor. She was named one of ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World in 1998, an Australian Achiever in 1999, and a Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia in 2001. She was the first female director of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and a torchbearer at the 2000 Summer Paralympics in Sydney. Today, she is an ambassador for Spinal Cure Australia.
Although countless Australians as well as readers in the United States and Brazil have been captivated by Janine's story of incredible courage and strength, her book remained relatively unknown in the Chinese World despite John's and my own efforts to promote it. Most of the publishers in Taiwan either did not respond or turned it down, with the rationale that readers could only handle a limited number of inspirational stories of people with disabilities. Considering the success of Nick Vujicic's 2010 autobiography Life without Limits: Inspiration for a Ridiculously Good Life, whose Chinese edition was published later that year in Taiwan and quickly became a bestseller throughout Asia, they thought it was neither necessary nor worthwhile to invest on Janine's story.
Meanwhile, having worked hard through various connections, John and I thought we finally had a chance to crack the Chinese Market when we received a proposal from a major publisher in Beijing in early 2011. The publisher was happy to publish my Chinese translation of Janine's Never Tell Me Never. However, they wanted Janine to offer the rights to her book for free, with a financial contribution either from her or from the Australian Government in order to promote it. After much negotiation (for which our Chinese contact took all the credit), the publisher agreed to pay Janine as the author a Basic Fee of 30 Chines dollars - approximately 4.30 Australian dollars back then - per thousand words. That is to say, for her 80,000-word autobiography, Janine would only receive 344 Australian dollars. Should the Chinese edition get o sell more than 10,000 copies, then the publisher would be happy to pay a Print Run Fee of 0.3 Chinese dollars per extra thousand copies - the equivalent of 2.1 Australian dollars back then. (Note: Back in 2011, the exchange rate between Australian and U.S. Dollars was roughly 1:1.)
(I should note there that at least in the case of this particular Chinese publisher, they considered the role of the translator to be equally important as that of the author in the publishing process. Hence I, as the translator, was also offered a Basic Fee of 344 Australian dollars for my willingness to translate a 80,000-word book from English to Chinese. The aforementioned Print Run Fee would apply to me as well. The exchange rate between Australian and U.S. dollars is about 1:0.77 today.)
Obviously - and understandably - Janine was highly pis... Let's just say, she was very upset when she saw the Chinese proposal. And I thought (and still think) she had all the rights in the world to feel angry, especially when I heard of the publishing deal she had signed with a Brazilian publisher to translate and publish Never Tell Me Never in Portuguese. Not only did they offer a five-digit advance payment to her as the author, but they were also willing to pay good money for quality translation.
So the deal was off, and Janine's remarkable life story remained almost unknown to readers across the Chinese World. While that was back in 2011 - and I am sure things are considerably different with the Chinese Market now - that negotiation remains one of the most unforgettable experiences in my life as a writer, translator and publisher of Chinese digital and print books. It shows how difficult it is to break into a new market if you are not supported by one of the Big Five publishers and/or promoted at international book fairs by famous literary agents. While the term "independent author" did not exist then, what happened to Janine back in 2011 is still happening to independent and self-published authors across the world today.
Still, should opportunities arise, I would still encourage all emerging and established authors to actively promote their books to the Chinese World, not only because our literary voices deserve to be heard, but also because Chinese readers, like their Western counterparts, deserve to have fresh, original and diverse content that inspires and informs. Just like the title of Janine's new book - DEFIANT - it is while countering relentless challenges that we become aware of our own courage, value and dignity as human beings.
Author’s Note: The two images used in this article are owned by Janine Shepherd. I particularly like the second one, captured from Karlene Petitt's website "Flight to Success" with Janine's famous words "If I can't walk, I'll fly!" as caption. You can find more amazing stuff about Janine Shepherd in her Never Tell Me Never and other books. My own promotion of Janine and her books can be found here, with Defiant soon to be added to the list.