Saturday, July 15, 2006

Self-Serving Great Grandmother's Dishes

MPH Writer's Circle today and it was nice to have Oon Yeoh back in the driver's seat.

The topic was self-publishing. Azizi Ali talked about his self-publishing venture first. This was pretty much a repetition of what he said in a session last year but I guess he was trying to drum up support for his seminar How to Write a Best-Seller in 88 Days. (Why 88? Why not 30 or 153? Think Chinese numerology lah!)

Best piece of info from Azizi - the most important page of your book is the back cover, since research has shown that readers spend an average of 3 seconds looking at the front cover and 8 seconds looking at the back.

I was much more interested in hearing about Shirley Zecha's part family-history, part cookbook My Great Grandma Never Left Our Kitchen. Shirley talked about how family recipes (a unique blend of Indonesian/Dutch/Chinese/Nyonya influences) had been passed down the generations from her great-grandmother to her grandmother, to her aunt and finally to her. Four women who lived in different eras were united in their passion for food.

But it took a fifth woman to bring the book to fruition: Shirley's daughter Claudine realised that the recipes and stories were not just a family treasure in danger of being lost forever since she isn't a cook herfelf, but of much wider cultural relevance.

She put the book together and became the publisher. ("I'm only the cook," said Shirley, modestly.) After consulting cookbook publishers who seemed to have very set ideas about what a cookbook should look like, she decided to self-publish to have more control over the finished product and the process of putting it together.

Claudine says she managed to find the right team of people to edit and design the book (her background in advertising clearly came in useful), and all the cooking was done at home over 10 days, working from early moring till late night. The photos of the dishes, taken in and around the house, are absolutely mouthwatering and I couldn't bear to look at them because it was too near lunch time!

Claudine was pretty shrewd about approaching newspaper and magazine editors so that articles about the book appeared in the press, particularly at times of the year when interst was likely to be greatest, for example, Mother's Day. Cookery demos at MPH created more interest. Hotels in Malaysia were persuaded to stock copies, and HSBC adopted it as a corporate gift, which boosted sales. The book has sold about 3,000 copies so far and can also be found in London at Books for Cooks.

I'd love the book for the slice of Malaysian and Indonesian history it serves along with the food.

(Incidentally, while we're on the subject of putting cookbooks together, I was fascinated to read Starlight's behind-the-scenes-account of her current project ...)

Below is a picture I snapped this afternoon of Aneeta Sundararaj signing a copy of Snapshots! for me. Looking forward to reading it.


starlight said...

What a nice comment, Sharon! Thank you so much!

The Eternal Wanderer said...

It's a shame I had to give this a miss... but I had already made prior commitments...

Hopefully, there'll be a repeat of this topic in the future!

The How to Write a Bestseller in 88 Days sounds mighty interesting. I might check it out when I have the time.

Lydia Teh said...

Sharon, thanks for the update. Can always count on you to post this up. Checked out Azizi's course. RM790 for a one day course, OUUUUCCCCH! Wonder if he'll let me go for free, then I write about it in my blog :)

lil ms d said...

hi sharon! see you soon!

jade of cloudbreak says hello too!

Ted Mahsun said...

Gahhh! I missed another Writer's Circle! It's great we have you to report these events, Sharon!

Anonymous said...

"How to Write a Best-Seller in 88 Days" :

First, get yourself a job as a pilot.. :) This guy writes "how to be a millionaire" books right ? :) him and that other guy Irfan Khairi, who made his million only because he sold an education system in the UK for pds 300,000.

Also of course, another way to be a millionaire, sell seminar
seats for rm790 each :) how many would you need to make a even million ? :)

Anonymous said...

Am questioning how this Irfan @ Merah guy could get his alleged millionaire status.

If selling the UK edu sys for £300k was his 1st jackpot, it had certainly given him a substantial kickstart to exploit the Malaysians thru his basic IT workshops plus selling books & CDs. The contents of these items are presumably recycled copies from other sources such his university notes etc.

Plus, another weird thing is that how did he get his PhD?? Did he 'bought' it from some dodgy UK/US insititute??
To get a PhD from a traditional top university ain't that easy! But there u go...