Monday, September 03, 2007

Daphne LEE ... Let's Improve First

“What is the direction of the Malaysian book industry based on current developments? Are we ready for the global market?” In The Sunday Star of September 2, 2007, Daphne Lee gives her point of view on this topic.

Are we ready to take our place on the international literary stage? How about getting our spelling right first?

;" I SLUNK along last Saturday [August 25, 2007] to MPH’s annual Hi-Tea with Local Authors event feeling like a fraud because I still feel uncomfortable with being called an author.

It’s not because I think picture books don’t count. I worked hard on my four books, but I know they can be improved on and I guess I just feel like I haven’t yet paid my dues, haven’t sweated enough blood or cried quite the requisite amount of tears over my stories to think of myself in those terms.

When I said this to someone, she replied, “If it makes you feel less awkward, not just successful or good writers are invited to this event.”

Ah, yes, I felt much better knowing that!

“What is the direction of the local industry based on current developments?” was the topic of the panel discussion that kicked off the function. The focus was on marketing local books. MPH Group of Companies CEO Datuk Ng Tieh Chuan, who was one of the panellists, said we are ready for the global market. I don’t quite agree especially since there seems to be so little emphasis on the quality of writing and editing.

I don’t think we should be concerned with going global quite yet, but simply concentrate on improving as writers (and illustrators). As an aspiring children’s books author, I would love to have the guidance of an editor who can advice me on matters of plot, style and everything in between. The next best thing is to belong to a writers support group, which I do. We are a handful of aspiring authors and illustrators who trust each other enough to share our plans, ideas, dreams and works-in-progress, and to listen to and accept bouquets and brickbats from each other, in good faith and good humour.

One huge stumbling block Malaysian writers face, in my opinion, is the inability to take criticism. I believe that it’s impossible to improve if you refuse to consider your weak points. I do think it’s important to believe in what you do, and in your style, your own voice and your stories, but it’s imperative to listen to others’ opinion of your work and take into consideration their point of view.

I know local writers who feel that a bad book review shows lack of support, but I feel that all writers can learn from an honest review, good or bad, but especially one that clearly points out why the reviewer is less than thrilled with the book. After all, there is always room for improvement and if one receives nothing but praise, how can one know which areas need work?

A self-published writer recently e-mailed the manuscript of her second novel to me, implying that it was ready for print. I found countless mistakes but when I asked her if she was going to get it edited or at least proofread, she replied, “I am satisfied with everything. From the characters to the setting to the words used ... right down to the punctuation marks.”

The book has been published, complete with all the mistakes that I spotted in the manuscripts. It’s been suggested that the writer doesn’t realise the mistakes are actually mistakes.

What is really worrying, though, is that someone said to me that the mistakes might not matter since the book would probably be read by teenagers.

I didn’t have a chance to ask this person what she meant! It might be that she thinks teens don’t care about grammar; or it’s okay for teens to read sub-standard work; or teens won’t notice the mistakes anyway. I think it would be better if they did notice them. How awful if they read the book and decide the English must be perfect since it’s a published work!

I’m not against self-publishing, but I do think it’s important that authors who choose this route find a good editor. I’d go so far as to urge book distributors to think twice before distributing books that are chock-a-block with mistakes. They’re not doing the authors, readers or themselves any favours.

Sharon Bakar, who reviews books for StarMag and who was one of the panellists at the discussion, says that she believes readers have the right to ask for their money back if they find more than five typos in a book. That may sound radical, but with books costing what they do, I can see the logic in her idea.

Daphne LEE has a huge collection of books that goes back more than 30 years and is still growing. Her dream is to own a bookstore and write good children’s books. She is the author of four children’s books: A Is For Anklet, If I Were a Star, One Red Flower and Sweet Pink Posies.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must say that Malaysian writers are not critical at all of their own work. They must learn to be critical of their writing if they want to be better writers. Such a simple concept, yet so difficult to put into action.

Saturday, September 01, 2007 6:59:00 PM  
Anonymous bookaddict said...

Well said, Daphne!

Monday, September 03, 2007 5:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I once overheard a local author complaining about why her book isn't selling and maybe the bookshop isn't doing their part to promote it. Maybe they should take into consideration whether it was because of their book in question. Hmm...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007 8:39:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Yes - you are right. If I were a bookseller I wouldn't have the time or inclination to promote every book in my shop. But then if I were a bookseller I wouldn't want to sell books that are less than perfect. As a bookseller, it is imperative that all the books you order - or as much as it is possible - are sold. Otherwise, it is just a waste of expensive retail space. retailing is not about selling everything. It is about choosing the right or best things to sell.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007 4:21:00 PM  

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