Sunday, April 29, 2007


By Eric C. Forbes

MANY PEOPLE somehow do not seem to understand the arduous process of publishing a book and making sure the bookshops stock it. A publishing house is not a production or typesetting house. (“I want my book out within a month. I’ve already booked the venue and ordered the food for the launch. I want international distribution. I want my book to be available at every Waterstone’s and Barnes & Noble in the kingdom. I want ...”) It is definitely not a baby-sitting service where you dump your manuscript and hope a magnum opus will miraculously emerge from it. (“Could you turn this into a book with a nice cover and all the usual trimmings?”) They 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, please. It shouldn’t be too expensive. After all, I do want everyone to be able to afford it.”) It is not a dream factory where your books are manufactured and your dreams realised. (“I dream of becoming a writer one day. Could you make my dream come true?”)

Of course, but first you got to do something. Like write. Yes, write. Is it unreasonable to insist that you write if you wish to be published?

There is lots 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 writing than good. But, for a publisher or editor, that is where the fun is. (“Here is Harry Potter’s magic wand: go 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. Write with confidence; write with humility; write with empathy. Lose the unbecoming arrogance. Do not be afraid to admit mistakes, but learn from them and move on. Always strive to be better. We do not want the world to think that we celebrate mediocrity, do we? As a writer, you must ask yourself whether people are willing to fork out their hard-earned money to buy 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 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 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 padi-planting season.
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 for consideration. A good manuscript is like the proverbial needle in the haystack. When you are editing a good manuscript it feels like being in heaven; there is beautiful music and the sound of angels singing. When you are editing a bad manuscript it is like burning in the pits of hell, with fire and brimstone your eternal companions. What I dislike most is the fact that good manuscripts are so difficult to find. Sadly, there aren’t that many good ones to choose from. Most of them are unpublishable. 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 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. Otherwise, what’s the point of publishing? 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 and gripping and thought-provoking all at the same time. There is nothing like the sound of a perfect sentence; it crackles like dried leaves being trampled upon in the heat of a summer’s day. Of course, this is actually harder to write than it sounds.

If fiction is not you thing, try nonfiction. Not everyone can do both equally well. Go on and write the book that you were born to write. And when that happens, perhaps we will meet at the bookshops one of these days and celebrate your success!

nurture and nourish your spirit and soul with the arts ...


Blogger Kenny Mah said...

What a powerful statement. Yes, see you at the bookstore... it might take longer, but when I get there, it'd be worth it. :)

Thursday, April 19, 2007 9:47:00 PM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Writers must give publishers work they can chew on. Writers must work harder at their craft if they are serious about writing. Writing is NOT about public relations.

Friday, April 20, 2007 5:26:00 PM  
Blogger Xeus said...

Well said! Bravo!! (Applause). Yes, I get irritated too when people expect me to correct their entire work and make it publishable.

Friday, April 20, 2007 9:16:00 PM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Great writers are NOT born; they work hard at their craft and they demand the best from themselves.

Friday, April 20, 2007 9:32:00 PM  
Blogger Lydia Teh said...

Eric, just popped by my local MPH. I'm on friendly terms with the sales assistant there. She asked when's my next book coming and when I told her it takes at the very fastest one year from writing (i.e. if I can churn out a book in a few months) to the book rolling off the press, she was shocked. That long! Hehe, writing a book is not cake-baking.

Sunday, April 22, 2007 2:13:00 AM  
Blogger Kak Teh said...

eric and all, am taking notes. thanks. How I wish I can attend the next meet at MPH!

Sunday, April 22, 2007 3:08:00 AM  
Blogger Argus Lou said...

Heh heh, Eric. Your sense of humour peeks out in this post. I can feel your heaven and hell.

Lydia, if writing were like baking, I'd have had a few novels out (one or two might have sunk in the middle though) and a series of yummy mini-books (muffins are my speciality).

Sunday, April 22, 2007 3:18:00 AM  
Blogger Lydia Teh said...

Argus, -sunk in the middle - good analogy, haha. Do you have a fast and good muffin recipe?

Monday, April 23, 2007 1:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm quite surprised than anyone wld ask xeus to correct their work and make it publishable but maybe they have not seen her work before an editor has worked on it.

Monday, April 23, 2007 8:04:00 AM  
Blogger The Angry Medic said...

Whoa. Thanks for this look behind the scenes, Eric. I alwayws thought publishing was an assembly-line sort of production. You mean writers actually dare to send in manuscripts still with grammatical and spelling errors in them?!

P.S. Ditto Kak Teh up there - wishing I could ditch this schizophrenic weather and evil exams to attend the MPH meet.

Monday, April 23, 2007 6:06:00 PM  
Blogger The Angry Medic said...

PPS - is it just me, or is your blog showing up weirdly? Posts starting from The Tending by Sharon Olds stretch right across the page but the current ones are limited to the centre. Perhaps some reformatting that didn't work out?

Monday, April 23, 2007 6:27:00 PM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Yes, my blog is going weird on me and I don't understand what's happening! I just hope it will go away.

Monday, April 23, 2007 10:13:00 PM  
Blogger gRaCe said...

Hey Eric..Thanks for sharing the behind-the-scenes process with us. It is really hard work, i'm gonna love my books more from now on.. Heheh..i'll cya around too Eric. =D

Tuesday, April 24, 2007 12:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know what you mean. Malaysians somehow don't seem to be able to differentiate between a publishing house and a production company. Must be the Malaysian mentality. Very difficult to change the Malaysian mindset.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007 7:34:00 AM  
Blogger Argus Lou said...

Wow, so nasty, the first Anonymous. (C'mon, show your real face, so I can pinch your cheek.)

FYI, Xeus is a very good content editor. She helps new writers structure and flesh out their short stories.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007 8:39:00 AM  
Blogger Chet said...

Eric - thanks for that picture of Toni Morrison! Yes, she's one of those writers who writes the perfect sentence that you mentioned, and not just one perfect sentence, but entire books of perfect sentences, perfect paragraphs, and perfect scenes that seduce and segue one into another.

Yup, she's one of the best writers of all time - Nobel Prize for Literature 1993 - but has gotten increasingly hard to read in recent books which require a quiet place and 110% concentration to understand. I was fortunate to hear her read during her Beloved book tour in England in 1988 or 89, and she read from the first chapter of Song of Solomon - what a powerful low-key voice, too. Oh, thanks for bringing back the memories!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007 11:58:00 PM  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

very well said (as always) eric

you just hope the right people are listening!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007 5:29:00 AM  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

as for the blog going weird on you, maybe it is when viewed in IE but it's fine in firefox which is more forgiving of code screw ups

just change your browser

Wednesday, April 25, 2007 5:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why shoul I get my cheek pinched for just stating a fact? You try to edit Xeus work and then talk about cheek-pinching. She may be a good editor but she's a shite writer. And if one was not allowed to be anonymous then Eric Forbes should not allow anonymous posting.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007 6:58:00 AM  
Blogger Xeus said...

Hee hee, Argus. Anonymous talks as though he/she has seen my first drafts. There goes the whole credibility of the statement already, since we know WHO really sees my first drafts :)

Anyway, it doesn't really matter. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion on everything.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007 7:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Anonymous, when you state an (unsubstantiated) opinion, it is NOT a fact.

By the way, I edited Xeus's feature stories from scratch for ten years and I found they were largely clean, good copy. (But then again, what do I know, right?)

The Fourth Anon

Wednesday, April 25, 2007 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Chet - Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Toni Morrison. Writers like Toni Morrison and Michael Ondaatje, amongst others, deliver almost-perfect first drafts. They take care and time in constructing the perfect sentence with nary a word out of place. There is much grace, resonance, elegance and lyric in their writing. I enjoy reading their works very much.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007 7:42:00 PM  
Blogger Chet said...

Eric - grace and elegance are two very good words to describe Toni Morrison's writing. Thank you! I've never read Michael Ondaatje but I will get started soon.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007 8:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard that MPH Publishing is looking to nurture and develop new writers. I think that's a great move.

Thursday, April 26, 2007 6:48:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Yes, we are always on the lookout for new writers. Not only new writers. We are also looking at reprinting good old Malaysian books for a new generation of Malaysian readers. If you write well and have a great manuscript, we are always interested in publishing it. However, it must be well written and with lots of content.

Thursday, April 26, 2007 6:56:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Zaharah - I am glad people are writing more nowadays. I would like to bring Malaysian writing to the next level - creating home-grown books that are of a reasonale quality yet commercially marketable. Otherwise, things will never move from where we are now. And I need lot of support from writers. Writers who write well with lots of quality content in their writing.

Thursday, April 26, 2007 7:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, opinion then: Xeus is a SHITE writer. If you say her copy is clean then your grammar probably sucks too.

Thursday, April 26, 2007 7:30:00 AM  
Anonymous lisa said...

Thanx Eric for sharing.

Thursday, April 26, 2007 7:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very inspired by your advice. Thanks.

Sunday, April 29, 2007 2:44:00 AM  
Blogger Kak Teh said...

Eric, I think you must write more entries like this. Look at the response you are getting. I keep coming back to see if there are more.

Sunday, April 29, 2007 12:58:00 PM  
Blogger The Angry Medic said...

Agreed. I think there's a big audience out there who wants to hear what Eric has to say not only on literary works, but on the art of getting those literary works published too.

And Anon, for the record, I think there's nothing wrong with the way Xeus writes. Substantiate or don't be taken seriously.

Sunday, April 29, 2007 1:36:00 PM  
Blogger Lydia Teh said...

Yes, anon. Xeus is a good writer. And she's a good conceptual editor too. Stop bashing her please.

Sunday, April 29, 2007 5:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most of the time when you are writing, you are on your own and have to depend on yourself and not get sidetracked. Writers must be very disciplined and must learn to enjoy their own company because most of the time they are on their own doing research and writing.

Monday, April 30, 2007 2:05:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

A little trivia here: According to the New York Review of Books, 450,000 English-language books were published in 2006. And around 70,000 titles were published in Britain alone, out of which 6,000 are novels. Any large British publisher will receive more than 2,000 unsolicited manuscripts in a year. The average sale of a hardback book by a first-time writer is 400 copies! These are just some of the realities of the publishing business. Yes, like I have reiterated countless times, not everyone makes as much as Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling.

Monday, April 30, 2007 3:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How long does it take to create a book?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007 12:03:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

There's no straight answer. It depends on the quality of the manuscript. If it is well written and have enough words, it can be amazingly fast!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007 12:06:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

More literary trivia: There probably aren't more than 80,000 regular readers of literary fiction in the United States. A successful book of poetry might sell no more than 2,000 copies in the U.S. And we are talking about a U.S. population of a little over 300 million! Think about it.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007 12:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do people actually book the venue and order the food when the book is not done? That's real funny.

Thursday, May 03, 2007 6:32:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Yes, believe it or not, people actually do such things. And they believe it is the most natural thing in the world to do.

Thursday, May 03, 2007 6:34:00 AM  

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