It was indeed an eye-opener during the fourth Sharpened Word Literary Matinee on January 16 at Sepaloh Art Centre as the writers were asked about the benefits and pitfalls of publishing their own books.
For Chuah Guat Eng, the first Malaysian woman to publish a novel in English in 1994, she was left disappointed with the response she received from a few publishers who were interested in her book but demanded the lady to change bits of her story in their favour.
“The publishers wanted me to do many alterations and modifications of my story. Soon I was wondering why I should settle with their way. This is after all my book and my story,” said the writer.
That was when Chuah realised that instead of heading for publishers, with her background in advertising, she could get it printed by herself. Chuah studied English Literature at University of Malaya Kuala Lumpur and German Literature at Ludwig-Maximillian University, Munich. She also has a PhD from UKM for her thesis on From Conflict to Insight: A Zen-based Reading Procedure for the Analysis of Fiction.
“I knew a few printing companies and graphic artists. Although it was going to be tougher; to do everything by yourself, I can say the result was even more fruitful.”
Her works have been well received by general readers and are studied by students and scholars of postcolonial literature not only in Malaysia but also in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. In fact, an academic book entitled ‘Colonial to Global: Malaysian Women’s Writing in English 1940s-1990s’ touted her as “an attempt to move towards an independent notion of identity and a distinctive writing with tradition.”
The same sentiment was expressed by another author, Arthur T.Y. Foo known for his ‘Natasha’ trilogy that was nominated for the Reader’s Choice award in 2013 and 2014.
“It was a lengthy process when you and your publishers have different ideas. At the end of the day, what I can suggest to anyone who is interested on publishing the book themselves, is to stick to your idea. Fight for it. It is your book and your idea. It has to be about you,” added Arthur during the Q&A session.
As the two writers discussed with the audience about having guts and sacrifices they had to make as self-published writers, it is clear how important it is to find publishers who share the same sentiment and ideology with the writers. In other words, a relationship needs to be built between the two parties before a book is printed and sold to the public. Although many didn’t dare follow the footsteps of Chuah and Arthur, self-publishing has indeed become the first choice for some writers.
However, for Malachi Edwin Vethamani the third speaker of the session, a poet, writer and a professor at University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, he was given a publisher who let him write the way he wanted to.
“My book was different from the other two writers. It was an academic book that was written, based on facts and ten years of hard work. It provides data on works done by Malaysian writers in writing English. Mine was a different experience from them,” said Malachi.
His latest publication entitled, A Bibliography of Malaysian Literature in English (Maya Press, 2015) also contains details on the publication of Malaysian writers in four literary genres; the novel, drama, short stories and poetry. As a poet himself, Malachi recited several poems of his to the audience during the first session.
The Q&A session also saw some good questions asked by the large audience. Everybody appeared to be eager on becoming self-published writers and the panellists certainly gave them a few pointers to ponder on becoming one. Undoubtedly, Sharpened Word Literary Matinee has put together yet another worthwhile affair!
The next Sharpened Word’s literary matinee will be held on Saturday February 20, 2.30pm – 5.30pm at Sepaloh Art Centre. Find out more about upcoming featured writers by registering on their mailing list or go to: www.facebook.com/sharpenedword.kinta.