Sunday, April 29, 2007

What We Need

The StarMag team have done an excellent job with the ReadsMonthly supplement again. Tunku Halim (dubbed Malaysia's Stephen King) is on the front page, interviewed by Daphne Lee. His new book 44 Cemetery Road is a compilation of 21 dark tales previously published in other collections, and three new ones.

It's nice to have a prince as a pal who comes round to tea (!), and Halim is the youngest son of Tunku Abdullah of the Negri Sembilan royal family. He told me that it is his grandfather's portrait (did I get that right?) on the front of all the ringgit notes. He now lives with his wife and children in Tasmania, but we've been lucky enough to see him back in KL a couple of times this year. He's yet another Malaysian lawyer turned author, writes full-time now, but also deals in real estate.

What
Halim says this about the needs of our local writing community really strikes a chord with me:

"There is a vibrant writing culture where I live. ... There is a writing centre that organises talks for budding writers on how to write and to get published. There is a lot of sharing and encouragement. The community spirit is strong, which is important as writing can be a lonely activity, and yet the fruits of writing depend on others’ notice to thrive."

He feels that Malaysian writers could benefit from a stronger writing community to support them. He suggests the formation of a “writers society”. “Through such a society, ideas and skills can be exchanged. It will be supportive of local writers and their writings. The society can, once established, also offer writing courses to members.”

Halim feels that a variety of writing courses should be offered. “Not just a standard creative writing course. How about offering courses for the short story, the novel, non-fiction, poetry, popular fiction, plays?”

He laments the fact that in Malaysia, budding writers don’t really have much to aspire to. “Their work gets scant publicity,” he says. “Unlike fine art and theatre, local writers and their books seem to be hidden in the background. When was the last time a local writer gave a talk at a school near you?”

Halim remembers entering a writing competition organised by the New Straits Times and Shell. “I didn’t win but it was exactly the spur I needed to get writing. Young writers need incentives like that.” (The competition ran for several years but is now defunct.)

As for already published authors, Halim suggests a “best book of the year award, from a recognised body, even if it’s only at a municipal level, for example, the local library.”

He also believes in mentorship. “It would be good for experienced writers to work with those who are just starting out,” he says, adding that local publishers may be able to act as “networking vehicles for all writers”, putting published and experienced writers in touch with those who are still aspiring to the craft.

He is willing to help other authors in any way he can and has set up a blog, Write lah! expressly to share writing and publishing tips with younger, less experienced writers – specifically Malaysian writers, as the blog’s subtitle is “Writing for Malaysians”.

I talked in a blog entry way back about how I would love to see a writers' centre set up here, half wistful thinking, half manifesto. A while back, my friend Jean sent me a poster showing all the activities for writers in Perth ... courses, workshops, meet-ups, talks ... and I felt sick with jealousy! We so badly need this here.

Update

One can never predict which way the discussion in the comments should go, but I think those in the book trade (publishers, booksellers and distributors) should take a look at the conversation that resulted from this post. Your feedback to the comments very much welcomed, because there are some serious issues to address! (And c'mon lah, I KNOW you read me!)

45 comments:

animah said...

He has some wonderful suggestions. Bravo. I am part of Firstworks, an innitiative to nuture new Malaysian playwrights. What has kept me going is the group spurring each other on. On my own I could never have got this far. Firstworks are inviting participants this year. Please see the info at http://www.instantcafetheatre.com/html/main.html

Next month Firstworks will hold a workshop by Haresh Sharma "Fundamentally Happy Weekend Workshops for Aspiring Playwrights" on 25-27 May and 8-10 June (the second is a continuation of the first). Interested, e-mail firstworks@instantcafetheatre.com by 1 May 2007, with a piece of your writing.

It annoys me that even established writers who are potential Malaysian bestsellers like Dina, Kam Raslan and Ruhayat X have such problems getting their books into the shops.
The fact that at yesterday's MPH gathering, MPH could only find 2 (2?!!) copies of Kam's book was deplorable. Chet and I were both sacrificing the copy - you take it, no you take it. For heaven's sake, there was a ready market of about 20 people yesterday. And MPH missed the boat.
MPH call themselves Malaysian Publishing House (I think) and cannot even support Malaysian writers - even those like Kam who are published by a company linked to MPH. If we cannot see the successes of Malaysian wirters, how do we attract the young? Can MPH get their act together? MPH??

The Angry Medic said...

Ah, well said, Sharon (and Animah). I've run out of words to praise what Tunku Halim's doing for Malaysian writers, so I'm not gonna bore you with any more. (Other than these: FANTASTIC! BRAVO! WOOHOO!)

Ahem.

But I know what you mean about the lack of support for writers. Over here there's a lot of events for budding writers (and the arts in general, since I dabble more in acting) and I sometimes wish this was Malaysia :P

But you have to admit, Sharon, we're getting there, we are. (In no small part thanks to people like you and TH.) Have faith, madame!

Chet said...

Animah - they found another 3 copies and all 5 were sold out, and autographed by Kam!

Kam's going to be reading at Kino this Friday, 4 May, at 7:30 p.m.

Dina will be at Borders The Curve on Saturday, 5 May, at 3:00 p.m.

Both hours are kind of weird to me. I guess I'm used to having such events in the morning.

But I'll be at both.

Dina Zaman said...

hi everyone - believe it or not, i am selling my own books from my car. much as i am grateful to all the stores, if a writer wants his books to sell in msia, he has to work at it. i have had to be publicist/marketing/bookseller.

everyone thinks that ooo i'm making money but the truth is that, shops buy local books in small volumes, like 20 books... they sell them and when all run out, then they order for more, which makes us on our end a bit kelam kabut because we have to dash off and supply them with the books.

it is improving though. i think lah.

there needs to be a good marketing strategy. both the publicist and wirter must work together. man id hire myself as a pr person but i know writers have a small budget... i know i know i'm one too, but if a writer can set aside RM7,000 for a launch (which is what we did) and marcomm strategy, he will be able to get his book out.

unless i have been living in a cave i havent heard of kam having a book launch. how about we do one for him?

no?

animah said...

Dina, it only cost RM7,000? I suppose not having alcohol brought the costs down. It was an excellent launch!
Instead of hiring yourself to writers, why not to publishers - for instance Kam's publisher who shall remain unnamed. Don't they know they're sitting on a gold mine!!
As for Kam, I know he's toying with the idea. But let's push him some more. Chet, I didn't know about the Kino reading - I'll be there since I just work a "few" floors above Kino.

Chet said...

Animah - Kam's publishers' initials are not three letters.

caving liz said...

Have to agree with what Dina says about selling her books from her car. That's how I sell my cave books (also from my www). Book shops sit on my books for months and don't/won't tell me how many/if any they've sold.

Anonymous said...

It's Marshall Cavendish.

Eliza said...

would tunku halim still be a prolific writer if he was living in Malaysia and not Tasmania?

Actually Tasmania sounds like a remote place to me so it's wonderful that they have a thriving writers community there.

In malaysia the question on a lot of aspiring writers' minds is: well, where would writing lead? there's a miniscule industry and even established writers like dina have an uphill task in marketing and selling their work.

Eric Forbes said...

You don't need a thriving writers' community to be able to write. You need writing talent. With talent you can go anywhere. Writers must start writing, rather than talk about the idea of writing.

Eric Forbes said...

Forgive me, I meant hard work. Talent, too, of course, but only to a certain extent.

Chet said...

But writers also need a support system to encourage them.

Eric Forbes said...

Where would writing lead for aspiring writers? Nowhere most of the time. Write if you have a passion for it. Money is secondary. If monetary success happens, it happens. Writing is not a capital investment. There are many ways to make a more than decent living. Writing is not one of them. But it is fun if you love writing and can be a very enjoyable vocation for some. I believe a support system is good only to certain extent.

bibliobibuli said...

ooohhh all this happening in the comments while i was at the times warehouse sale!!!

Writing is not a capital investment. amen, eric. but (here comes a sound off!!) that doesn't mean to say that local authors relish the fact that their hard worked on books are hidden away and local bookshops run out of stock before a book has had a chance to sell!! take another example, "the gift of rain". twan is not around so i've been keeping an eye on the bookshops. it took mph bangsar village nearly 15 minutes to find two copies of the book!!!! they were on a bottom shelf and in goodness knows what section. i told the customer service folks that they should ahve it displayed - this is a malaysian author published in UK - shouldn't we be proud? i went in again the other day and couldn't find copies.

times has copies piled high and at a discount as you walk in. the book hit kino's best sellers list but slumped out again as the distributor (pansing) was so slow in topping up stocks. raman of silverfish a bookshop which thrives on selling local fiction cannot get copies of local books when they first come out as the distributors favour the big boys first. (he still doesn't have copies of "the gift of rain" or adibah amin's books for e.g.)

wake up local bookshops and distributors!! malaysian authors are writing, but when they write and make the effort to get published they expect YOU to support them. the best way to support them is to have copies on sale where they will catch the eye of the reading public. you are not selling washing powder!!

probably if an author finds that despite all his/her efforts to write a novel and get it published come to nought he/she is going to move towards other more lucrative activities (e.g film scripts)

eric, please give the marketing people of mph a poke from all of us

animah, chet - was talking w. bernice and kam re. kam's launch and there are plans afoot. watch this space.

Xeus said...

Uh, Sharon, scripts aren't that lucrative either. RM 800 - 2000 only (and the latter only if you're really famous) for a 30 minute episode. And it's usually gotta be in Malay.

I guess writing is really a labour of love in Malaysia. Don't expect to make anything from it.

Dina, a RM 7000 launch is quite a lot! Wow. I didn't even launch my book last year since MPH advised me not to because I'm a pseudonym.
Congrats for making it to No. 2 in Midvalley's Bestseller list!

Speaking of which, Sharon, did any irrelevant commentors turn up yesterdsay?

Chet said...

>> was talking w. bernice and kam re. kam's launch and there are plans afoot. watch this space.

Oh, goody!!

bibliobibuli said...

xeus - yes, and he was well handled by the speakers. i had a tissue ready to stuff in my mouth, in case.

Eric Forbes said...

Well said, Sharon.

Eric Forbes said...

Daphne Lee is doing a wonderful job with the ReadsMonthly literary pullout.

Anonymous said...

Good post, Sharon. And of course, even better words from Eric!

I can't resist my 2 sen worth, which mirrors Xeus', in that not all authors need a launch ( and rm 7 000 is no small amount too, considering that one has to sell more than 2 000 copies of his/her book that's priced at app rm30 to get back book royalty of that amount to cover that kind of launch).

From what I found, The Sky is Crazy didn't have a launch and according to its publisher, Marshall Cavendish, has sold close to 10 thousand copies and now has its Bahasa version in the stores.

I personally know of at least 2 very grand scale book launches, held in posh hotels and where are their books now? Given as tokens to friends and associates.

It'd be nice to have a launch but, if you're a new author, and especially if you're self-published, every sen not spent is every sen saved. Also, experienced publishers can tell you that big launches don't guarantee success.

I would rather think that authors, even without a launch, that could generate publicity in the local media are those that already have a following or media presence. For example, they have columns in newspapers or are journalists. People like Xeus, Adibah Amin, Lydia Teh, Dina Zaman, Kam Raslan have regular bylines in some major publications, at one time or another. Call it 'connection' or 'cronyism' but at the end of the day, but they get the publicity. And of course, their works must be worthy of the publicity from those publication they are affliated with.

In short, a launch is nice but not exactly necessary.

Wan Zafran said...

A writer's place would be nice! Granted, I'd feel inferior (and who wouldn't when basking in the presence of better writers around them?) but it'd be a great way to gain experience and meet new people who share the same interest!

Xeus said...

Very interesting post, Anon. Shall blog about it one day. I did think of having a small launch for Dark City 2, not in the RM 7000 category but just a simple catered tea (like the one in the Litblogger's club - with food choices from Eric, of course!) in MPH MidValley and 1 Utama.

My publisher would pay for it. Shouldn't cost more than several hundred ringgit, I think.

Or I can make my own cakes and sardine rolls!

The Sky is Crazy may not have had a launch, but Yvonne did a lot of great publicity for it later.

I remember Winnie Loo telling me she had a lovely hi tea launch in a major hotel, and all her friends wore hats and gorgeous dresses.

animah said...

There is plenty of publicity in the press, launches etc - but the ones that don't deliver are the bookshops! You can't find the books (other than Kino). Is it the distributors, the bookshops? Eric has not addressed the issue. These writers clearly have talent and I want to read them. But WHERE ARE THE BOOKS?
Dina, why don't you join MPH in order to ensure that local books get the space they deserve.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid Eric is not with the Bookshops. He is with the Publishing arm.

Anonymous said...

actually film scripts ARE lucrative. depends on who ur writing for.


The Visitor

lil ms d said...

xeus - actually when you think a bout it RM7k is a bit. but i did spend money on food, i wanted people to eat. and the cupcakes. man. the performances etc. oh well. KAF and SB and I wanted a good launch for our supporters.

to be fair, lets not bash up poor eric :) from the little i gleaned from my distributor, most (not all) bookstores feel that local books dont sell. so they buy in bits and pieces. so sales must be generated so that the shops will order more from the distributor.

to anon - you are right in the sense that some of the writers have had the extra push because of their columns etc. i always tell my friends who want to write to be tak malu and call up the papers, to say they wish to freelance for them. by getting your name out, and remaining in the media for a good amount of time, you build a readership. that helps.

animah - join mph? i applied yonks ago but no reply... hehehe. trying for research centers. i'd love to live among books actually. think the british library will accept a malaysian?

ok, so we have a situation. now how shall we push kam's book? does anyone have a jpeg of his cover? i can post it on my blog...

lil ms d said...

actually ah - sorry me again. can we sit down with kam and do this?

media liaison
food and venue - seksan?
performers - kam has friends in theatre. a short skit?
invitee list
date! time!

i'd volunteer my sisters to do the cupcakes but... er... maybe not...

animah said...

To Anonymous who is reluctant to leave his/her name: "I'm afraid Eric is not with the Bookshops. He is with the Publishing arm."
Are you promoting a silo mentality here? I don't mean to bash Eric, and apologies if I appear to have done so. If Eric is unable to answer, is there anyone from MPH who can, perhaps Anonymous since he/she is in the know.
Can MPH and all the other bookshops sit up and understand that their consumers would like to see works from local authors.

K.Kim said...

I was hunting high and low for Daphne Lee's four books in Penang and couldn't find even one at Borders or Popular bookstore. Popular checked their computer system and said they only carry those titles in Johor.
Then I checked out MPH which published all the four books but the store people took about 30 minutes to locate them.
First, they checked the author's name, found nothing and then asked for the specific book titles. Luckily I could remember all four titles off hand.
After what seemed like an eternity, the store assistant found the books I wanted hidden "beneath a stack of other stuff".
The books have no chance to sell at all if they're not displayed.
And even fans shouldn't be made to scale a brick wall to get hold of the books they specifically came hunting for.
The least the bookstores could do to support local writers is to just display their books so that they have a fighting chance to be noticed.

bibliobibuli said...

poor old eric doesn't deserve any sort of an ear bashing as he is so supportive of local writers and also good literature. but as someone pointed out earlier, he's an editor and not on the marketing side at all. on saturday at breakfast club he was the visible face of MPH.

my suggestion is that we should clone eric so that he can be everywhere at once

ms d - v. good advice re. writing a column

kam is supposed to be emailing me jpegs of all his illustrations

local books may not be huige sellers but give 'em a decent chance! kam's books is so good it should be a best seller, ditto "the gift of rain"

ms d - venue not seksan for kam's launch lah. don't think i can tell you where but kam seems to have it in hand inc. the theme!!

animah - why not just forward your comments to our friends in the marketing dept of MPH? marketing@mph.com.my

i'll drop them an e-mail and tell them to glance at the comments

k.kim - that's another horror story to add to the list!

Chet said...

Join the line, Sharon. Kam's supposed to email me and MM a whole load of stuff. Come to think of it, take a number.

As for venue, I oso didn't think it would be seksan.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Eric is very supportive of local writers and good literature. He just wants more quality writing to publish. I am with him on this. And I’m sure most people do.

Though Eric is not with the Bookshops, he has always reiterated the importance of the buying process in bookshops. From one of his old posts, he did say that Malaysian bookshops (and book distributors for that matter) must learn to be more responsive to changing literary trends and the reading habits of book buyers and readers if they are to stay competitive in the bookselling industry.

Malaysian bookshops need more book buyers with product knowledge. Not exactly something you can create overnight. Not one or two excellent book buyers but a pool of them to keep the industry alive.

Yes, Animah should write to the marketing side of MPH Bookstores.

bibliobibuli said...

chet - i know the venue but can't say here at the mo. will sms you.

anon - exactly right ... and actually not just buyers but store managers who know the value of what they have!

Lydia Teh said...

Read this yesterday but didn't have time to leave a comment.

What I wanted to say has been well said by Anon. But let me chime in my bit.

Eric is doing all he can to promote local authors and good writing. About titles not being stocked in the bookshops, that's not he's doing and he's got no jurisdiction over it. But I'm sure he can bring this to the attention of the relevant department, whether it gets any action or not, that's another matter.

K.Kim said...

Lydia, I agree that Eric is supportive of local writers and we need more bookstore managers who think like him.

So, here's a resounding yes to Sharon's suggestion - clone Eric and don't forget to put one of his doubles here in Penang.

Kak Teh said...

wow, i missed this! Such interesting discussions here, I blogged abt Tunku as well - but I have yet to read his book.

Dina Zaman said...

wah!

poor eric :)

i'll be seeing kam on thur, so hopefully we can do something to help him.

ooo petir! huge storm where i am.

Lydia Teh said...

Jumped into the bandwagon. Blogged on what sells books.

Anonymous said...

For your information, Marshall Cavendish is not linked to MPH Bookstores. It's another company. It is very possible that the distribution arm of Marshall Cavendish is the pits and that's why Kam Raslan's Confessions of An Old Man are not in the bookstores. It's possible that the distributors are not doing a good job. Both distribution and retailing must improve if everyone is to benefit.

Chet said...

Well, I saw Confessions on display at the Popular outlet in Ikano. And it's definitely in Borders The Curve, too.

Chet said...

BTW, it's Confessions of an Old Boy.

bibliobibuli said...

anon - very true. both.

Argus Lou said...

Confessions of an Old Man or Old Boy - kekeke! that got my funny bone, sorry - hope I can easily find it when I go back to M'sia in a few months' time.

I'm saying this coz, last year, I popped into the MPH in Bangsar Village and asked for a copy of Xeus's 'Dark City'. After 10 minutes, a helpful and friendly store clerk found it on the - sit down for this - Religion shelf. (I had to almost stuff a hanky in my mouth to stop myself from chortling rudely.)

As for Tan Twan Eng's 'The Gift of Rain', I played safe and bought it on the 'Net. ;-) Enjoyed it thoroughly and bawled my eyes out towards the end.

Roxanne said...

Those living around KL are damn lucky to have you around, Sharon. You're so supportive of those interested in the arts. I'm just so envious that I'm not in KL, where you make things happen. And you're so much fun. Whenever I visit your blog, I feel so left out and so far away from home, so I'm not visiting you everyday any more, just once a week. Sigh.

bibliobibuli said...

roxanne - hey i like having you around so don't stay away too long. where are you living roxanne? perhaps we can bring a literary roadshow to your kampong!?

thanks anyway for kind words. there are actually a whole lot of supportive people here pulling together, and that's what's creating this city wide buzz.