You can never short change a readereditor Eric Forbes (below) reminded his audience at MPH Writers' Circle yesterday, urging them to write with passion and authority if they wanted to submit their work for publication.
Most of the manuscripts submitted to him are, he said, "mediocre", and his years in the job have taught him "how little good writing there is in Malaysia". He talked about what editors look for in a manuscript and how to prepare one for submission, and gave some sterling advice about writing in general. (Eric being one of the best read blokes I know, of course sprinkled in lots of literary examples.)
Off The Edge columnist and author Kam Raslan (below) was a thoroughly engaging speaker, and began with words of encouragement:
Writing is doable because people are in the business of publishing, and there are people out there wanting to buy books ...He went on to underline many of the points made by Eric, particularly that the best way in to a writing career for a new writer is often with a proven track record of articles and columns in the press. (A show of hands showed that surprisingly few of the want-to-be authors of the Writer's Circle had had anything published at all!) I liked Kam's quote (he said it was from John Wayne in an old film):
You're not a writer until sombody tells you you are!Local newspapers and magazines, he said, are pretty desperate for quality articles (which is why so much substandard stuff gets published here). Writing regular features and columns to a deadline teaches you good discipline, and the knowledge that people will read you means that you're forced to turn out decent copy. Feedback from readers is invaluable, and your columns can probably be compiled later in book form. (Kam did this with with Amir Muhammad and Sheryll Stothard in Generations: A Collection of Malaysian Contemporary Ideas described by a critic as " a smorgasboard of ideas and opinions on Nineties Malaysia".)
I've mentioned before that Kam's novel is soon to be published by Marshall Cavendish in Singapore. Kam is realistic about book sales, realising that there is a very small market for fiction in English in Malaysia and Singapore, and a writer gets only 10-15% of the cover price.
But he's canny! For some months now, episodes from the novel have been appearing as columns in Off The Edge, purportedly reminiscences written by a certain Dato' Abdul Hamid bin Dato' Sidek!
Not only is this of course a great way to create interest in his work, but it also has meant that Kam has already started earning an income from his fiction. He also sees his novel as being a sales tool for the stage play he plans to base on it, which will be a way of generating more income ("and I don't have to split it!")
He also urged writers to "try to tap into the zeitgeist". He gave the example of Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch which gave Hornby a ready market of Arsenal supporters, football fans, and folks interested in reading about surviving relationships.
There were plenty of questions from an audience hungry for still more information, and then there was all the informal networking that goes on. It was great to see so many friends there, both Writers' Circle regulars, and new faces to the meetings.
I also met novelist Shoba Mano (below: author of The Prodigal Child) for the first time. Shoba will be speaking at the next Writers' Circle Meeting, I understand.
Had a lovely lunch in Delicious with Kam, Eric, and Lydia Teh. All of us comparing our bookaholic symptoms. (Shan't divulge the shameful truths that came out!)
Index: On the Local Writing Scene