Friday, June 02, 2006

Free-Falling Fiction

Singaporean writer O Thiam Chim wrote to me a few days back to tell me about the publication of his first collection of short fiction, Free-Falling Man.

Ever interested in the path to publication for local* writers I asked him to tell me something about the background to the book. He told me that he got the idea for the collection whilst doing his B.A. In English language and Literature, but:
... the stories had been germinating in my mind for a while before that, bits and pieces of different stories coming together, gelling and expanding, certain story plots growing clearer and clearer.
He believed in his book so much that he quit his job and spent seven months writing:
... it was a very tough time for me, emotionally and financially. Emotionally, as I was debating inwardly whether I could actually write these stories, and I had to wrestle constantly with negative thoughts about my writer identity and my ability to put down in words the ideas and thoughts in my head. Financially as my savings started to peter out four months after I began this project. I was living day by day on the essentials, stuck in my room, drafting and writing frantically, willing my stories to be completed before I was totally broke.
After completing his first draft, he then went back to full-time work and freelance writing. Then:
Fast forward. In early 06, I took up the manuscript and began to work on these stories again. I think with the passage of time, I began to read my stories anew and see them with different eyes. I knew I had to be brutal with my stories and I did major surgery on them. It was a painful experience, as any writer can testify.
He approached a writer friend for advice on how to get his work into print.
He recommended some local publishers and I sent my manuscript to these publishers. Out of the four or five publishers ... only two responded. One rejected my manuscript based on the taboo subjects I touched on in some of the stories, and the other had stopped publishing local titles and advised me to seek other avenues. ... I was not discouraged but continued to seek for help and advice. The same writer friend, who had published his second book with a small print press in the US, iUniverse, told me about his experience with self-publishing and its advantages and benefits.
The "tipping point" for O was the fact that "iUniverse has already an on-going relationship with major online booksellers like Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Booksamillion" which meant that selling his work would be easier.

The company has several packages to choose from:
... each with its own terms and conditions. I chose the Premier package which comes with initial editing, and a book cover design among other things. It cost about US$699.
But his feelings about the service are mixed. The initial design for the cover was so dreadful, O decided to hire his own designer. And then he found that there were some hidden costs and he actually needed to pay about US$200 more for his proofreading and editing.

His twenty free author copies were sent out to overseas and local reviewers, and when he purchased another batch for sale he discovered it an expensive business, what with shipping costs and the Singaporean taxes.

O says he is now peddling his books from bookshop to bookshop "and it is really hard work".

I think what this story underlines is that local writers who want to self-publish need an awful lot of stamina to get their books out there.

I do hope that after all his struggles, the book does well for O.

*Perleeease do not give me anymore of that "Singapore is not local" crap. Basically, we share the same publishing and distribution fishtank, so let's be nice to each other.


Yvonne Foong said...

O is so correct when he said self-publishing is a tough route. I, personally, have pitched my book to Marshall cavendish, hoping to receive a favourable reply from them.

Perhaps we need added sales mechanism in local book publishing, don't you think?

I wish the publishing of my book would be successful enough to help fund my surgeries.

maybe short story collections like O's could be used for other fundraising purposes. Then, the public would find another good reason to buy and read. What do you think?

Lydia Teh said...

What a heart-breaking story. Sharon, you're 100% right when you say that self-publishing needs lots of stamina - truckfuls of it and throw in plenty of time, effort and money too. I'd advise potential authors to really do their homework before they decide to go the self-publishing route.

Lydia Teh said...

btw, the link up there's not working.

sky said...

stamina is the right word, i agree, instead of determination. a must for authors who have to build names.

reminds me of an ugly fact (i'm not sure if this applies in your location) that some "writers" who have the right connections or clout get published anyway even if their works would have been better off as flyswatters.

i wish mr. o lots of luck.

Ted Mahsun said...

May I suggest to O (such a cool name!) that he purchase a copy of the 2006 edition of Novel and Short Story Writer's Market, go through the listings of the literary and consumer magazines that accept the the type of stories he has written, then submit the individual stories in his book to these magazines.

That way, he can maximise the stories' worth: he gets paid, he gets recognition and (possibly) he can help sell more of his book.

Good luck O!

Anonymous said...

Dear Sharon,

How sad! Things should turn out better for him. Why don't you offer O the number of my literary agent, whose Singaporean, BTW? He may be able to help O out. It's worth a try, since O has gone to all that trouble already.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Ted and Lynette.

I can only imagine that he has encountered some people who cruelly go: "If your stories are so good, how come they aren't published by a REAL publisher?"

However, O is on the right track. If he can handle the rigours of self-publishing, he can certainly handle pretty much everything else. I wish him all the best and he has my deepest respect and admiration.

After all, as a certain popular author who once sold books out of the boot of his car said: "If you want to be a doctor, you go to med school. You want to be a lawyer, you go to law school. But if you want to be a published writer, you have to find your own way in."

John Ling

bibliobibuli said...

i really thank you all for your great suggestions - it really is tough to self-publish and i understand this more and more as i listen to the "war stories" at the mph writer's circle, yet there really aren't too many alternatives locally ...

ted's idea of getting some of the stories published in magazines is a good one ... but even locally there are publications which might take them

as annette says she gave me the phone number of her literary agent - the one and only one in singapore apparently - and he helped her to find a publisher (actually publishers) - just drop me an e-mail if you'd like it as i'm not sure i should just post it up here

another piece of advice i'd add is get yourself a web presence ... self-published author john ling (see previous comment) has a beautiful website which really sells him, for e.g. ... you can be your own shop window! and give little tasters of your work to whet the readers' appetite 2

john - very nicely said!

Anonymous said...

It's Lynette, Sharon, not Annette! You've forgotten me really have to take me to tea now.

I really encourage O to contact my lit agent. Apparently, another person from the MPH Writer's workshop that day contacted him with a script, and the agent is doing all he can to sell it now.

And a friend of mine who wanted to write a Physics book all his life but could never find a way into publishing went through this agent and is now getting published!

I want everyone to know I don't get a cut out of recommending this agent. I just want everyone's dreams to come true, like me and my friend and so many others to come. Every writer deserves a chance.

And thanks to the agent and the publisher, every major bookstore is stocking my book now by the thirties to fifties, some even up to a hundred. And giving it a good display as well (just check out what 1 Utama, MidValley or Borders did for me, even the Singaporean one.) When you go through a traditional publisher instead of self publishing, this is what they can do for you.

So, O, I hope you heed my advice and give yourself a chance.


otc said...

I would like to thank all of you for your valuable comments and suggestions. It's amazing the amount of knowledge, information and experience one can pool together from fellow writers and book lovers. All of your views and thoughts have really broadened my perspective on writing and publishing.

Lynette, I would definitely love to get in touch with your agent. Perhaps you can drop me an email at and we can discuss this in details. A big thanks in advance for the recommendation.

As for my book, I have managed to approach two smaller local bookstores (BooksActually / Earshot) this week and they have agreed to display and sell it. One of them accepted 5 copies and the other 10 copies. All the books are on consignment. The good thing is that both bookstores are really open and supportive towards local writers and they are not just paying lip service. All I have to do is to go up to them, tell them I'm a new writer and have just published a book, and the next thing you know, they want to find out when I can deliver the books to them. They are really that supportive.

And their act of kindness have given me the courage to approach the big boys of book retail (Times, MPH, Kinokuniya, Borders) in the following weeks.

All I can do now is keep my fingers crossed and pray for the best.

bibliobibuli said...

aiyoh lynette - so sorry lah - don't know how i can make the slip with your name ... no problems with tea though!

glad to hear this news about your agent

otc - so glad a couple of shops are taking your book and good luck with the rest

do let us know how things go for you