Meet Charissa Ong, The 26-Year-Old Best-Selling Malaysian Author

She also founded her own publishing company.

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Meet Charissa Ong, The 26-Year-Old Best-Selling Malaysian Author
How many books do you read in a month?
Although Malaysia has one of the highest literacy rates in Southeast Asia, we are reading more newspapers and magazines than books.
A 2016 statistic showed that out of 85 per cent of Malaysians who were avid readers, 77 per cent of them prefered reading newspapers, while only three per cent read magazines and books, and the remaining 1.6 per cent read comics.
You may say that is not entirely a bad thing since newspapers and magazines are considered educational and informative reading material as well.
But take a look at this -- in the United States, 53 per cent of Americans read fiction books and 43 per cent read non-fiction. Those numbers alone say a lot about reading culture in our country.
Charissa Ong hated reading growing up.

Now, the 26-year-old is a best-selling author in Malaysia with two books under her belt in under two years and a goal to change those readership numbers in Malaysia.
Not only that, she is also a self-made publisher!
'Midnight Monologues' and 'Daylight Dialogues' are filled with poems and short stories that will linger in your hearts for a long time.
She recently launched her second book titled Daylight Dialogues under her own publishing company, Penwings Publishing, not long after her debut in 2016.
To celebrate her latest release, we spoke to the passionate storyteller to find out more about her journey becoming a self-published author.

From hate to love

Charissa started expressing herself by drawing comics and writing short stories, which she kept only to herself when she was younger.
As a teenager, she began to experiment more by writing silly blog posts because, well, that was what everyone was doing at that time. Don't say you didn't!
She eventually took writing more seriously when she started writing poetry after a bad breakup in college.
“At the point of my life, I realised that maybe I should pour some time into this craft because I desperately wanted to be good at something,” Charissa shared.
So, she wrote poems just to express herself and put them up on Instagram without knowing whether people would read it or not.

That's usually the case with blogs and social media, isn't it? Unless you're an influencer of sorts...

But she knew that her writing wasn’t good enough, so she started reading more and more to improve her literary skills.
“I was reading one book every week and I still do that now,” she added.
After one year of writing and sharing her work purely online, her poetry caught more attention and people around her encouraged her to publish her work into a physical book.

From writing to publishing

As with any aspiring author, Charissa submitted her manuscript to a few local publishers. Unfortunately, in her own words, "life is not that simple". 
She was met with several cold responses -- some stayed silent, some turned her down, while others who were willing to accept her title just didn’t know how to market fiction books because apparently, there were quite a number of publishers in Malaysia that were only familiar with educational books.
Facing rejection after rejection, she finally decided to go down the difficult road and take the bull by its horns.
“I took out a bunch of money that I saved since I was young and invested everything to set up my own publishing house,” Charissa said.
And that was how she published her first book Midnight Monologues through her brainchild.
Charissa also designed the book herself.
'Let us give your pen wings' – This is the motto you will see plastered on the company’s official website, which goes in line with Charissa’s end goal
“I have a big dream in front of me. Besides selling my books, I also want Malaysians to read more. So, this type of dream humbles me,” she shared.

Becoming a best-selling author

Charissa's first book successfully entered the ‘Best Sellers’ list in book stores within a few weeks, outperforming popular international authors like Lang Leav, Jojo Moyes and Mitch Albom!
“It was crazy, I couldn’t believe it! It was very unreal for me because I don’t have a degree in journalism or English literature,” she said.
“It just proves that as long as we are good observers and highly empathetic, we can really tap into the needs and wants of people."
Before publishing her books, she conducted a small market research and discovered that books by fellow author Lang Leav, who also writes poems and short stories, were received very well in Malaysia.

She saw an interest for this genre here because people can somehow relate to poems.
Charissa's books are sold alongside best-selling international titles.
“People get very melodramatic and emotional if they read sad and sentimental stuff,” Charissa said.

And she found that this formula worked brilliantly for her books as well.
Midnight Monologues is a simple composition of poetry with pure feelings and emotions that stem from being ‘Lost’, ‘Found’ and having ‘Hope’ -- the different stages you face after losing a loved one.
In the new Daylight Dialogues, she explores the mind of millennials, and deals with a spectrum of concepts and themes surrounding human relationships, including heartbreak, love, self-actualisation, nostalgia and life experiences.
She also challenged her writing skills by experimenting with different styles of poems, such as anagram (poems that can be read from top to bottom), two-sided poetry, diminishing poetry and more in her second book.
'Midnight Monologues' was short-listed as a finalist in the 'Poetry' and 'Design' categories of the International Book Awards.
While she is not writing, she is busy building and developing apps for startups.

Charissa graduated with a degree in Interactive Media Design from The One Academy and actually has a day job now as a UI/UX designer.

“This job opened up a whole new world for me because it’s a different process of design thinking that involves psychology, which I love,” she explained.
She spends her lunch hours and weekends perfecting her writing and managing her publishing company. This truly inspires us to keep hustling when we still have the energy because why have only one job when you can have two, and be your own boss at the same time!

Charissa's writing make the perfect beach-read.
While her second book is still fresh in book stores, Charissa is already penning her next book -- a novel with dystopian and sci-fi themes.

We have yet to read a book like this by a Malaysian author, so we trust that her fans will be looking forward to her next project.
In the near future, she hopes to see her books distributed in other countries.
“I would also like to discover local talents through my publishing company as I know we have many local young writers that has potential but very little knowledge on achieving that goal and further expanding their horizon,” she said.
Charissa’s one advice for her peers is to "chase your dreams intelligently".
“Many people just want to chase their dreams but think that inspiration will fall from the sky. But dreams don’t work until you do. Ask as many questions as you can, at least you start somewhere, rather than just sitting and waiting,” she said.

Wise words indeed from the self-made best-selling young author.
Daylight Dialogues is now available at MPH Bookstores. If you wish to follow Charissa’s writings and musings, catch up with her on Facebook and Instagram.

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