Sunday, June 18, 2006

Generating Income from Fiction

You can never short change a reader
editor 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!)

Related Posts:

Index: On the Local Writing Scene


hcfoo said...

So the topic was "Fiction" indeed. I hope there will be a topic on "Non-fiction" in the future.

lil ms d said...

woohoo! way to go all! i had to work :( so could not go.

meet soon sharon!

bibliobibuli said...

hi foo - yes, there was some focus on fiction yesterday, but much of what was said was equally applicable to non-fiction writing too

the focus of past meetings has been largely on non-fiction, but i guess the real issue is that every person in the audience has different needs and the only way to meet them is to aim for variety

ms d - sure!

Anonymous said...

Hi Sharon,

I just blogged about this very interesting topic you brought up. Come on over! Sorry I missed yesterday, but I'm overseas. Otherwise I'd love to catch up with you.


Lydia Teh said...

Great "minutes." Were you a secretary in another life? Enjoyed the lunch.

The Eternal Wanderer said...

I've learnt a lot in my first Writer's Circle meeting! Both the speakers are thoroughly insightful and knowledgeable in the business of writing. It was certainly fun!

Indeed, I've only had works published for over a year now, not really enough as of yet so, I'm attempting to rewrite most of my interview stories and will be submitting them to the various magazines, newspapers and sites of interest.

I actually never knew I could recycle my stories and get them published elsewhere until you told me, Sharon. Thanks very much for that!

I've also interviewed Nirpal Singh Dharliwal of Tourism. I'm quite sure there'll be a few magazines interested in that one!

bibliobibuli said...

xeus - thanks! you are a good person to talk about this

lydia - didn't you see me scribbling my notes? i think stuff like this needs to be written up so that everyone can see what went on. i have a lot more on what eric said about submission of manuscripts but maybe that will be another post another day ...

philip - yes, the recycling trick is one that i cottoned on to latish - leah (a.k.a blogger third chimp) was the oen who wised me up to it - and why not? different publications have completely different readerships and you can angle the article differently

i am jealous beyond words that you also got an interview with this nirpal guy - especially as i've nearly finished his book and am enjoying it ... tell me when it's up because i'd love to link to it

Zsarina said...

Sorry to have missed this one, esp as the topic was fiction. I am glad to see that MPH is doing its bit to help fiction writers in the country. there may be hope yet for people who want to make a living from creative writing in malaysia. Would be interested to know just how one submits to magazines and newspapers here - do you just send manuscripts to the editor and hope for the best?

bibliobibuli said...

articles - yes, just submit them (after studying the type of articles that get published) - if an editor likes your work you will be asked to write other pieces

fiction is harder - kam was able to do this with 'off the edge' because he already wrote a columnn for the magazine (which publishes high quality fiction each month anyway) - but there are other publications which take fiction pieces e.g some woman's magazines

Spot said...

I like that quote from Kam/John Wayne too.

If that weren't true, everybody would be entitled to self-style "writer".