Most people who want to self-publish their books have already decided and know why they choose this approach. Initially, it can seem a daunting prospect. “Oh, my God. What have I got myself into?” On the other hand, given today’s tech advances, you’re reasonably sure you’d not be required to invest in a hammer and chisel and carve your story on a stone block. But you’re still not sure.
- You've finished a book! And you think you have a killer manuscript. What do you do?
- You spend years looking for agents who do not even want to look at your manuscript unless you're previously published. You’re much too small a fry.
- No big publishing house will look at your manuscript if you don't have an agent or if you’re world-famous. They are not interested in anything new or different.
- Then, you try tiny indie publishing houses. They are friendly, sympathetic even, but it's complicated. They don't have the resources of the big boys. Also, they are more selective and focused on their niche, even if their decisions are not entirely market or profit-driven.
- Ultimately, traditional publishing houses choose authors, not the other way.
THE BOOK INDUSTRY
- Whatever happened to all the mega bookstores all over the Klang Valley? Most have closed. Survivors are slowly shrinking. Fiction is almost dead. Non-fiction (lifestyle, history and politics) and academic and school text titles keep them afloat.
- Perhaps it’s all for the best that they have. More than 60 years after independence, our bookstores were still under the control of distributors founded by the colonials in Singapore. I suppose the demise of the Anglo-American book industry and its inherent hegemony should be cause for celebration. Local publishing now has more oxygen to breathe, although we are still in the colonial period, not in post-col.
- Until about ten years ago, books by Penguins, Random Houses, Harper Collins, etc. dominated almost all shelf space in Malaysia and Singapore. They might as well have had signs: no dogs and local books allowed. Local literature couldn't penetrate the big bookshops.
- Then, when their rules relaxed a little (when sales of local books went up), local books were allowed in but relegated to the bottom of shelves at the back of the stores.
- With the near collapse of the Anglo-American book industry, more local books are finding their way onto the shelves. They are not so dominating now.
- Big-name publishing houses don’t like change. They constantly want best-selling authors, just like the last one. (Note: Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood were nominated for the Booker recently. I love them both, but could they not find anyone else in the last 40 years?)
- Then there was the problem of the remainders trade that devalued books, a self-inflicted wound by the big publishers that would prove fatal. It’s bad enough that local publishers don’t have the economy of scale to compete on price with the big boys; remainders became the double whammy.
- Despite their finger-pointing at Amazon, Borders, e-books, online selling, etc., the Anglo-American book industry is dying because big publishers do not want to face the facts that they’re primarily responsible for the current state of the book industry. They made enormous mistakes for short-term profits; they no longer had exciting content. They were only recycling mediocrity. (Even Netflix is doing a better job of storytelling.) It’s as though they think they’re in the grocery store business, selling rice and sugar, not culture.
- The British Net Book Agreement was a fixed book price agreement between The Publishers Association and booksellers in the United Kingdom and Ireland on prices at which books could be sold to the public. That is, books were objects with value (like in most of Europe today). BNBA was dissolved in 1997.
- For a period after that, there was still honour amongst some publishing houses that avoided dumping and devaluing their books. Example: when Silverfish opened shop in mid-1999, the Penguin distributor in Malaysia was STP. When I visited their store, somewhere in PJ, I saw shelves and shelves of Penguin titles I wanted. When I asked, the salesman told me they were not for sale because they had been marked for pulping. I was disappointed but respected Penguin’s integrity for not wanting to devalue their books in the market.
- Some years ago, we noticed a Singapore-based distributor dumping their books in Malaysia, selling them are remaindered prices. When I asked why they’d bother transporting the books to Kuala Lumpur, I was told that remaindering books in Singapore was illegal due to anti-dumping laws. Malaysia was more manageable in that respect.
- When I first opened in Desa Seri Hartamas, I saw some staff of a popular distributor going through my shelves, taking notes and rearranging my books. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Stocktaking for replenishment and rearranging for better display.” I was shocked. I told them it was my shop, and I decided what books I stocked and how I displayed them. “Industry practice,” they defended themselves. When asked if they did that in all bookshops, they nodded. That’s how the Anglo-American publishers guarded their shelf space.
- Then I realised the truth of the matter. None of them read. Most bookshop people don’t read; most distributor’s people don’t read; and most publishing people don’t. Bottom line: most people in the book business in Malaysia don’t read! Books are the only commodity sold in Malaysia with no product knowledge.
- In many cases, traditional publishing doesn't even make sense. There is a good chance that the publisher (especially from a big house) does not read (or even pretend). From the quality of their output, I don’t believe the staff of larger self-publishing houses do either.
- Smaller traditional publishing houses are a different matter.
- Even then, the expectations of the publisher and author seldom meet.
- So, one has only one option: self-publish. (Perhaps, that should have been your first option all along.)
- Anyway, you don't need a bookshop to sell books.
- Use social media to the fullest. Get discussions going on your favourite subject. Get as large a following as you can before publishing your book. Give away snippets of your arguments.
- Target groups, communities, clubs, patients, caregivers, students, family and friends.
- Don't bury your book in large shops under mountains of similar titles. Choose specialist boutique stores.
- Sell them at seminars, conferences, meetings, book clubs ... Anywhere, and keep all your sales revenue, not just a 10% royalty.
- Famous, self-published authors include Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, John Grisham, and Tom Clancy … the list is long. You’re in good company.
- Beware of sharks. There are many excellent self-publishing houses (usually the smaller ones), but watch out for the man-eaters. They will make you part with thousands of ringgit (I've heard a figure of eighty thousand ringgit) for just five free POD copies of a book and a listing on Amazon. Please do your research. Read reviews.
- What about Amazon, then? Yes, what about them? Many companies will promise you a listing on Amazon to entice you. But do you need that? First, you can do it at a tiny fraction of the cost. Second, how many copies do you think you'll sell on Amazon? Besides, Amazon stopped being a dedicated bookstore years ago.
- The DIY solution is the lowest-cost option if you have the know-how. Sadly, most people don't.
- The PAKKA-assisted DIY would best describe what we offer. We will handle all the admin bits, publish the book and send you the copies you've ordered, which you can sell and keep all the money.
- Email, WhatsApp, or telephone us for a meeting, or take a chance and walk into Pakka English at 63 Lorong Maarof Bangsar to talk about it. Compare our prices and services with others; you'll be surprised.
- Strike a balance between cost per book, quantity and quality, and fix a marketable retail price.
Tel: +60-228 448 37
Photo: Hieroglyphs on stone, ancient Egypt.(Image from Pixabay.)