Moving a Publishing Business Abroad

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February 2013
by Anna Faktorovich

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I started an independent publishing company called Anaphora Literary Press back in 2009, at the same time as I began my Ph.D. studies, to practice editing my own publication, the Pennsylvania Literary Journal, now available in print, on EBSCO and ProQuest, and in its fourth volume.

As the business grew, I began teaching college English full-time and expanding my research agenda; now I have two books that will be published by McFarland in 2013. This year, I was offered a contract with Shantou University in China as an associate professor. I learned that it was a high-tech, top-50 Chinese university privately funded by one of the richest men in China.

My move to China has meant that the heart of Anaphora also temporarily moved there, with more than a dozen interns each semester and a six-member editorial board, as well as peer reviewers and more than 50 authors.

We live in a world where a publisher can move a business, start an international branch, or work abroad for a while. What follows is a heads-up list for anyone contemplating any of those actions.

Employees

One of the top reasons you might be dreaming about going abroad to do business is that there are countries where the minimum wage is a lot lower than in the United States, and, in theory, you might be able to hire skilled laborers for a fraction of the standard U.S. pay rate.

In developing countries, some people really do earn as little as $1 per day. Skilled laborers in Shantou make 18 RMB ($3) an hour on average. However, they charge foreigners between 25 and 100 RMB ($4–$17) per hour because they assume ignorance of local values.

You should research the local newspapers and Web sites that post jobs, and schedule some interviews before your trip. In many countries, at a minimum, you will probably need to hire a driver, a cleaning worker, and a translator, and to have them in place as soon as you arrive. Of course, you will have to train each of these people.

Tell the translator to translate every word somebody wants to communicate, not 10 percent. Buy the cleaning products you want used, and give instructions about sanitary cleaning methods (e.g., “Don’t leave old toilet cleaning tools from other clients in my bathroom”). You’ll need a driver in countries that make you take a driving test in a foreign language for a license. Electric bicycles are good short-distance solutions in China because they are currently not covered by licensing laws, but they won’t take you safely downtown because of unregulated scooters and bicycles, and general disorderly driving.

Health

Applying for a visa at least a month in advance of a move avoids the $700 fee for a same-week turnaround. At least 10 days before departure, you will need to get four to six immunizations ($50 to $200 per shot) at your regional Travel Clinic to avoid a major health crisis. Some immunizations come in pills that have to be taken months in advance, and others are to be taken after arrival.

Simultaneously, get a full physical with MRI and X-rays in the United States to avoid a physical in a urine-flooded, filthy foreign clinic upon arrival.

The local pharmacy isn’t likely to have the drugs that you are used to, so pack the maximum supply of your allergy nasal spray, food poisoning drugs, DayQuil, NyQuil, and whatever else you take somewhat frequently. If you have insurance coverage in the United States for prescriptions, get them filled before you go, as the overseas insurance plans might not cover drugs or nonemergency medical visits (note: communism = fewer social services). Two pairs of eyeglasses cost me $1,000 in China, much more than they would have cost in the United States.

For flights with a layover of eight hours or more, book a resting room at the airport, since you won’t be able to leave it. As always on long flights, it’s good to walk around the plane periodically so your ankles won’t swell. Decreasing water intake and elevating your feet above your head can help ease swelling, which can last for a month or more.

The major health concern is food poisoning (Salmonella and the like). The bloody diarrhea can last for a month, and in serious cases the illness can damage the stomach and other organs. So, don’t oblige your host, and never eat out in developing countries if you want to keep your digestive system safe. If you must eat out, avoid buffets or restaurants that allow a group of people to eat from communal center-table plates with their hands or chopsticks. And drink only boiled water. Especially watch out for ice, which is made from tap water. Ibuprofen and antibacterials help.

Censorship

A different country might have led to more fruitful international growth for my business, as censorship prevents all but a handful of private publishers from operating in China. Most publishers here are affiliated with the Chinese government.

Censorship also impacts Internet access. Since I can’t access my own company’s WordPress Web site if I use a standard Chinese Internet connection, I use BlackLogic, a VPN service that costs $100 a year, registers you anonymously, and shows your computer as being in a censorship-free country. This gives me access to WordPress, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Netflix, Skype, and so on. In countries where you will have a weaker Internet connection, you might have trouble finding an unlimited Internet provider, or only find one with rates at around $500 a month for 100 GB.

Money

The English-speaking skilled labor force is small; shipping costs are high; there is no centralized publishing tracking system; and your new bank account might not have the transaction descriptions you are used to in the United States. Transactions may read simply as debits and credits

There is a lot of credit and debit card theft in China and other developing countries. In fact, my U.S. PNC bank card number was stolen and used several times with online stores before I closed that account and was left with only one U.S. debit card. To avoid theft-related losses, banks have a highly complex online shopping system. The Bank of China gives out an electronic password that changes every minute and a PIN that must be texted to your phone in Chinese every time you shop online.

Avoid shopping online, in general. My expedited packages arrived from TMall.com covered in a thick layer of dust two weeks later at five different curbside dropoff points, and had major defects, including loose screws in a bike and power-outage-causing technology in an oven. Also, expect defective products from online and physical stores. A knife I bought at WalMart collapsed in half onto my finger and split my nail, nearly cutting my finger in half.

Contracts

Contractual negotiations and disputes are likely to be complicated by international moves. Contract Law of the People’s Republic of China was renewed and strengthened in 1999 and 2008 by the People’s Congress, and yet some institutions in China still feel that contractual agreements are fluid and can be changed.

For example, I was offered and signed a contract to earn 220,000 RMB per year, but my actual incoming salary turned out to be 156,000 RMB. Upon appealing this matter, I was offered an official apology, but I have not yet won the promised initial salary. To fight this dispute with the STU administration, I have to use Google Translate. If this matter goes to court, and no court-appointed translators are available, I’ll have to use Google Translate even in my pro se legal appeals.

Putting Things in Perspective

As I struggled through one of the varied illnesses that I have developed in China (allergies, food poisoning, vision trouble, and colds), my translator asked, “If you have publishing business, why you come to China?” I gave him a long lecture about ambition, about the American tenure system, about the academic publishing industry, and about the urge to eventually make enough money to be secure enough not to need to take extreme risks like going to China to get ahead. He stared blankly. I’m not sure if he understood much of what I was saying. As an English professor, maybe I should have realized this, and given him a simpler answer. Sometimes, I do stuff just to write interesting stories about it.


About the Author:

Anna Faktorovich, the founder and director of the Anaphora Literary Press, teaches college English and has won the MLA Bibliography and Brown University Research Fellowships. Two of her books are forthcoming from McFarland: Rebellion Novel Genre and Formulaic Writing Within Genres. To learn more: anaphoraliterary.com.

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