Monday, August 28, 2006

Authors for Tea and Rumours of E

(E-publishing that is!)

Went along to MPH's annual Hi-Tea with Local Authors yesterday, part of the book chain's Support Local Authors Month. (Turned up a bit late because I had to take a cat to the vet first, in case anyone was wondering why the grand entrance half an hour into the session!) There turned out to be a discussion about e-books in progress with writers Shoba Mano (below left) and Lydia Teh (centre, chairing the discussion), and editor Eric Forbes. And the Booker room was absolutely packed.

I'd already missed Shoba's talk which should have been interesting because she uses e-books (as well as print copies) to distribute her work and is clearly passionate about the possibilities. Eric and Lydia had clearly done their reseach but had less personal experience to draw on. The drift of discussion seemed to be, this possibility is out there, but it doesn't seem to be influencing our buying choices in Malaysia just yet. (Indeed, the biggest battle is to get anyone to read anything - e or non-e!)

Sad. Because I reckon that many local authors could sell their work (non-fiction especially) to an overseas market in this format. How many of them, though, have even established an online presence?

After that the session seemed to lose focus somewhat. (Shoba sent round an e-mail later which expressed her dissatisfaction on a number of counts. I can sympathise, though perhaps she could have been more diplomatic.) I think it wasn't really a topic that local authors and audience couldn't really relate to, and perhaps better kept for a writer's circle meeting.

Feng-Shui diva, Lillian Too (whose books have transformed me into an expert in balancing yin and yang, and the redeeming powers of nine goldfish in a pond) added words of wisdom about writing and getting published, before having to make an early exit:
Make sure you have a damned good book and it's properly edited
she exorted. (What charisma! I want to hear this lady speak again!)

Dato' Ng, CEO of the MPH publishing group, putting discussion back on track, highlighted the Ministry of Education's failed e-book project and predicted that e-books will come, but never take over from the printed word.

(My personal prediction is that print-on-demand books, where you go into a bookshop to get a physical book made from a digitally stored source, will become an increasingly important part of the book trade. And yes, the demand for e-books will grow as the technology becomes cheaper and the idea catches on.)

The tea afterwards was an excellent opportunity to meet up with writing friends and make new contacts. (Pictured above, the local authors.) Afterwards, I bought books (how could I not?) and then had a lovely long bookchat with Eric over frosty lemon tea at Delicious.


Do read Lydia's account of the event.

You might like to check out the account on Ted's blog of the previous week's fun and games and intrigues at Sembang-Sembang Bersama Penulis Melayu: MPH's event for Malay writers. Nisah Haron's account of the same event is here.

Conclusion: interesting things happen when you stick a whole lot of writers of very different genres in a room together! (And it isn't always pretty.)


Lydia Teh said...

Sharon, astute post. Good conclusion there : interesting things happen when a bunch of writers of different genres get together. If we're all as nice as you, things won't get ugly, that's for sure, even though there might be disagreement.

bibliobibuli said...

haha! good maths problem ... how many writer's egos can you fit into a room?

i think in a sense you have to be egotistical to be a writer ... you put so much of yourself out in public view ... you declare to the world i'm deserving of your time and money ...

Faridah said...

Sharon, it was nice seeing you again (the last time was Silverfishbook Litfest).I love the diversity of us all.Great personalities, very opinionated -- signs of a great nation growing fast! Good what! I look forward to meeting a bigger crowd next year!

BawangMerah said...

I'm not sure if things have changed with e-books, but from what I know, e-books are always tied to their reader software. The problem with reader softwares is that, we can't ensure that they stay the same across versions. Would e-books published now be readable 20 years down the road, when newer pieces of softwares are used (and we know how fast the IT world moves). Or would the user have to locate exotic reader software just to read an e-book they had legally bought some years back. This without even considering things like Digital Rights Management, which would be another pain if somehow the user had screwed up their system, and they have to justify to the company that published the e-book, why they need to reinstall the reader and get another copy of the book without paying again. And then there's the question of how portable the e-book is. Can it be used with different devices or stuck with only one platform. How does it scale?

Unless these are ironed out, and reading e-books becomes as easy as reading a simple paper-based book, I don't think e-books would really pick up. If these problems have been ironed out though, then I'd probably have to get myself a little bit more updated heheh :P

Yvonne Lee said...

Hi Sharon! It was great meeting you, finally! (oops, now I remember, we met briefly when I asked for your autograph in Kinokuniya back in 2000, NSFB 1.)

Well, what else can I say (that hasn't been already said!) about yesterday's event?

Trust me, I went every year and yes, perhaps the heat of a sardine-packed room got into everyone. There has always been a drama or two.

Anyway, it was great that so many people attended but (sigh), so little time for the aspiring authors to ask questions (which I believe, has been the reason why many attended).

Aha, that's where writer's blogs can help. Thanks to you, Eric Forbes, Ted Mahsun, John Ling, Xeus, Yvonne Foong and of course our dear Lydia (she did a fantastic job yesterday, despite that situation) and many others; everyday we newbies can hold some form of discussions on writing even without stepping out of the house. Betul?

bibliobibuli said...

how nice to hear from you all!

faridah - yes, diversity indeed, great fun. it was so good to see you after so long. actually i think the last time we met was at the aussie high com when snw2 was being launched. are you still fictionating? tell us about your book!

bawang merah - you brought up a whole raft of issues that hadn't even occurred to me about e-books. i would defintitely buy them to fulfil a short term need (a novel i need to read urgently or a reference book i might just dip into) but i love the physical presence of books, the smell of paper, cover designs ... i unashamedly want access to both

yvonne - was it really so long ago? i guess i've seen your picture around so much, you look so familiar. i bought your book and think i'm going to enjoy it. especially as i worked for a year or so with malaysia airlines designing a language training package for cabin crew and got to hear some great stories!

Yvonne Lee said...

Hi Sharon! You still have that same warm smile. Hope to have more meeting opportunities.

Thanks for getting my book and I hope you will be enlightened and pst,pst, when you fly, try to spot if the cabin crew propel into immediate action when the command "crew arm and cross check all doors" comes on the PA.

Xeus said...

Sharon, it was so great to meet you again!! Yes, I;d be happy to do a 'low-brow' reading for you, if your writers can tolerate the material :)

bibliobibuli said...

yvonne - *grins even wider* yes look forward to our paths crossing again soon

try to spot if the cabin crew propel into immediate action when the command "crew arm and cross check all doors" comes on the PA.

what are the crew supposed to do? what does any of this mean? is the plane going down? should i look at their faces for signs of panic? heeeellllppp

(nervous passenger)

xeus - you think that because i'm an artyfartylitteri that i can't appreciate a well told suspense story? i like to be scared and suspensified. (just not by cabin crew on a plane!) shall add you to my list then for next month. keep 23rd free and i'll get back to you.

Xeus said... are on :)

Faridah said...

Sharon...don't make me feel like I need ginko again (for bad memory)...I think it was Litfest cos' you chaired my session.The Australian High Comm thing was earlier cos' by the time we met at Litfest, I was already a published writer of SNW2..heh doesn't really matter.I could be wrong cos' I think I saw you again at Shirley Lim's Sister Swing's launch at Silverfishbooks (which was definitely after Litfest and the Australian do and pretty recent!) :)) But we were too engaged with other people to say hi to one another.My first collection of poems (bilingual) was published in April this year and I had a reading at MPH Midvalley some time ago.It's been reviewed favourably in local newspapers(both Malay and English) and at least a journal in New Zealand (with an office also in Israel and the US!).The Art of Naming: A Muslim Woman's Journey is available at MPH Midvalley and soon I hope in Kinokuniya and Popular bookshops.Silverfishbooks carries some copies too.Support local writers aaa? :))