Sunday, February 26, 2006

Local Authors Outsell The Da Vinci Code!

Dzireena Mahdzir charts the incredible rise of the popular Malay novel in Starmag today and the sales figures speak for themselves. (Dzireena points out that the Da Vinci Code sold just 10,000 copies here in comparison):
Sharifah Abu Salem sold 70,000 copies of her novel, Pesona Rindu (Enchantment of Longing), last year. And she had company: Sepi Tanpa Cinta (Lonely Without Love) by Damya Hanna also sold 70,000.

In fact, in little more than half a decade, just one publisher of Malay novels, Alaf 21, has sold more than half a million copies of seven titles, including Sharifah and Damya’s books. Tak Seindah Mimpi (Never As Wonderful As a Dream) by Sharifah Abu Salem sold 70,000 copies in 2000; Kau Untukku (You Were Meant For Me) by Aisya Sofea, 80,000 in 2001; Kau Yang Satu (You Are the Only One) by Nia Azalea, 75,000 in 2002; Bicara Hati (Discussions of the Heart) by Damya Hanna, 100,000 in 2003;Sehangat Asmara (In the Heat of Love) by Aisya Sofea, 70,000 in 2003; Pesona Rindu (Enchantment of Longing) by Sharifah Abu Salem, 70,000 in 2004; and Sepi Tanpa Cinta (Lonely Without Love) by Damya Hanna, 70,000 in 2004.
Apparently a big reason for the rise in popularity of Malay fiction is that publishers decided to use everyday language in their books rather than the more poetic form of the language used for literature, making it much more accessible to the man on the street. Romance is the staple fare (although there are also thrillers, sci-fi and historical novels) but in its culturally acceptable version:
... in keeping with our culture, passion is restrained to eyes meeting, and love is seen as something more emotional than physical. And you don’t declare love in an unseemly manner ... when a character declares his love, he does it poetically. ... Religion, good values and love are all tied up together, and this strongly influences the overall flavour of the stories.
It's nice to see local writers doing well, and reading encouraged. But - dare I ask - is the fiction any good?


lainieyeoh said...

haven't picked up any of those novels myself :P

I'm more surprised by the da vinci code numbers (even if it's only kino). it just seems like everyone's read it.

Nisah Haji Haron said...

if it is by that particular publisher, just pick up any book. Once you've read one of them, you've read the rest.

I rest my case.

rgds, Nisah Hj Haron

Anonymous said...

Ah... that explains what people in Malaysia like to read. Time to pen a bestselling english romance novel! People here are more light-hearted than I thought.

Anonymous said...

i cant believe they only wrote about the trend now. NST did a story on this a couple years ago.

Someone Who Can't Leave An Identity Because Of Security Reasons

Anonymous said...

The article also caught my attention as well...and I share the same sentiments too, excitedly curious, yet wondering about the literary 'merit' of such Malay fictions.

I'm positive that some of them go beyond their genre as romances...if and when the opportunity arises, I would love to undertake any public courses on Malay literature or conduct my own research on the subject.

Aside, wouldn't it be great if some of the classic or contemporary malay literature is translated and published in English to take its place in world literature, as have Latin American authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or even nearer to us Indonesian 'dissident' writer Pramodeya Ananta Toer?

Anonymous said...

Well, they're romances. Is there ever such a thing as a romance with merit ? :)

Anonymous said...

And they sell cos they've got a niche.. there's probably no other group in the world that writes romances in Malay. Romances do well mostly I guess but they're no fun to write, very formulaic.

starlight said...

call it blind faith, but i believe there are dan browns, jane austens and perhaps even a smattering of annie proulxs lurking in the Malaysian midst. they just need to be found. have been thinking a lot about what we discussed recently. will get in touch with you soon!

Glenda Larke said...

All genres contain good and bad writing, and no one should ever dismiss a genre on the basis of its worst proponents. True, romance can be formulaic, but then "Pride and Prejudice" is also a romance following the same formula! (You can tell I am a genre writer can't you? although I would dispute that my genre - sff - is at all formulaic). I am all for anything that gets people reading, and I live in hope that a diet of chocolate creams will eventually lead people into other more challenging realms.

What really struck me about the article was the sales figures. I wish I could sell 30,000 books just like that! For a fiction author to do well in Australia, which has a similar population as Malaysia, 30,000 would be considered utterly brilliant, let alone some of the other higher figures quoted.

bibliobibuli said...

lainie - until you said that I hadn't really taken in that the nos. for the da vinci code were from kino only - but are the sales from just kino or countrywide? really the statistics are not clearly presented ...

anyss, diran - *LOL* guess that says it all

yvonne - romance is very popular everywhere ... look at the sales of mills and boon ...

anonymous who cannot leave identity - yes i' sure there have been other articles - i missed the one in the nst though and would love to see a copy if you have it

dreamer idiot - wonder how intersting it would be study if anyss is right and the novels are almost carbon copies of each other

some great malay literature has been translated - i loved shahnon ahmad's "no harvest but a thorn" ... there is a ton of beautiful malay poetry that hasn't been translated though ... now that's a job for someone

glenda - yes i found the sales numbers pretty incredible too ... just how are sales measured by the writer of the article ... (back to lainie's point)

"no one should ever dismiss a genre on the basis of its worst proponents" - very true - and i like the example of "pride and prejudice" - i'd add booker shortlisted "dirt music" by tim winton - cheesiest ending ever - right out of mills and boon - but i did enjoy it

and as a teenager i loved those angelique books ...

Bergen said...

Romeo and Juliet isn't a love story? I'll be dammned.

Anonymous said...

My mom bought these types of books by the dozen and told me how the story have the same theme and like, if you read them once, you read them all. I've tried to read them but somehow I can't past the first chapter. They are way too predictible to me.

It was because of these types of novels that made me a writer today. But then again, it's been a daunting task to get your work publish if you somehow don't fit to their formulaic storyline.

Anonymous said...

P&P is a classic. That's different. What I mean is the type of books that get shelved under "Romance" in the bookstore. While other books do have romantic undertones, overtones or whatever, they're not in the "romance" category. I mean, go to a bookstore, look at the "romance" section, and pick out any book -- I can almost guarantee you they all have the same basic plot and characters.

Glenda Larke said...

But does a prdictable ending mean a badly written book? Or even a dull book? I never doubted that Elizabeth would end up with Darcy, but I still loved the journey!!

I'm being a bit of a stirrer here; to tell you the truth, I like a lot more challenge than what the average romance offers and don't read them myself. But as I have been on the receiving end of dismissive comments like 'Fantasy? Oh, poorly written, formulaic elf and princess stories,' - I do try to see the larger picture. And no, I don't do elves...

Anonymous said...

Malay I used to read them in the days of my teenagey years... especially those translated Hardy Boys & Famous Five stories... those were priceless! Hehe...
Seeing how well Malay books do in the local shelves, I once harbour serious thoughts of passing off as a Malay writer by adopting a Malay pen name! Alas, my Malay needs more brushing up on...LOL XD

Cheeky Monkey said...

The simple fact of the matter is, love moves the world. Everybody wants a piece of it to remind them of what it's like to be in love. It's addictive regardless of how many times you've read the same story plot. I confess, I like anything with romance in it. Even dream of being a romance novelist.

Should romance novels be frowned upon because of its predictability? Should people reading it be deemed any less than those that read award winning literatures?

I love reading them all whether it's badly written or has a superb complex story plot because I believe the authors who wrote them wanted us to share that love and it's great to receive it!

Anonymous said...

I think most authors who write romance stories (and by that I mean "romance" stories) write them for the money.. it's a very commoditized genre I think, just give them more of the same in different packages, don't mess with what works. The sad thing is that it makes money, which brings me to my current dilemma. One the one hand, you don't want to be so pretentious as to say "pay me for what I write" but then again, you have to survive. I need to learn from all of you, how do you have the guts to charge that much for anything ? I've never put a price on anything -- people just say, this is what we're offering, and I'm like.. "that much ?" but of course I don't say it aloud. So I end up being really poor.

It's easy to be a romance novelist. First you start with the "hero". He's got to be tanned, and tall, dark-haired, muscular and mysterious. He's got to have some rugged outdoor job, maybe he runs a ranch. Then you have to have your basic heroine -- impulsive, fiery, standard female stereotype. Then you throw them together, suppose she rents a cottage near the ranch, then our hero goes riding and almost knocks her over. They have a heated exchange... you know the rest of the story. "Romance" is simple.

The thing is this, how do you preserve your integrity ? how do you make money, and at the same time stop yourself from churning out crap just to make money ?

Fantasy can be good if done well. No elf and princess stories, but there's always a central character, and there's got to be a female in there somewhere. Fantasy is very prone to stereotyping -- there's almost never female warriors saving men from whatever. It's "romantic" in that good women (and men, actually) are never ugly. Women are almost never dark, dirty and muscular, and men are never shy or easily embarrassed. Everything is anthropomorphic.

And they never do things they might regret later. Which is why I liked TP's earlier works -- vegetarian female werewolves, six-foot-tall dwarves.. makes you question the stereotypes.

Anonymous said...

I was searching about Nia Azalea when I came across this site.
I have to admit that I dun know much about malay romance novels but I do follow Nia Azalea's works (I think she is a great author). I am more into English Romance Novels, particularly Historical novels. But that doesn't mean i dun read anything else either. I have read all Dan Browns too, most of Jeffrey Archers and they are great (But won't you say they are very formulaic as well. Jeffrey Archer likes to talk about politics and Dan Brown is fascinated about codes)

I disagree with anyone who thinks romance novels are crap. They are formulaic, sure. But is there a reason why 'being formulaic' is bad? Why are we being such an anti-establishment?

I would say that all genre are formulaic. But what makes a difference in a novel is not the overall direction of the story (we all know romance will end happy, Sci Fi will end bizarre). It's usually the subtle, little things that makes a novel -or anything for that matter - worth reading.

The anology is like this, if you want to choose a particular service out of ten choices...they all give the same service, but one in particular give one extra little thing, and you go for it. It's always the subtle thing that makes a difference. Ask what makes you go to that particular doctor? One of the answer may be because she smiles a lot...she gives away the same medicne. You get the idea.

In my opinion, it doesn't matter the genre...doesn't matter the plot (just try not to make it too stereotypical) but personalize your work.
You can have the boy meet girl, girl meet boy scenario...personalize it in the settings. Don't just get the hero to be a businessman, don't just get the hero to be an heir to a great title...why not make the hero a bastard son? Or a scientist with a particular weird, endearing character that the audience can relate to? And personalize the heroin as well. You can have a less-than-perfect-looking heroin who is hilarious in her insecurities, or awkward or whatever. Make the personalities so very pronounced that a reader would remember that heroin forever.

Heros that comes from a different background will tackle a particular situation differently. They all will save the day (see, it's formualaic, but if they don't save the day, they are not heros.The very reason they are called heros is because they save the day. So is there a problem that sthg is formulaic?) , but a scientist will do it diffrently than a warrior. Again, personalize the little 'save the day' plot. It will be the same in all romance, but different as well. An intelligent reader would be able to appreciate it.

Always, many people who fancy themselves intellectuals...think romance novels lack the 'educative' value. But hello! If you want to know about Anatomy and Physiology of the Human Brain, you search the Anatomy books. What romance novel does is giving the reader the awareness that such an issue exist, to trigger interest. If the reader is interested, she/he will find further facts about it later on.

For example, when I first began to read romance (that was when I was 16), I have no idea about English Medieval Culture. About the 'Season' being the marriage mart. I have zero knowledge about hierarchy of lords (King, Duke, Viscount etc and last baron.) Of course, reading one historical novel alone would not provide me enough knowledge about it...but like I said, it makes me look up the history book. It triggers imterest. It makes me want to know. Imagine if I have to learn hierarchy of lords as part of my History subject, I would hate it! Jayne Ann Krentz is one of the authors who always present the same plot, but personalized each and every single hero and heroin. One of her hero was about a scientist who is passionate about alchemy.

Reading her novel give me a new whole perspective about science. I din know that there was a time when scientist believe we can turn lead into gold. I learn science as it is now. Those are the little little things that Romance novel gives us.It's not much, but if you want to know more, go look that up yourself. Romance writers still have to do their work of presenting the best love of the century.

To me, even serious literature would not be able to educate. It has just about the same itellectual value as 'trash' novels. Sure, the sentences may be a bit more complex, using all the literary techniques...but the fact is, in every creative work, one would not be able to detect any intellectual value without consciously looking and searching for it. (That's why in learning literature, we have to analyze it, scrutinize everything, only then you would notice the message the author is trying to give away). No one can detect intellectual value, without consciously looking for it. A beautiful painting would just be a beutiful painting if you don't analyze the color schemes and what they mean. The same goes to novels and liteartures.

The only reason why 'intellectual' read literatures and not trash is because of the way the literature novelist beat about the bush regarding the most basic of topic, plus a bit melancholic value, plus a bit cynicism and viola, you have the greatest intellectual literature of the world . While the trash novel authors present something almost similar, minus the literary language, plus the good-natured humor and wittiness...but it's trash because it's not melancholic enough!

Dun get me wrong, I love literatures. I love Jane Austen, I love Charlotte Bronte. But I don't love them because their works are for intellectuals or have much literaary values, whatever that means. I love their works because their works make such a good read.

At the end of the day, you want books that can make you feel good. That's the general formula for every genre. Makes the reader feel good (intrigues them, surprise them, appeal to their emotion). If you want to educate them, educate them in the 'fun' way, then you will be able to satisy both needs; the need to sell your book and the need to produce quality works.

bibliobibuli said...

girlscout85 - thanks so much for taking the trouble to write this and to make such a strong case for the books you like to read ... i also went through my historical romance phase with a series of books by sergeanne golan "angelique and the king" and the rest of the series and loved them ... i guess i don't read romances any more becasue life's turned me into a total cynic where love is concerned and also because the only romance writer i know (a very successful mills and boon writer and a man writing under a woman's name) is only in it for the money ...

i agree with you about all genre writing being formulaic ... and the good writer surprises by playing with that formula in some way (i wrote about that here

as i admitted in this post, i don't know much about malay romance novels and had never given them any thought ... so thanks for your recommendation of nia azalea

if you would like to write something about malay romance novels telling my readers who the best writers are in your opinion i will happily post it up to fill in a gap in our ignorance

meanwhile there are plenty of good books for you to discover ... not all good stuff has to be heavy or serious and i'm trying to make recommendations of books readers will enjoy

you might be interested in the titles listed in this post for example since they are also love stories but of a more literary kind

i hope that now you've found this blog you feel free to come back and argue with us for time to time ... i'm learning so much from my readers