Ask the most casual Malaysian reader, and they probably won't be able to list down any local writers off the top of their heads. "Don't they usually write about themselves or self-help?" was a reader's response when asked whether they read any books written by Malaysians.
There is progress in the local literary field, though. Just last month, Malaysian publishers had their own booth at the London Book Fair for the first time, allowing international readers to have access to more Malaysian stories.
To get a taste of the book publishing scene, we talk to three local storytellers about their experiences.
Image: Gina Yap
Gina published her first book Eksperimen Cinta back in 2010. Her other published works include Ngeri and Mangsa. Recently, she published a casual book about creative writing: A Writer's Journey. After years of being in the industry, she notes that it has been vibrant for both Malay and English writing communities. "It has grown overall. There are more forums, writers and talks. There's an event [almost] every month now."
Having worked with both commercial and independent publishers, she notices the different styles and expectations they have on writers. "This one publisher had pre-sales before the book was printed," she gives us an example. "While another one was quiet throughout the process."
And true enough, Gina doesn't only rely on the publisher's efforts to promote her books. She utilises social media to promote A Writer's Journey
, sharing certain content to tease her readers. Gina also took pre-orders for the book. "It was the first time in my entire history that I sold about 100 over books in two weeks. [My publisher] realised I could sell it faster than book shops. There is a mechanism that you can use, but it takes a lot of time." And that amount of time, Gina explains, involves communicating with her buyers, getting their bank-in details and mailing the book out to them.
Naturally, the most frequently asked question she gets from budding writers is how to create a good story. Her advice? To simply observe life and write.
You can check out Gina's author Facebook page here
Image: Ted Mahsun
Author Ted Mahsun has always been a fan of science fiction. He grew up being a Star Wars fan and decided that after reading so many books, he wanted to write one of his own. His first sci-fi short story, The Secret Operation in the Matriarch's Kitchen, was published back in 2006 in the Write Out Loud book.
He admits in an interview via email that it was very difficult for his works to get noticed as there weren't any local publishers interested in publishing sci-fi. "It used to be that if you wanted to be published, then you'd better be writing literary stuff," he tells us. "That's changed now with the advent of e-book self-publishing, WattPad, and the rise of indie publishers like Fixi."
He advises budding writers to not just write, but to read as well. "Read a lot, read widely. If you love fantasy, for example, don't just read fantasy (but do read a lot of it!). Do also read other genres like crime, horror, sci-fi, literary. Find out how other writers are pushing their craft forward."
Ted also encourages writers to engage with readers and potential readers. "This is the age of social media. Talk to [the readers], get them interested, and they'll spread the word about your writing." He himself is active on Twitter (@tedmahsun) and started an online fiction magazine in Malay at Pena SaiFai
You can check out his official website here.
Fadzlishah (right) with Simptomatik Press' publisher, Kushairi Zuradi (Image: Fadzlishah Johanabas)
Fadzlishah published a collection of his short stories in Faith and the Machine last year. Favouring Young Adult stories, he started off publishing to international magazines such as Cosmos Magazine. Ideally, he'd prefer focusing solely on writing and letting publishers handle the Marketing and promotional aspects. "I think that Fixi is doing promotions right because they aim for younger people and utilise social media." He goes on to add, "A lot of other indie publishers are following that."
"Malaysian English writing is actually rising especially with short stories. Some anthologies like KL Noir
specifically stated that a writer can only publish in one series so that there's no repetition, so everyone gets a chance." He adds that with the existence of the Malaysian Writers Facebook page
, people have been able to look at more job opportunities and chances to publish internationally.
His advice to budding writers is to just write. "Keep writing and keep experiencing life," he says. "I didn't believe this at first but you do need life experience to colour your story." Fadzlishah also advises writers to not take criticism personally.
You can check out his website here