Friday, January 15, 2016

BOOKISH: On Writing Well

ERIC FORBES on the arduous publishing process and why writers need to focus more on learning to write better

MANY MALAYSIAN WRITERS somehow do not seem to understand the arduous process of publishing a book, getting it out into the bookshops and developing a readership. A publishing house, first and foremost, is not a production or typesetting house. (“I want my book out within a month. I’ve booked the venue and ordered the red velvet cake and champagne for the launch. By hook or by crook, I want it ready by then. I want international distribution. I want my book to be available at every Waterstones and Barnes & Noble and Kinokuniya in the kingdom. I want ...”) It is definitely not a babysitting service where you dump your horror of a manuscript and hope a magnum opus will miraculously emerge from it. (“Could we like turn this into a book with a lovely cover and all the usual trimmings? It would make an ideal Christmas pressie for Mama and Papa.”)

Potential authors do not seem to understand the rigorous and painstaking process of creating a good book. (“Here are some photographs I took with my digicam; I want a glossy coffee-table book with my name in bold letters. The wonderful thing is, there are not many words in it. You know, people just don’t have time to read nowadays. It shouldn’t be too expensive to produce. After all, I do want everyone to be able to afford it.”) The publishing house is not a dream factory where your books are manufactured and your dreams realised. (“I dream of becoming a writer one day. Can make my dream come true?”)

Of course, I can make your dream come true, but first you have got to do something. Like write. Yes, write. And write reasonably well. Is it too much to insist that you write well if you wish to get published?

There is a lot of good old-fashioned hard work involved in publishing a book, much of it hidden from the view of the world. It is, however, very difficult to maintain standards because there are more bad than good writing floating around. But, for a publisher or editor, that is where the fun (or heartaches and nightmares) is, I guess! (“Here is Harry Potter’s magic wand: go and turn yourself into a good writer!”)

Write only if you are serious about good writing and producing a book that will stand the test of time. Write a book that will make you proud to be the author. Write a book that will make your mummy proud to have a son or daughter like you. Write with confidence; write with humility; write with empathy. Lose the unbecoming arrogance and the I-am-cleverer-than-you attitude. Do not be afraid to admit mistakes; learn from them and move on. Always strive to be a better writer. We do not want the world to think that we celebrate mediocrity, do we? Wouldn’t you want to write a book that will be remembered and reprinted for years to come? Or do you prefer to write one where it will only be printed once and that’s it?

As a writer, you must ask yourself whether people are willing to fork out their hard-earned money in exchange for your book. Will reading your book make any difference to their lives? Is your book worth more than the paper it is printed on? These are just some of the questions writers must ask themselves if they are serious about writing.

What you write about is as important as how you write it. As an editor of books, a good manuscript is like a dream come true, a shooting star across the vast open heavens, a breath of fresh air, a fine-dining experience at Nobu or The Fat Duck, the coming of rain after a season of drought, a harvest after the paddy-planting season. I believe you get my drift?

There is a world of difference between a good and bad manuscript. Not only is a good manuscript well written, it is also well edited before being submitted to a publishing house. A good manuscript is like the proverbial needle in the haystack. When you are editing a reasonably good manuscript it feels like being in heaven; there is beautiful music in the air and the sound of angels singing. Editing an egregious manuscript is like burning in the pits of hell, with fire and brimstone your eternal companions. What I dislike most is that good manuscripts are so difficult to find. Sadly, there aren’t that many good ones to choose from. Most are execrably under- or overwritten and repetitious, full of vague and meaningless sentences that do not add anything to the subject. Well, as they say, life’s like that. However, in real life, we do publish the unreadable … and the occasional good book that actually sells!

We not only need more writers, but more writers with original and exciting ideas, thoughts and opinions that matter and appeal to as many readers as possible. We need writers with a sense of intelligence and storytelling in their prose and an eye for telling details. We need writers who can write well and are able to string sentences grammatically and syntactically, and punctuate them at all the right places. We want writing that is entertaining, gripping, compulsive and thought-provoking—all at the same time. We crave writing that keeps us at the edge of our seats. We want original pieces of writing that challenges us as readers. We want writing that gets us excited about books and make us jump with joy. Otherwise, what’s the point of publishing? There is nothing like the sound of perfect sentences; they crackle like dried leaves being trampled upon in the heat of a summer’s day. (This is actually harder to write than it sounds.)

If fiction is not your thing, try nonfiction. However, don’t for a moment imagine that nonfiction is a piece of cake. It’s not. Piecing together research coherently and seamlessly is no easy task. Not everyone can do both equally well. Go on and write the book that you say you were born to write. And when that happens, perhaps we will meet at the bookshops one of these days and celebrate your success!

ERIC FORBES edits books for a living and has been in bookselling and publishing for over 30 years. He is reading Mary Norris’s Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen (W.W. Norton, 2015) and is thoroughly enjoying it.

Friday, January 01, 2016

January 2016 Highlights

1. The Kindness of Enemies (Grove Press, 2016) / Leila Aboulela
2. The Guest Room (Doubleday, 2016) / Chris Bohjalian
3. The Past (Harper, 2015) / Tessa Hadley
4. The Illegal (W.W. Norton, 2016) / Lawrence Hill
5. The Expatriates (Viking, 2016) / Janice Y.K. Lee
6. The Crooked Heart of Mercy (Random House Canada, 2016) / Billie Livingston
7. My Name Is Lucy Barton (Random House, 2016) / Elizabeth Strout

First Novels
1. Fallen Land (St Martin’s Press, 2016) / Taylor Brown
2. The Longest Night (Random House, 2016) / Andria Williams

1. Good People (Bellevue Literary Press, 2016) / Robert Lopez
2. Sea Lovers (Serpent’s Tail, 2016) / Valerie Martin

1. Dead Man’s Float (Copper Canyon Press, 2016) / Jim Harrison
2. Incorrect Merciful Impulses (Copper Canyon Press, 2016) / Camille Rankine

1. Their Promised Land: My Grandparents in Love and War (Penguin Press, 2016) / Ian Buruma
2. Fragments: On Writing, Reading, and Absence (Europa Editions, 2016) / Elena Ferrante
3. 1956: The Year In Revolt (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Simon Hall
4. The Romanovs, 1613-1918 (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2016) / Simon Sebag Montefiore

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

December 2015 Highlights

1. Avenue of Mysteries (Doubleday, 2015) / John Irving
2. The Age of Reinvention (trans. from the French by Sam Taylor) (Atria Books, 2015) / Karine Tuil
1. Alive, Alive Oh!: And Other Things That Matter (Granta Books, 2015) / Diana Athill
2. Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire (Faber & Faber/Random House, 2015) / Roger Crowley
3. Low Dishonest Decades: Essays and Reviews, 1980-2015 (Pressed Wafer, 2015) / George Scialabba
4. This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015) / Samanth Subramanian

Sunday, November 01, 2015

November 2015 Highlights

“The early dusk of a NOVEMBER afternoon had already closed in; the street-lamps, in the thick, brown air, looked weak and red; our heroine was unattended and Euston Square was a long way from Piccadilly.” HENRY JAMES, The Portrait of a Lady (1881)

1. The Japanese Lover (trans. from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson) (Atria Books, 2015) / Isabel Allende
2. Number 11 (Viking, 2015) / Jonathan Coe
3. Numero Zero (trans. from the Italian by Richard Dixon) (Harvill Secker, 2015) / Umberto Eco
4. The Mare (Pantheon, 2015) / Mary Gaitskill
5. Playing with Fire (Bantam Press, 2015) / Tess Gerritsen
6. Wherever There Is Light (Atria Books, 2015) / Peter Golden
7. Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise (Grand Central Publishing, 2015) / Oscar Hijuelos
8. Avenue of Mysteries (Simon & Schuster, 2015) / John Irving
9. All For Nothing (trans. from the German by Anthea Bell) (Granta Books, 2015) / Walter Kempowski
10. Napoleon’s Last Island (Vintage Australia/Random House Australia, 2015) / Tom Keneally

11. The Great Swindle (trans. from the French by Frank Wynne) (MacLehose Press, 2015) / Pierre Lemaitre
12. Tightrope (Other Press, 2015) / Simon Mawer
13. Hotels of North America (Little, Brown, 2015) / Rick Moody
14. The Lake House (Allen & Unwin, 2015) / Kate Morton
15. All the Houses (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015) / Karen Olsson
16. Even Dogs in the Wild (Orion, 2015) / Ian Rankin
17. One Out of Two (trans. from the Spanish by Katherine Silver) (Graywolf Press, 2015) / Daniel Sada
18. Private Life (trans. from the Catalan by Mary Ann Newman) (Archipelago Books, 2015) / Josep Maria de Sagarra
19. The Muralist (Algonquin Books, 2015) / B.A. Shapiro
20. The Story of Mr Sommer (trans. from the German by Michael Hofmann) (Fox, Finch & Tepper, 2015) / Patrick Süskind

21. Katherine Carlyle (Corsair, 2015) / Rupert Thomson
22. The Age of Reinvention (trans. from the French by Sam Taylor) (Scribner UK, 2015) / Karine Tuil
23. The Big Green Tent (trans. from the Russian by Bela Shayevich) (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015) / Ludmila Ulitskaya
24. Cousins (Viking, 2015) / Salley Vickers
25. The Edge of the Fall (Orion, 2015) / Kate Williams

First Novels
1. American Copper (Unbridled Books, 2015) / Shann Ray

1. A Wild Swan and Other Tales (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015) / Michael Cunningham
2. The Penguin Book of the British Short Story: Volume 1: From Daniel Defoe to John Buchan (Penguin Classics, 2015) / Philip Hensher (ed.)
3. The Penguin Book of the British Short Story: Volume 2: From P.G. Wodehouse to Zadie Smith (Penguin Classics, 2015) / Philip Hensher (ed.)
4. A Snow Garden and Other Stories (Doubleday, 2015) / Rachel Joyce
5. The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (Scribner/Hodder & Stoughton, 2015) / Stephen King
6. Dancing on the Outskirts: Selected Stories (Virago, 2015) / Shena Mackay
7. People Like Us (Atelier26 Books, 2015) / Margaret Malone
8. You Have Never Been Here: New and Selected Stories (Small Beer Press, 2015) / Mary Rickert
9. Cockfosters (Jonathan Cape, 2015) / Helen Simpson
10. Calloustown (Dzance Books, 2015) / George Singleton

11. Public Library and Other Stories (Hamish Hamilton, 2015) / Ali Smith
12. Tales of Accidental Genius (Harper Perennial, 2015) / Simon Van Booy

1. Unicorn: The Poetry of Angela Carter (Profile Books, 2015) / Angela Carter
2. Collected Poems (Picador, 2015) / Carol Ann Duffy
3. The Poems of T.S. Eliot: Volume I: Collected & Uncollected Poems (eds. Christopher Ricks & Jim McCue) (Faber & Faber, 2015) / T.S. Eliot
4. The Poems of T.S. Eliot: Volume II: Practical Cats & Further Verses (eds. Christopher Ricks & Jim McCue) (Faber & Faber, 2015) / T.S. Eliot 
5. Not in this World (Bloodaxe Books, 2015) / Tracey Herd
6. Second Empire (Alice James Books, 2015) / Richie Hofmann
7. Peace Talks (Faber & Faber, 2015) / Andrew Motion

1. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (Liveright, 2015) / Mary Beard
2. London Fog: The Biography (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 2015) / Christine L. Corton
3. Augustine: Conversions and Confessions (Allen Lane, 2015) / Robin Lane Fox
4. The Blue Touch Paper: A Memoir (W.W. Norton, 2015) / David Hare
5. The Mistress of Paris: The 19th-Century Courtesan Who Built an Empire on a Secret (Icon Books, 2015) / Catherine Hewitt
6. To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949 (Viking, 2015) / Ian Kershaw
7. The Simplest Words: A Storyteller’s Journey (Allen & Unwin, 2015) / Alex Miller
8. A Notable Woman: The Romantic Journals of Jean Lucy Pratt (ed. Simon Garfield) (Canongate Books, 2015) / Jean Lucey Pratt
9. The Other Paris: An Illustrated Journey Through a City’s Poor and Bohemian Past (Faber & Faber, 2015) / Luc Sante
10. 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded (Faber & Faber, 2015) / Jon Savage

11. John le Carré: The Biography (Harper, 2015) / Adam Sisman
12. Proust: The Search (Yale University Press, 2015) / Benjamin Taylor
13. The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett (Bloomsbury USA, 2015) / Nathan Ward
14. Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015) / Tim Whitmarsh
15. Black Dragon River: A Journey Down the Amur River at the Borderlands of Empires (Penguin Press, 2015) / Dominic Ziegler

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Rotten Durian Awards & Other Malaysiana Miscellany

A SENIOR EDITOR of a Malaysian publishing house received the following email the other day. The message, with typos amended, reads: “I can’t write very well, but I thought I’d like to try writing a novel. I’ve decided to write a novel about pirates, but I don’t know anything about pirates. Could you please email me information about pirates: their lifestyle, their eating habits, where they like to chill out during the weekends, what they like to do during the day, what kinds of books they read, etc., so that I can start working on the novel immediately? With much appreciation and best wishes.”
MALAYSIA is not exactly the friendliest country in the world: most of the time the people are bloody rude, downright discourteous, boorishly loudmouthed and deeply disrespectful, among other things. Asian values? What Asian values? Malaysia is truly not Asia.
SOME MANUSCRIPTS are so bloody horrendous that I literally get sick editing them! I feel feverish, headache-y and all-over-the-body-achy. Seriously, one of these days we must consider giving out a slew of ROTTEN DURIAN AWARDS for the crappiest Malaysian books of the year—books we absolutely could not care less about, much less read. I know for sure there won’t be a dearth of contenders for these uniquely Malaysian awards where MEDIOCRITY is the ONLY yardstick of greatness and celebrated with customary poop (pomp) and ceremony! Perhaps I will start the ball rolling with that pathetic attempt of a book ... yes, that particular pseudo-book! It reminds me of the opening lines to Keir Alexander’s excellent novel, The Ruby Slippers: “She stinks. It has to be said. Stinks to high heaven.” She does, believe me.
THE COST of doing business is escalating all the time. Maintaining sales have always been a challenge, now more so than ever. There are not many good manuscripts to choose from in a lacklustre marketplace. There’s nothing much we can do about the decline of the English language or the quality of writing in Malaysia in the short term. We have to accept the fact that the only thing we can do as publishers is to enhance our production values: editing standards and marketing efforts will need to be stepped up. Producing a book is not going to get any easier; editors will have to break their backs editing and rewriting substandard manuscripts to a level deemed publishable in a short time. Not that there are many good editors to choose from in a nation that doesn’t care much for reading and writing in the first place.
AT A BOOK LAUNCH in a five-star hotel (nothing less that five stars will do, or an exclusive golf club) in Kuala Lumpur the other day, everyone invited to attend the event was treated to a sumptuous meal of sweet and savory Malaysian delicacies and given a complimentary copy or two of the said book of the day. Suffice to say that the food tasted so much better than the book. This is quite understandable. Let’s not beat around the bush; no one in their right frame of mind would use their hard-earned cash to pay for it. The trick is not to take Malaysian publishing too seriously. If you do, you are in for an early grave.
WHEN will Malaysian education start focusing on understanding and critical thinking skills? Will it ever? There is a serious dearth of these basic skills: reading, writing, creative thinking, questioning, criticism, creativity and imagination; there is also an absolute lack of interest or intellectual curiosity or empathy about the world we live in. We desperately need graduates who can not only eat but spell chocolate! Education per se is irrelevant; one must have the right mindset to use the knowledge acquired and make one’s life useful and meaningful to society. The idea of education is to make every one of us into critical, empathetic, intelligent, logical and thinking beings. If not, what’s the point of existence? What’s really the point of education if we do not produce intelligent, efficient and productive nation builders? It is frightening when the education system keeps on churning out graduates who don’t read (and have no interest in reading) and can’t write.
SERIOUSLY, do we really have a publishing industry in Malaysia? I sometimes wonder, more often lately. A sad fact: Malaysian writers can’t write and don’t want to be edited at all. Those who can, the writing is hollow, bland, shallow, lifeless, insipid, puerile, illiterate, dispirited, uninspiring, self-indulgent, lazy, lackadaisical and vague. Sometimes the manuscripts are so execrable, possibly written by someone who doesn’t speak English, that editing them is next to impossible. (I don’t pray for much, just good health and happiness for all creatures big and small, being a better human being ... and good writing to land on my desk.)

Another sad fact: Editors don’t know how to edit. (Editing is not just about punctuation, grammar and spelling.) Most of them lack the most basic of editing skills (grammar and spelling); if they can’t even handle basic editing, surely they are in the wrong profession, no? Editors are unwilling to learn and tend to miss more than they spot errors (and constantly introducing new ones at the same time). And many are averse to research, checking facts and solving problems. Punctuating dialogue is another major weakness. Most of them lack imagination, intellectual curiosity and have no idea why they are doing the things they are doing. Many are not (and will never be) aware of the important aspects of book production like bibliography, footnotes, endnotes, indexing, etc. Also, not many editors have a nose for business or finance. Publishing is not just about PUBLISHING bad books; it is also about SELLING the bad books you publish. Both are equally important to sustain the business.

Another sad fact: Designers don’t know how to typeset books and design covers. Most of them are not designers; when you think about it, they are really more incompetent typesetters than designers. Most, sadly, have no grasp of the aesthetics, whether in the design of covers or typesetting of pages, are not open to constructive criticism and lack basic language skills (English and Malay). (“The kind of designs you don’t exactly need to go to design school to learn. The idea is to do it blindly.”) There is absolutely no passion to push boundaries or to have higher expectations, no sense of accomplishment for a job well done. They do not seem to learn anything from experience. They have no idea whether contents pages are required for the manuscripts they typeset; they have no idea what acknowledgements, forewords, prefaces, introductions, appendices, bibliographies, indexes, afterwords, footnotes, endnotes, figures, tables and charts are. They may have moved their MOUSE for centuries, but they have not gain any relevant experience at all.

Another sad fact: Translation standards are abysmal. Translation is not just about translating words to another language; it’s also about translating cultural and other creative nuances; the translated text must make sense and transport you to another world. “Translation,” in the words of Anthony Burgess, “is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture.” A good translator must not only possess a solid grounding in both languages but a strong grasp of idioms and metaphors as well. Sadly, it’s rare to find translators who are strong in both languages.

A vicious cycle. Definitely. So, do we really have a publishing industry in Malaysia? No. I believe what we have here is more akin to some kind of stunted, constipated offshoot of public relations, rather than publishing as we know it. Books are never published for the right reasons. It never fails to amaze me how publishers always find reasons to justify the publishing of substandard books as though producing as many such books as possible is some kind of noble calling or something!
EVIL, THEY SAY, NEVER DIES ... it claws its way back from the pits of hell to haunt the living. We are in the midst of editing perhaps the worst manuscript on the planet … rejected by all who had a chance to look at it but somehow foisted on us editors for the dumbest of reasons. And to think that the British once colonised us, you would expect a certain standard of English. After the last disaster of a book, we thought we had seen the last and worst of horrendous books. No-o-o-o … that’s too good to be true. Ladies and gentlemen, Evil is back in business and is here to haunt the living daylights out of us. Just goes to prove that there are some things money can’t buy … for instance, to write well and tell a wonderful story (fiction or otherwise). Some publishers claim they publish these rejected manuscripts under the pretext of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Seriously, you can call them anything you want; I prefer to pile them under POO and flush them down the LOO where they belong for all eternity. Of course, under normal circumstances these manuscripts would not see the light of day but the dark of the sewers. I fail to understand what joy these author-wannabes derive from being published under such circumstances!
AND THEN there are those so-called Malaysian authors who insist that we do not comply with standards and conventions when editing their so-called manuscripts! As the Backstreet Boys would croon back in the late 1990s, They want it that way! You can have it any way you want, Sweetheart, as long as you pay the production costs and buy up all the stocks and keep them locked up in your room! And maybe toss them in with the carrots, potatoes, onions and tomatoes when Mummy makes chicken soup for the whole family. The books will also come in handy if you have plans for house extensions. Books, after all, are not just books; they make hardy bricks, too.
REMEMBER THE GOOD OLD DAYS when we used to have meals and lovely conversations without interruptions? We used to eat and talk, and eat and talk, all the while enjoying ourselves. Those were the days when we used to really talk with one another and conversations were long, and there were jokes and laughter, and time just passed without us realising it. Those days are long gone. People nowadays are more interested in their smartphones, internet, text messaging, etc., and seem to prefer to communicate with people not dining at the table but elsewhere, reading news updates, taking photos of themselves in all manner of poses, etc. You may have the whole wide world at your fingertips, but you don’t seem to be aware of the immediate world around you. Once in a while, think about the person sitting opposite you.
POMPOUS LASS: Only native speakers can edit my manuscript! No Malaysian editors for me, please!
Publisher: You mean someone from Good Olde Mother England?
Pompous Lass: Of course—if English is their mother tongue!
Publisher: Why’s that?
Pompous Lass: Because my book is for the wonderful people of this planet. I want it to be perfectly edited for all my readers from around the world …
Publisher: Would you like to bear the cost of getting someone from England to edit it then?
Pompous Lass: Will that be cheap?
Publisher: What do you think? Everything is cheap except you?
Pompous Lass: I wouldn’t want to spend my money on that! If it’s too expensive, a local editor should be all right, I guess!
WATERLILY: I want to talk to the editor?
Receptionist: Who’s calling?
Waterlily: Lily!
Receptionist: Lily who?
Waterlily: Water “I-can’t-tell-you-my-real-name” Lily!
Receptionist: How can I help you?
Waterlily: I want to talk to the editor about my manuscript?
Receptionist: What’s your manuscript about?
Waterlily: I can’t tell you that! I don’t know who you are. You may just steal and profit from my hard work! I want to speak to the editor!
Editor: Could you send us samples of your work, Water?
Waterlily: I can’t do that either.
Editor: So what can you do, Water?
Waterlily: Why do you need samples of my work?
Editor: Duh! So that we could assess your writing and decide whether we want to publish it or not!
Waterlily: Why do you want to review it? I am a famous writer and my work is quoted in all the leading journals all over the galaxy!
Editor: That’s nice and all and I’m happy for you. However, we would still like to assess it.
Waterlily: Will you be distributing my book in the U.S. and the U.K.?
Editor: No. We only sell foreign rights to those markets. And over the internet.
Waterlily: Looks like you are not the right publisher for me then. Goodbye!
Editor: Good riddance.
AUTHOR: Would you like to publish my manuscript?
Publisher: Well, it depends …
Author: Depends on what?
Publisher: Well, whether you have a written manuscript?
Author: I haven’t written one. Can you get it written for me?
Publisher: Why is that?
Author: I can’t write.
Publisher: But you have studied for a couple of foreign degrees … and you have lived overseas for many years. With your fake accent and all, I’m sure you could write English.
Author: I’m very bad at grammar. Could you get me a writer whom I could talk to, take down notes and put them all in a book for me? I can talk very well. I just can’t write.
Publisher: I can’t imagine how you manage to pass all your exams over the years!
AUTHOR: Could you label me a bestselling author on the cover of my new book?
Editor: No! You are not a bestselling author! And you’ve never have been one!
Author: It’s a way of MARKETING the book!
Editor: I don’t think that’s MARKETING; that’s shameless CONNING. Your first book sold less than a thousand copies in over five years. That, to me, is a disaster of epic proportions! Your book sounds more like the worst-selling book of the century. And with the way it is moving (or not moving), it looks set to be the worst-selling book in the history of humankind. I believe your book will still be around even after the Apocalypse!
AUTHOR: And on what grounds are you rejecting my manuscript?
Editor: Well, it sucks, for one!
Author: What! How dare you insult me! Everyone who has read it thinks it a magnificent piece of work!
Editor: Who, pray tell, read your magnum opus?
Author: My darling husband and children, friends and relatives! And my dearest mummy and daddy, too!
Editor: Of course!
Author: So can I take it that you are not interested in publishing my manuscript?
Editor: De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da ... Duh!
AUTHOR: Yahoo! My book is a runaway bestseller!
Editor: How’s that possible?
Author: I got every one of my best friends to buy 500 copies of my book. Yahoo! Time for a reprint?
Editor: What do you expect them to do with all the copies of your book?
Author: Who cares what they do with them? Hide them under the stairs? Perhaps they can make beef or vegetable stew with them?
AUTHOR: I would like you to publish my book?
Editor: Your manuscript, you mean? Well, it all depends on the quality of your manuscript.
Author: What? I know your Financial Controller and the Top Guy, you know!
Editor: Ooh, I’m shivering! Of course, we will publish your book—even though it sucks big-time!
Author: What?
Editor: Isn’t that what you want?
WISDOM, they say, comes with age. I once thought that wisdom was the exclusive province of the elderly. Now that I am all grown up, I have come to realise that that’s all balderdash. Wisdom is the province of those who possess it; age is simply immaterial. Over the years, I have had the good fortune to meet young people who are wise beyond their years, and I have also had the MISFORTUNE of meeting old people who have absolutely no wisdom at all.
AUTHOR: I don’t like my marriage photograph in the book. We look so bloody fat.
Editor: Of course, both of you are fat. So, what do you want me to do? Both of you should have gone on a diet before getting married. Well, you could always get married again.
AUTHOR: Make sure all numbers smaller than 10 are in figures, not words, okay?
Editor: Numbers from 1-9 will be in words, not numerals. Anything from 10 and above, I will use figures. That’s the standard editing rule.
Author: But I am your client and you do as I instruct.
Editor: So, what else do you want to go with that? Bad grammar? I can do that. What about factual errors? You want some of those? Weak characterization, perhaps? A plot full of holes? We can add a couple of those, if you like. Why don’t I also throw in as many misspellings as I can for you on the house?
Author: What?
Editor: For your information, you ain’t my client. You can keep your money and go ask your mummy to search and replace all your 1-9s with figures.
“ANYONE can be an author nowadays. You don’t really have to be a good writer or excellent in grammar and all that nonsense,” so says the marketing consultant. You can’t write? No problem, we will get you a ghostwriter to write on your behalf for a fee, she says. And if you suck big-time at grammar and vocabulary, also no problem. We have the backroom boys (editors, copyeditors, proofreaders and designers) to clean up your writing (or lack thereof) and make all your dreams come true. After all, most people just like to see their names on the covers of their so-called books. And perhaps launching them at one of the hotels or golf clubs (or fast-food joints or shopping-mall concourses). That’s about it.
PASSION is, of course, a wonderful thing to have. But let’s talk about ringgit and sense. There is simply no money in editing in Malaysia. I have been editing books for a living for well over 30 years now, and this saddens me a great deal. Perhaps it’s time for me to seriously consider giving it all up and do something else with the rest of my life?
ONCE IN A BLUE MOON, when all the stars in the heavens are somehow aligned, the perfect manuscript lands on your desk. All is well with the world; the elves and hobbits are having a whale of a time in the playing fields and the flowers are singing and dancing in the wind. There is joy and laughter all over the kingdom. With minimal editing, the manuscript is published to much acclaim and financial success. There are, of course, books that do not capture a readership no matter how good they are or how much they are pushed or promoted. Most of the time, though, bad books fall on your head with a loud thud. Some of these books go on to become successful books after much editing, rewriting, blood, sweat and tears, etc. Publishing is a difficult business; there is no guarantee that a good book will sell. Neither is there a guarantee that a bad book will not sell. Not all bad books sell; most of them end up in the cemetery of lost books.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

October 2015 Highlights

1. Beatlebone (Canongate Books, 2015) / Kevin Barry
2. The Secret Chord (Viking, 2015) / Geraldine Brooks
3. The Hours Count (Riverhead Books, 2015) / Jillian Cantor
4. We That Are Left (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) / Clare Clark
5. The War Reporter (Thomas Dunne Books/St Martin’s Press, 2015) / Martin Fletcher
6. The Italian Wife (Berkley, 2015) / Kate Furnivall
7. Career of Evil: A Cormoran Strike Novel (Sphere/Mulholland Books, 2015) / Robert Galbraith
8. Little Sister Death (Dzanc Books/Faber & Faber, 2015) / William Gay
9. A Banquet of Consequences (Viking/Hodder & Stoughton, 2015) / Elizabeth George
10. Playing with Fire (Ballantine Books, 2015) / Tess Gerritsen

11. A Poet of the Invisible World (Picador USA, 2015) / Michael Golding
12. Dictator (Hutchinson, 2015) / Robert Harris
13. Submission (trans. from the French by Lorin Stein) (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015) / Michele Houellebecq
14. The House on Cold Hill (Macmillan, 2015) / Peter James
15. Two Gun & Sun (Caitlin Press, 2015) / June Hutton
16. Man Tiger (trans. from the Indonesian by Labodalih Sembiring) (Verso Books, 2015) / Eka Kurniawan
17. Hell & High Water (Walker Books, 2015) / Tanya Landman
18. High Dive (William Heinemann, 2015) / Jonathan Lee
19. Mrs Roosevelt’s Confidante (Bantam, 2015) / Susan Elia MacNeal
20. The Maiden Dinosaur (Turnpike Books, 2015) / Janet McNeill

21. As Strangers Here (Turnpike Books, 2015) / Janet McNeill
22. Slade House (Sceptre/Random House, 2015) / David Mitchell
23. A Place Called Sorry (Caitlin Press, 2015) / Donna Milner
24. After the Circus (trans. from the French by Mark Polizzotti) (Yale University Press, 2015) / Patrick Modiano
25. The Lake House (Mantle/Pan Macmillan/Atria Books, 2015) / Kate Morton
26. God’s Kingdom (St Martin’s Press, 2015) / Howard Frank Mosher
27. The Mark and the Void (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015) / Paul Murray
28. The Little Red Chairs (Faber & Faber, 2015) / Edna O’Brien
29. Death by Water (trans. from the Japanese by Deborah Boliver Boehm) (Grove Press/Atlantic, 2015) / Kenzaburō Ōe
30. A Strangeness in My Mind (trans. from the Turkish by Ekin Oklap) (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015) / Orhan Pamuk

31. Dreams of the Red Phoenix (Unbridled Books, 2015) / Virginia Pye
32. Dark Corners (Hutchinson, 2015) / Ruth Rendell
33. The Mountain Shadow (Little, Brown/Grove Press, 2015) / Gregory David Roberts
34. Martin John (Biblioasis, 2015) / Anakana Schofield
35. A Whole Life (trans. from the German by Charlotte Collins) (Picador, 2015) / Robert Seethaler
36. Golden Age (Alfred A. Knopf/Mantle, 2015) / Jane Smiley
37. Before the Feast (trans. from the German by Anthea Bell) (Pushkin Press, 2015) / Saša Stanišić
38. Katherine Carlyle (Other Press, 2015) / Rupert Thomson
39. All the Stars in the Heavens (Harper, 2015) / Adriana Trigiani
40. The Gap of Time (Hogarth, 2015) / Jeanette Winterson

First Novels
1. Spill Simmer Falter Wither (Windmill Books, 2015) / Sara Baume
2. Juventud (Curbside Splendor Publishing, 2015) / Vanessa Blakeslee
3. City on Fire (Alfred A. Knopf/Jonathan Cape, 2015) / Garth Risk Hallberg
4. Beauty Is a Wound (trans. from the Indonesian by Annie Tucker) (New Directions, 2015) / Eka Kurniawan
5. Mrs Engels (Catapult, 2015) / Gavin McCrea
6. Landfalls (Little, Brown, 2015) / Naomi J. Williams

1. Pond (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2015) / Claire-Louise Bennett
2. Mothers, Tell Your Daughters (W.W. Norton, 2015) / Bonnie Jo Campbell
3. The Early Stories of Truman Capote (Random House, 2015) / Truman Capote
4. How Winter Began (University of Nebraska Press, 2015) / Joy Castro
5. Eyes: Novellas & Stories (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015) / William H. Gass
6. A Few Days in the Country and Other Stories (Text Publishing, 2015) / Elizabeth Harrower
7. The Tsar of Love and Techno (Hogarth, 2015) / Anthony Marra
8. Thirteen Ways of Looking (Random House, 2015) / Colum McCann
9. This Angel on My Chest (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015) / Leslie Pietrzyk
10. 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) / Lorrie Moore & Heidi Pitlor (eds.)

11. The Best American Short Stories 2015 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) / T.C. Boyle & Heidi Pitlor (eds.)
12. Mendocino Fire (Harper, 2015) / Elizabeth Tallent 

1. That Which Is Suddenly Precious: New and Selected Poems (New Island Books, 2015) / Dermot Bolger
2. The Bonniest Companie (Picador, 2015) / Kathleen Jamie
3. Emblems of the Passing World: Poems after Photographs by August Sander (Other Press, 2015) / Adam Kirsch
4. The Emperor of Water Clocks (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015) / Yusef Komunykaa
5. On Bunyah (Black Inc., 2015) / Les Murray
6. Felicity (Penguin Press, 2015) / Mary Oliver
7. Posthumous Cantos (ed. Massimo Bacigalupo) (Fyfield Books, 2015) / Ezra Pound
8. Talking Dead (Jonathan Cape, 2015) / Neil Rollinson
9. Erratic Facts (Grove Press, 2015) / Kay Ryan
10. The Collected Poems and Drawings of Stevie Smith (Faber & Faber, 2015) / Stevie Smith

11. Fur (Dedalus Press, 2015) / Grace Wells

1. The Best American Essays 2015 (Mariner Books, 2015) / Ariel Levy & Robert Atwan (eds.)
2. Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life (William Collins/Harper, 2015) / Jonathan Bate
3. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (Profile Books, 2015) / Mary Beard
4. Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age (Graywolf Press, 2015) / Sven Birkerts
5. The Road to Little Dribbling (Doubleday, 2015) / Bill Bryson
6. Drinking in America: Our Secret History (Twelve, 2015) / Susan Cheever
7. A House of My Own: Stories from My Life (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015) / Sandra Cisneros
8. Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink (Blue Rider Press, 2015) / Elvis Costello
9. Sure, Why Would Ye Not?: Two Oul Fellas Put the World to Rights (Blackstaff Press, 2015) / Rodney Edwards
10. Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka (Quercus, 2015) / John Gimlette

11. Charlotte Brontë: A Life (Viking, 2015) / Claire Harman
12. Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar (Doubleday, 2015) / Tom Holland
13. Hemingway in Love: His Own Story: A Memoir (St Martin’s Press, 2015) / A.E. Hotchner
14. Sebald’s Vision (Columbia University Press, 2015) / Carol Jacobs
15. Realm Divided: A Year in the Life of Plantagenet England (Head of Zeus, 2015) / Dan Jones
16. The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains (Princeton University Press, 2015) / Thomas W. Laqueur
17. The Cabaret of Plants: Botany and the Imagination (Profile Books, 2015) / Richard Mabey
18. The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Modern Middle East, 1908-1923 (Allen Lane/Penguin Press, 2015) / Sean McMeekin
19. Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli (NYU Press, 2015) / Ted Merwin
20. Maman, What Are We Called Now? (Persephone Books, 2015) / Jacqueline Mesnil-Amar

21. The Irish Paradox: How and Why We Are Such a Contradictory People (Gill & Macmillan, 2015) / Sean Moncrieff
22. My Unsentimental Education (University of Georgia Press, 2015) / Debra Monroe
23. Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal (Doubleday, 2015) / Jay Parini
24. The Best American Essays 2015 (Mariner Books, 2015) / Robert Atwan & Ariel Levy (eds.)
25. Between Gods: A Memoir (Harper Perennial, 2015) / Alison Pick
26. They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper (Fourth Estate, 2015) / Bruce Robinson
27. The Givenness of Things: Essays (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015) / Marilynne Robinson
28. 1956: The Year That Changed Britain (Biteback Publishing, 2015) / Francis Beckett & Tony Russell
29. The Other Paris (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015) / Luc Sante
30. The Witches: Salem, 1692 (Little, Brown, 2015) / Stacy Schiff

31. 1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear (Faber & Faber, 2015) / James Shapiro
32. John le Carré: The Biography (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015) / Adam Sisman
33. My Father’s Guitar and Other Imaginary Things (Algonquin Books, 2015) / Joseph Skibell
34. M Train (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015) / Patti Smith
35. Proust: The Search (Yale University Press, 2015) / Benjamin Taylor
36. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (Penguin Press, 2015) / Sherry Turkle
37. Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers (William Collins/Harper, 2015) / Simon Winchester
38. The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science (John Murray, 2015) / Andrea Wulf

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Frustrations of a Book Editor in Malaysia

I HAVE YET TO FULLY RECOVER from producing a spate of horrendous “books” these couple of months. Yes, months of slow, mind-numbing torture. All right, let me be honest here, these are really bad books I am talking about. And I am not joking. Seriously. I am calling them “books” for lack of a better word. On second thought, “trash” would probably be a more appropriate word to use! (Regardless of what we think, any self-indulgent crap slap between two covers with an ISBN is technically a book.) Worst of all is being literally forced to produce books from manuscripts that have been rejected, but somehow clawed their way back from the depths of Hell to scare the living daylights out of Humankind. (These nightmarish books to end all nightmares are lethal enough to kill you instantly!) Publishing in Malaysia is like running on a treadmill; you just go nowhere even after much painstaking exertion. Here are some of my not-so-favourite things about being a book editor in Malaysia!

ONE, authors who are willing to (and actually do) pay others to write about them for them (in biographies or autobiographies) and praise them to high heaven. (In this age of self-absorption, self-aggrandisement and shameless self-promotion, there are indeed people who are so obsessed about seeing their names in print that they are willing to pay others to write their books for them!) Most enjoy praising themselves in their badly self-penned autobiographies!

TWO, authors who are ungrateful to their editors and waste their time when their so-called books fail to make a dent in the local (and global) marketplace. Somehow the possibility that their books are just not good enough never crosses their minds.

THREE, authors who plan their all-important book launches (and the food, of course!) without having completed writing their manuscripts or going through their final proofs. Book launches (at opulent five-star hotels and exclusive golf clubs, no less!) are planned even before the ink on the pages has dried—sometimes even before the book is written! (These are a dime a dozen.) It is so easy to get published in Malaysia; there is only one qualification you need: just write badly! Too many authors fall in this category. (I have edited some of the worst autobiographies not only on this planet but the whole galaxy.) And they are such a waste of precious life and prime retail space.

FOUR, psychotic authors who “hijack” the whole publishing process and behave like prima donnas and divas. (There are many of these prancing and strutting around like peacocks and peahens.)

FIVE, authors who think the publishing house belongs to their dearest daddies/mummies/granddaddies/grandmummies/best friend (choose one). Believe it or not, money does buy you everything nowadays—despite what they teach you in philosophy school!

SIX, authors who are under the delusion that they write better than V.S. Naipaul, Raja Rao, Mulk Raj Anand and R.K. Narayan all put together! (An indepth study definitely needs to be done to delve into this very strange Malaysian malaise.) This state of cockiness and overconfidence is frightening.

SEVEN, authors who are supposedly graduates of some of the finest universities on the planet, and yet are unable to string proper sentences together or organise their (unintelligible) prose into paragraphs. (Who was it who said that education makes one a well-rounded person? He obviously haven’t had the misfortune of meeting such a creature as a Malaysian. (“If you can’t do such simple things, you might as well flush your degree down the you-know-where,” a schoolmaster once told me in the late 1960s.)

EIGHT, authors who demand advances even though they have no manuscripts to show. (Go figure this one out!) For some reason or other, they also want to know their sales figures before sitting down to write the book they say they were put on this beautiful earth to write. And (this is a good one) they always want to know when their books will be available in the bookshops (when they have yet to write anything)! (Mama told me that this sort of behaviour is rooted in one or a combination of these: traumatic childhood experiences, psychological trauma or defective upbringing!)

NINE, authors who do not like to be edited or allow editors to edit their books (and who, for one reason or other, do not edit their own books themselves, usually due to pure laziness, pomposity or other human flaws which should make the Devil so proud of them). They also demand an assurance from the editor that as editor he will be personally responsible for reading every line or word of the atrocious manuscript to ensure that the book is perfect! They just love contradicting themselves, don’t they? (“Don’t you dare edit my work; you are solely responsible for every mistake that occurs in my book and make sure my author photograph is in colour; I want the graphs and tables to be in colour, too. What do you think? Ain’t it pretty?” Or this one: “Don’t you dare edit my son’s manuscript. He’s an Asian scholar and is too good to be edited.”) Here’s another gem: “You may edit my book, but don’t you dare touch the grammar.”) It’s no surprise to find more than one preface and/or five or six forewords in these books! This group of authors also loves launching their masterpieces and making a public spectacle of themselves! (On the other hand, there are authors who keep amending their work, even after their books have been on bookstore shelves for months!) Or how about this evergreen: “All my friends and relatives have read my manuscript and they all think it’s perfect; there’s no need for more editing to be done.” Or this chestnut: “Why so many rounds of editing-huh?” Or this: “I need commas here and there. I feel unclothed without them.”

TEN, most potential authors simply want to get published; to them, it doesn’t really matter whether their writing is good enough. But we know good writing does matter in more ways than one.

AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST, authors who cry and wail over the phone and who won’t take no for an answer because they have already invested so little time on their manuscripts. Somehow, they don’t seem to understand why I have rejected their yet-to be-written manuscripts. “I’ll only write it if you want it,” they lament! (But I really don’t want them.)

The irony is, I have never had much problems working with authors who could write well; they understand where I’m coming from and know exactly where I plan to take their manuscripts. The non-writers are the ones I find impossible to deal with!

Rare though they are, I have had the privilege of working with authors (not many) who have become great friends over the years. Editing can be a very traumatic experience (especially for the editor), but when both writer and editor work well together, the end product is something to behold. I always look forward to working with writers who believe in and are not afraid of rewriting and revising their work; such writers are a joy to work with because they are really passionate about their work and are not afraid of pushing themselves beyond the boundaries.

Do you belong to any or a combination of these stereotypes? I hope not, because these are not exactly role models worth aspiring to!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

September 2015 Highlights

“It was a SEPTEMBER evening and not yet seven o’clock, but the day had been a dreary one, and a dense drizzly fog lay low upon the great city.” SHERLOCK HOLMES, in The Sign of Four (1890)

1. The Blue Between Sky and Water (Bloomsbury USA, 2015) / Susan Abulhawa
2. The Real Justine (Pegasus, 2015) / Stephen Amidon
3. The Heart Goes Last (Bloomsbury Publishing/Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2015) / Margaret Atwood
4. Early One Morning (Little, Brown, 2015) / Virginia Baily
5. The Blue Guitar (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015) / John Banville
6. The Prize (Counterpoint, 2015) / Jill Bialosky
7. Ghost River (University of Queensland Press, 2015) / Tony Birch
8. Sweet Caress (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015) / William Boyd
9. Undermajordomo (Granta Books, 2015) / Patrick deWitt
10. We Never Asked for Wings (Mantle, 2015) / Vanessa Diffenbaugh

11. This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! (Algonquin Books, 2015) / Jonathan Evison
12. Where My Heart Used to Beat (Hutchinson, 2015) / Sebastian Faulks
13. The Story of the Lost Child (trans. from the Italian by Ann Goldstein) (Europa Editions, 2015) / Elena Ferrante
14. Purity (Fourth Estate/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015) / Jonathan Franzen
15. The Last September (Algonquin Books, 2015) / Nina de Gramont
16. Fates and Furies (Riverhead Books, 2015) / Lauren Groff
17. The Past (Jonathan Cape, 2015) / Tessa Hadley
18. The Illegal (HarperCollins Canada, 2015) / Lawrence Hill
19. Fear of Dying (St Martin’s Press, 2015) / Erica Jong
20. The Hummingbird (William Morrow, 2015) / Stephen P. Kiernan

21. Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years (Pantheon, 2015) / Thomas Mallon
22. Marvel and a Wonder (Akashic Books, 2015) / Joe Meno
23. So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighbourhood (trans. from the French by Euan Cameron) (MacLehose Press, 2015) / Patrick Modiano
24. After the Parade (Scribner, 2015) / Lori Ostlund
25. A Strangeness in My Mind (trans. from the Turkish by Ekin Oklap) (Faber & Faber, 2015) / Orhan Pamuk
26. Arcadia (Faber & Faber, 2015) / Iain Pears
27. Above the Waterfall (Ecco, 2015) / Ron Rash
28. Sleep (Doubleday Canada, 2015) / Nino Ricci
29. The Wolf Wilder (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015) / Katherine Rundell
30. Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (Jonathan Cape/Random House, 2015) / Salman Rushdie

31. Martin John (Biblioasis, 2015) / Anakana Schofield
32. The Marvels (Scholastic Press, 2015) / Brian Selznick
33. The Double Life of Liliane (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2015) / Lily Tuck
34. The Storms of War (Pegasus, 2015) / Kate Williams
35. The Natural Way of Things (Allen & Unwin, 2015) / Charlotte Wood

First Novels
1. The Secret Son (Allen & Unwin, 2015) / Jenny Ackland
2. The Suicide of Claire Bishop (Dzanc Books, 2015) / Carmiel Banasky
3. Did You Ever Have a Family (Scout Press/Gallery Books/Jonathan Cape, 2015) / Bill Clegg
4. The Courtesan (Dutton, 2015) / Alexandra Curry
5. The Book of Memory (Faber & Faber, 2015) / Petina Gappah
6. The Black Country (Salt Publishing, 2015) / Kerry Hadley-Pryce
7. Jade Dragon Mountain (Minotaur Books, 2015) / Elsa Hart
8. The Sparrow Sisters (William Morrow, 2015) / Ellen Herrick
9. The Waiting Room (Vintage Australia/Random House Books Australia, 2015) / Leah Kaminsky
10. Beauty Is a Wound (trans. from the Indonesian by Annie Tucker) (New Directions, 2015) / Eka Kurniawan

11. The Story of My Teeth (trans. from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney) (Coffee House Press, 2015) / Valeria Luiselli
12. Under the Udala Trees (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) / Chinelo Okparanta
13. Grief is the Thing with Feathers (Faber & Faber, 2015) / Max Porter
14. The Hundred-Year Flood (Little A, 2015) / Matthew Salesses
15. Rawblood (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2015) / Catriona Ward
16. Gold Fame Citrus (Riverhead Books, 2015) / Claire Vaye Watkins

1. Arvida (trans. from the French by Donald Winkler) (Biblioasis, 2015) / Samuel Archibald
2. A Manual for Cleaning Women (ed. Stephen Emerson) (Picador, 2015) / Lucia Berlin
3. In Another Country: Selected Stories (Comma Press, 2015) / David Constantine
4. Only the Animals (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015) / Ceridwen Dovey
5. Half An Inch of Water (Graywolf Press, 2015) / Percival Everett
6. The O. Henry Prize Stories 2015 (Anchor, 2014) / Laura Furman (ed.)
7. The Long Gaze Back: An Anthology of Irish Women Writers (New Island Books, 2015) / Sinéad Gleeson (ed.)
8. The Woman in Black and Other Ghost Stories: The Collected Ghost Stories of Susan Hill (Profile Books, 2015) / Susan Hill
9. The Tsar of Love and Techno (Hogarth, 2015) / Anthony Marra
10. A Kind of Compass: Stories on Distance (Tramp Press, 2015) / Belinda McKeon (ed.)

11. Ghostly: A Collection of Ghost Stories (Vintage Classics, 2015) / Audrey Niffenegger
12. A Slanting of the Sun (Doubleday Ireland/Steerforth, 2015) / Donal Ryan
13. Stories from Other Places (Harvill Secker, 2015) / Nicholas Shakespeare
14. Fly Away Home (Salt Publishing, 2015) / Marina Warner
15. The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015) / Joy Williams

1. Impossible Bottle (Louisiana State University Press, 2015) / Claudia Emerson
2. Prodigal: New and Selected Poems, 1976-2014 (Mariner Books, 2015) / Linda Gregerson
3. Notes on the Assemblage (City Lights, 2015) / Juan Felipe Herrera
4. Application for Release from the Dream (Graywolf Press, 2015) / Tony Hoagland
5. Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015) / Robin Coste Lewis
6. Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions) / Ada Limón 
7. Diversion (ECW Press, 2015) / George Murray
8. 40 Sonnets (Faber & Faber, 2015) / Don Paterson
9. Reconnaissance (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015) / Carl Phillips
10. Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts (Tupelo Press, 2015) / Lawrence Raab

11. Selected Later Poems (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015) / C.K. Williams

1. The House of Twenty Thousand Books (New York Review Books, 2015) / Sasha Abramsky
2. In the Land of Giants: Journeys Through the Dark Ages (Head of Zeus, 2015) / Max Adams
3. St Paul: The Misunderstood Apostle (published as St. Paul: The Apostle We Love to Hate in the U.S.) (Atlantic Books/New Harvest, 2015) / Karen Armstrong
4. Early Fiction in England: From Geoffrey of Monmouth to Chaucer (Penguin Classics, 2015) / Laura Ashe (ed.)
5. Freedom Regained: The Possibility of Free Will (University of Chicago Press, 2015) / Julian Baggini
6. The Crime and the Silence (trans. from the Polish by Alissa Valles) (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/William Heinemann, 2015) / Anna Bikont
7. Frederick the Great: King of Prussia (Allen Lane, 2015) / Tim Blanning
8. August: The Biography (trans. from the German by Anthea Bell) (Allen Lane, 2015) / Jochen Bleicken
9. Conquerors: How Portugal Seized the Indian Ocean and Forged the First Global Empire (Faber & Faber, 2015) / Roger Crowley
10. Making a Point: The Pernickety Story of English Punctuation (Profile Books, 2015) / David Crystal

11. Hope Without Optimism (University of Virginia Press, 2015) / Terry Eagleton
12. Self and Soul: A Defense of Ideals (Harvard University Press, 2015) / Mark Edmundson
13. South Toward Home: Travels in Southern Literature (W.W. Norton, 2015) / Margaret Eby
14. The Story of Egypt (Hodder & Stoughton, 2015) / Joann Fletcher
15. Tales of Two Cities: The Best and Worst of Times in Today’s New York (Penguin Books, 2015) / John Freeman (ed.)
16. The Way of Wanderlust: The Best Travel Writing of Don George (Travelers’ Tales, 2015) / Don George
17. Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance (Faber & Faber, 2015) / Robert Gildea
18. The House by the Lake: A Story of Germany (William Heinemann, 2015) / Thomas Harding
19. Weatherland: Writers & Artists Under English Skies (Thames & Hudson, 2015) / Alexandra Harris
20. How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People (Basic Books, 2015) / Sudhir Hazareesingh

21. One Wild Song: A Voyage in a Lost Son’s Wake (Adlard Coles, 2015) / Paul Heiney
22. Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar (Little, Brown, 2015) / Tom Holland
23. Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2015) / Alistair Horne
24. Negroland: A Memoir (Pantheon, 2015) / Margo Jefferson
25. The Art of Memoir (Harper, 2015) / Mary Karr
26. Lost Japan: Last Glimpse of Beautiful Japan (Penguin Books, 2015) / Alex Kerr
27. To Hell and Back: Europe, 1914-1949 (Allen Lane, 2015) / Ian Kershaw
28. Must We Divide History into Periods (trans. from the French by M.B. DeBevoise) (Columbia University Press, 2015) / Jacques Le Goff
29. Stalin’s Englishmen: The Lives of Guy Burgess (Hodder & Stoughton, 2015) / Andrew Lownie
30. Scotland: A History from Earliest Times (Berlin, 2015) / Alistair Moffat

31. Ezra Pound: Poet: A Portrait of the Man & His Work: Volume III: The Tragic Years, 1939-1972 (Oxford University Press, 2015) / A. David Moody
32. Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawai‘i (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015) / Susanna Moore
33. The Lost Landscape: A Writer’s Coming of Age (Ecco, 2015) / Joyce Carol Oates
34. Iraq: A History (Oneworld Publications, 2015) / John Robertson
35. The Hotel Years: Wanderings in Europe Between the Wars (trans. from the German by Michael Hofmann) (Granta Books, 2015) / Joseph Roth
36. The Face of Britain: The Nation through Its Portraits (Viking, 2015) / Simon Schama
37. Peter O’Toole: The Definitive Biography (Sidgwick & Jackson, 2015) / Robert Sellers
38. John le Carre (Harper, 2015) / Adam Sisman
39. Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning (Tim Duggan Books/Bodley Head, 2015) / Timothy Snyder
40. Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads (with photographs by Steve McCurry) (Hamish Hamilton/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) / Paul Theroux

41. The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett (Bloomsbury USA, 2015) / Nathan Ward
42. Island Home: A Landscape Memoir (Hamish Hamilton/ Penguin Books Australia, 2015) / Tim Winton
43. The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015) / Andrea Wulf