Sunday, October 29, 2006


AS A BOOK EDITOR for a good many years now, I have been very fortunate to have met lots of writers from all walks of life and from all levels of emotional intelligence. Here are just a couple of them—classics in the annals of Malaysian wannabe writers—to whet your appetite:

  1. “As far as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a writer. But I’m so busy with work commitments and all that I have no time to write. Writing is so hard and time-consuming. Do you think you could pay somebody good to write for me? But please make sure my name appears on the cover of the book, okay?”
    Well, as far as I can remember, I have always wanted to write for others.
  2. “I know my grammar is really bad—but you can clean it up for me since you are the editor, right? I give you permission to rewrite it for me if you want to.”
    I know I will die rewriting it. In fact, I have died a thousand deaths just doing this through the years.
  3. “You can do anything as you please with my book. You are very good.”
    I am really not that good.
  4. “I am not a writer or anything. But could you fax me a sample contract and a guide to submitting a manuscript—just in case I do decide to become a writer one day.”
    I could also fax you a list of suggested hors doeuvres to serve during the launch party if you wish.
  5. “My English is not good. But I don’t want people to edit my stuff. I want to retain the essence of my writing. So, do you want my book or not?”
  6. “Could you tell me how to get my book published in London or New York? I don’t like to publish my manuscript in Malaysia because I don’t want my book edited. You know anybody in Bloomsbury, HarperCollins or Random House?”
  7. “Everyone has a book inside them. All you need to do is to write it.”
    Though it is true to say that everyone has a book inside them, most books are meant to stay where they are: yes, inside them! Some books are not meant to see the light of day.
  8. “I would like to discuss about the promotion of my book. What shall I serve for the launch?”
    This from an author who hasn’t written his book.
  9. “I don’t want to make any appearances to promote my book. I’m a very private person. Its your responsibility as publisher to sell my book. I don’t want to sell my own books. If I have to sell my own books, I might as well publish them myself.”
    This from another author who has yet to write his magnum opus.
  10. “I am calling from my mobile phone. I have written something but I need somebody to advise me. Could I have your mobile phone number? Maybe we can meet up and chat about it? You want to be my literary agent?”
  11. “You are so lucky to be an editor. You get to read all the wonderful stuff before they appear in the bookshops. Imagine: you actually get to read them before others.”
    Wow! I never thought about my job this way. Yes, I must be so lucky!
  12. “How much is the royalty? So little one-ah? Never mind-lah, I will check with other publishers first.”
    Shopping around for a publisher who would pay her a royalty of 20 per cent for a book she hasn’t written! By the way, J.K. Rowling only gets a royalty of 11-plus per cent.
  13. “You just tell me what you want and I will write it for you.”
    An angel from above here to answer my prayers
  14. “If J.K. Rowling and Dan Brown can do it, I can do it too.”
    Yeah, go ahead and do it, man! And quit talking about it!
  15. “I cannot fax you samples of my work. Im afraid that you just might steal my work.”
    Go ahead and keep it to yourself then!
  16. “I have not published anything. But I have an agent in London.”
  17. “You may not like it, but there are many people who will enjoy reading it.”
    It’s my solemn duty to spare people the agony of reading it.
  18. “Yes, I know I don’t have enough material for a full-length book. Perhaps we could use a bigger font, put bigger spaces between lines and use higher-grammage paper to make the book look thick, substantial and overflowing with knowledge. What do you think?”
    I think I won
    ’t have a place in heaven if I do what you are telling me to do.
  19. “What about my class assignments?”
    Well, if they are good, why not?
  20. “You don’t need to edit my manuscript. Its as perfect as it gets. My wife has edited it. She teaches English, you know.
    Yeah, I know.
  21. I want to know how much my royalty would be if I were to write a book. I would like to check whether it is worth my time writing a book.
    Well, if you sell a million copies of your book, you will make at least a million. However, if you do not sell any copies, you
    won’t get any royalties at all.


Anonymous Yvonne Lee said...

Eric! This is so hilarious, you can write a complete chapter on this.

Perhaps I can add the no. 14 for you!

After I wrote my first book "The Sky is Crazy" ( a bestseller, not that I'm such a fantastic writer but more likely that the readers like to know what happens up at 35 000 feet!) some people ( read air crew/ex-air crew) said, " Aiya...I oso stewardess wer, I oso can write like dat one. But you know how it is being a stewardess? Flying, flying, flying all the time, where got time to write!
But one day, after I retired, I think I oso can write like dat. Sap sap sui laa...( easy peasy laa)"

Everyone has a story about their job, their life or even their dog, but not everyone has the flair to tell a story. Oftimes, it's not what you have to say but how you say it that makes a difference.

I won't count myself a best story teller, yet, but everyday, am learning to be one.

The gist of all your 13 + 1 'symptoms'( gawd...where's the dictionary when I need one??) of M'sian author-wannabes is this:

Every one of them thought it's easy to be an author. If it were, the saying, "Writing is easy....just stare at the paper till your forehead bleeds" won't be here. Yes, Eric?

Saturday, October 28, 2006 3:25:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Yes, Yvonne, everyone's got a story to tell but it's how you tell it that makes all the difference in the world. That's where the flair, the talent and the skill comes in. Great writers always think they are not good enough. Great writers always seek the perfect sentence.

Saturday, October 28, 2006 8:11:00 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Eric,

These are really classic howlers.

It just shows some Malaysians' perception of writing, publishing a book and the role of an editor.

Writing is never easy, writing well is even harder, writing excellent prose is impossible.

Ah, well, back to the old word processor.

Saturday, October 28, 2006 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Hello Alex - Glad you enjoyed the howlers. Lots of Malaysian writers do not understand the role of an editor. Most writers tend to say that it's the responsibility of the editor to clean up a bad manuscript. "You are the editor, so you clean up the manuscript." Like I say, I can always throw away bad manuscripts if writers don't submit well-written manuscripts. I always choose the better ones so that I can be more effective as an editor. The other day one writer says, "If J.K. Rowling and Dan Brown can do it so well, I believe I can do it too." Writers must learn to be more humble and empathetic.

Saturday, October 28, 2006 6:08:00 PM  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

brilliant! i can tell you really enjoyed writing this!

Sunday, October 29, 2006 3:38:00 AM  
Blogger starlight said...

hilarious! if i may, i'd like to add one more.

this came from an ex-beauty queen who 'wrote' her first coffee table book. i was working on the layout for her. the pictures were bad and her layout ideas didn't work, but when i told her that, she huffed, "that's because you local publishers are not used to international styles."

Sunday, October 29, 2006 5:29:00 PM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Sunday, October 29, 2006 6:46:00 PM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Sharon - Yes, you're right, I'm having a great time!

Starlight - Yes, I've heard that one too!

Sunday, October 29, 2006 6:47:00 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Eric,

I guess we must be fair to some beginning author who has a good idea but just could not manage to get the flow and language in order. Am I right to surmise that a good editor can help someone like that along?

I am not talking about prinna donnas, but just a humble writer. I myself have been blessed by many editors who taught me a lot about writing and also taught me about respecting each other as persons.

Monday, October 30, 2006 12:18:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Nice to hear from you, Alex. Yes, we must be fair to new writers. And yes, a good editor can help someone like that along. Some good books have sprung from such beginnings. Of course, the writer must learn to be humble and must be willing to to do lots of rewrites and more research. It's difficult if the writer is lazy. I like working with writers who are willing to go beyond what's expected of them.

Monday, October 30, 2006 12:37:00 AM  
Blogger Lydia Teh said...

Starlight, I think I know who that is!

Eric, you should send this in to the papers. Starmag or Star Two may be a good choice.

Monday, October 30, 2006 7:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Yvonne Lee said...

Hi! I agree with Lydia. I read a hilarious take on translation last Sunday in Starmag. That from a lecturer in translation at USM.

Perhaps Eric can do like that from point of view of a book editor.

Monday, October 30, 2006 10:09:00 PM  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

i echo the sentiment ... deserves wider publication

Tuesday, October 31, 2006 5:52:00 AM  
Blogger the kimster said...

I think I've heard of the "that's because you local publishers are not used to international styles" book :) - people can be hilarious that way.

If writing is so easy, I wonder why not more people are doing it.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006 6:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Yang-May Ooi said...

Hi Eric

Your list is hiliarious. It shows the assumptions people have that writing is (a) easy (b) lucrative (c) that you can do it even if you have no love for words.

However, I thought some of those wannabes would like to know that (i) yes, you can pay someone to write your book for you and put your name on the cover - a lot of celebrities do that and you could find a ghost writer but it'll cost you money (ii) yes, if JK Rowling and Dan Brown can do it, so can you - that shows some Malaysia-boleh spirit. But, guys, you have to actually do it not just talk about it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006 9:31:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Hello Yang-May - You are right. Celebrities, politicians and other famous personalities employ ghostwriters to do the writing for them. This, of course, is basically a business kind of thing. However, for the average person who wants to be a writer, they've got to write their books themselves. There's just no two ways about it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006 6:06:00 PM  

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