Thursday, October 19, 2006

From the Lips of an Editor

Eric Forbes, bibliophile to eclipse this bibliophile, and editor extraordinaire, has a piece up on his blog which should be compulsarily engraved on the hearts of all wanna-be publisheds.

In an August 2006 interview with Lauren Andrew of the University of Wollongong, Australia, Eric, editor with MPH publishing, revealed how Malaysian writers just aren't up to the mark. Most writers, he says, lack basic English language skills, are too lazy to knock their manuscript into decent shape, and simply don't read enough. He says:
The main impression, for what it is worth, is how very little good writing there is. That’s not surprising, really, if truth be told. Let us not kid ourselves any longer: writing is difficult, and there aren’t many people who can do it well enough.

Fractured, mangled English has been (and will always be) the bane of my life. Most manuscripts are so atrociously written that I prefer not to look at them at all. A bonfire, that’s where they belong. Either that or I flush it down the you-know-where. I hate myself for saying this, but step into my shoes and you will understand what I mean. Editing bad manuscripts is such a waste of life and natural resources.
Strong words from one of the most sweet-natured guys I know: bad writing takes you that way.

Read his whole piece and learn what you should do to get your manuscript accepted. And while you're there, also check out his excellent piece on how take the first steps to get published.

Eric's really not trying to put a dampner on your writerly spirits, and he does your want manuscripts.

It's just that he'd like much better ones.

14 comments:

Yvonne Lee said...

Hi Sharon! Thanks for the post on Eric.
The two articles offer great read for writers.

I love Eric's Shooting the Breeze posts and used to wonder why they didn't find the way to the local newspapers or a platform for mass reading. (oh, I now remember reading it in MPH's Quill mag though, and BTW, how many people actually know about QUill and yes, now it's selling for RM 5 a copy).

So, thanks Sharon, for driving bloggers to read about Eric's in depth comment on writing.

I was wondering, how if Sharon Bakar and Eric Forbes collaborate and come out with a book like 'On Writing'...wow, our homegrown volume on writing tips and perhaps, inputs from experienced local writers. That'll be quite a gem, don't you think?

Spot said...

I really enjoyed Eric's unflinching honesty, especially where he says

“If you can’t write, don’t write. Spare the world the pain and agony of reading your writing. If you want to write, do it properly.”

Gosh, now that's something that really needs to be said to so many ppl.

I've noticed that a lot of Malaysian bloggers (my only exposure to local writing, I'm ashamed to say) seem to genuinely believe they can write, so much so that some even self-proclaim to be writers. And these are the ones most resistant to and even resentful of critique.

How does one walk the line btwn trying not to discourage the creative process of writing and separating wheat from the chaff?

I mean it's one thing to encourage someone to keep writing, but is it worth it if all it serves is to give one false confidence? I'm saying this specifically in the context of those whose arrogance (delusion?) inspire them to say things like "I don't like to edit my work", despite how clearly one seriously needs to.. and during a writing class for goodness sake.

I really don't intend to be mean-spirited, but I dunno how else to put it. It's just too bad that we live in an age where political correctness has gone mad and sensitivities are treated with such egg-shell care as if a little bit of honesty would crush and destroy one's psyche forever and ever and ever.

simon said...

speaking of which, are you joining the nanowrimo this year?

bibliobibuli said...

yvonne - i really wouldn't mind putting together something on writing with eric, he's someone whom i respect a lot.

lydia - How does one walk the line btwn trying not to discourage the creative process of writing and separating wheat from the chaff?

you put your finger on the problem. i have a blog post half written about this and will put it up in the next day or two. basically there are two opposing and contradictory forces ...

simon - dunno. i need to put a post up about it first. i don't have the stamina for 50,000 words this time esp as there are so many reviews i have to write and another course i need to get up and running. but i can aim for a lesser target and be happy with that, to cheer everyone on.

what is happening though? who is taking charge? there's a lot of work to do e.g. contacting the media and arranging interviews and meetups. last year MPH were kind enough to lend their space and i'm sure would do again.

Eric Forbes said...

Hello Sharon - Thanks for your support. And for being such a great sounding board, I would like to share with you a couple of classics in the annals of Malaysian writers:

1. "I have always wanted to be a writer. But I'm so busy I have no time to write. Writing is so time-consuming. Do you think you could pay somebody good to write for me. Of course, my name will appear on the cover of the book."

2. "I know my grammar is really bad - but you can clean up everything for me since you are the editor. You could rewrite for me if you want to."

3. "You can do anything you like with my book. You are very good."

4. "I am not a writer or anything. But could you fax me a sample contract and a guide to submitting a manuscript - just in case I decide to become a writer later."

5. "My English is bad. But I don't want people to edit my stuff. I want to retain the essence of my writing. So, do you want my book or not?"

6. "Could you tell me how to get my book published in London or New York? I don't like to publish my manuscript in Malaysia because I don't want my book edited. You know anybody in Bloomsbury?"

These are just some Malaysian writers I have been fortunate to have met. There's more to come!

Alex Tang said...

MPH's Quill Aug-Oct 06 is selling for RM 8.00. Yes, I know Sharon has 2 articles there and Eric has one. And I found out about their blogs there. But why is it so expensive?

And why have 12 pages of a list of books received by the National Library of Malaysia. Who needs to read these tiny prints? Who wants to know anyway? Methink it is just a lazy way to fill up the pages. Are we so short of local authors, bad English and all?

The Great Swifty said...

I'm not participating this year. Swifty the writer has to take the backseat while Swifty the filmmaker is doing his thang.

I know, some wannabe writers are absolutely proud of their Manglish, treating as their badge of honour, their symbol of identity. Whether they are right or not remains entirely subjective, of course.

And yes, people just don't read enough. Even if they do, they go only for the bestselling stuff, their refusal to expore can be somewhat astounding to me sometimes.

Oh, and Justin had just done a review of Jorge Luis Borges' Labyrinths! Seems like a great book.

bibliobibuli said...

eric - those are classic! many thanks. I have had someone say much the same thing to me - he approached me at tash aw's reading many moons ago and told me he had a book proposal. his book sounded very intersting. and then he told me he was looking for someone to write it for him! arrggghhh!

alex - but it's free if you become a card-holder! the pages from the library are odd, aren't they? i don't think they are a way to fill up print - more like an ad put out by the library

swifty - thanks for the link to the review

bibliobibuli said...

spot - sorry - i called you lydia earlier ... mistaken identity!

Lydia Teh said...

Sharon, haha, thought there was another Lydia lurking around here.

Eric, those lines are classic! Those who want people to write books for them must be prepared to shell out $$$$$ - yep, five-figures to have it ghostwritten.

Unfortunately, many people expect ghostwriters to write just for the royalty. I once had somebody offer to co-write a book with me. He provide the material/expertise, I write and get the royalty. When the subject of fees came up, he clammed up and bolted. They can't see why we should be paid to write, after all if we write our own book, we get paid in royalties only too. They are helping us by providing the material. They just don't see that it's not the same, if we write our book, it's because we are passionate about the subject and we don't have to share the byline.

Eric Forbes said...

Glad you enjoyed the classics. Here's another one of my favourites:

7. "Everyone has a book INSIDE THEM. All you need to do is to write it."

Though it is true to say that everyone has a book INSIDE THEM, most books are meant to stay where they are: INSIDE THEM. Laugh out loud!

Alex Tang said...

Hi sharon,

The MPH Quill is free to cardholder? I didn't know that and I am a cardholder. Been a bona fide cardholder for 6 years. In the MPH bookstores in Johor Bahru, they still ask me to pay for my copy.

Sorry about my rant on the Quill. The MPH Quill is more like a promotional book and bookstore catalogue for MPH than a literary magazine. I have been receiving book catalgues from all over the world and none of them ask me to pay.

I was just wondering why a big giant superstore will choose to ask people to pay for their promotional stuff.

I have this feeling in Malaysia that everyone is taking a book reader for a ride - the government, the book distributors, the bookstores, the importers, the currency exchange rate (and lighten their wallet in the process). Sorry, just my RM 8.00 worth of ranting.

Anonymous said...

Actually Alex, everyone is taking everyone else for a ride. The rarity of good prose in this country is inflating prices. How else can you explain the local books selling at almost the same price as foreign ones ? they should be much cheaper because there's a lot less cost involved (not to mention the exchange rate) but they're not really :P

bibliobibuli said...

alex - quill is supposed to be be free for card holders

see:

http://www.mph.com.my/disclaimer/mrc.cfm

i dropped a line to the marketing department re. the johor branch charging a member for it. but you have to show your card when you pick up a copy.

the idea of charging for the magazine is to encourage more people to sign up. (worth it anyway for the rebate)

anon - local books are usually but not always a fair bit cheaper. i'm not sure how the pricing works.