Saturday, March 07, 2009


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. 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! Worst of all is being literally forced to produce books from manuscripts that have been rejected but somehow claw their way back from the pits of Hell to scare the living daylights of Humankind. (These nine nightmarish books to end all nightmares are lethal enough to kill you!) Publishing in Malaysia is like running on a treadmill; you just go nowhere even after much exertion. Here are some of my not-so-favourite things as a book editor!
  1. Authors who are willing to (and actually do) pay others to write about them for them (in biographies) and praise them to high heaven. (In this age of self-absorption and self-aggrandisement, there are people who are so obsessed about seeing their names in print that they are willing to pay others to write their books for them!) Some enjoy praising themselves in their badly self-penned autobiographies!
  2. Authors who are ungrateful to their editors and waste their time.
  3. Authors who plan their book launches (and the food, of course!) without having completed writing their manuscripts or going through their final proofs. Book launches (at five-star hotels, of course, nothing less) are planned even before the ink on the pages is dried—sometimes even before the book is written! (These are 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.
  4. Psychotic authors who ‘hijack’ the whole publishing process and behave like prima donnas and divas. (Lots of these prancing around.)
  5. Authors who think the publishing house belongs to their father or grandfather. Believe it or not, money does buy you everything nowadays!
  6. Authors who are under the delusion that they write better than V.S. Naipaul and Salman Rushdie put together. (An indepth study definitely should be done to delve into this very strange malaise.)
  7. Authors who are supposedly graduates of some of the finest universities in the universe, 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 Malaysian creature. (“If you can’t do such simple things, you might as well flush your degree down the you-know-where,” a teacher once told me in the late 1960s.)
  8. Authors who demand advances even though they have no manuscript 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 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 haven’t written anything yet). (I was told this sort of behaviour is rooted in traumatic childhood experiences, psychological trauma or defective upbringing!)
  9. Authors who do not 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 love contradicting themselves. (“Don’t you dare edit my work; you are responsible for every mistake that occurs in the book and make sure my author photograph is in colour.”) 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!)
  10. Authors who cry and wail over the phone and who won’t take no for an answer. (Somehow, they don’t seem to understand why I have rejected their unwritten manuscripts. “I’ll only write it if you want it,” they intone.)
Rather rare though they are, I have had the privilege of working with authors who have become friends through the years. Editing can be a very traumatic experience, 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 to go 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 emulating!


Blogger Damyanti said...

These characteristics are not limited to Malaysian authors alone.

I have proofread/edited/copy-edited books by various non-fiction/academic authors from India, Singapore, and further afield, and a lot of them are true to the types described here :)

Friday, March 06, 2009 2:53:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Yes, you're right. These are not limited to Malaysian authors. Human beings are the same the world over.

Friday, March 06, 2009 3:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



Tuesday, March 10, 2009 7:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Publishing houses are taking a financial risk when they invest in an author. The least the author could do is to be grateful for the opportunity to get published.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 4:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope I am not one of these people, Eric!

Thursday, March 12, 2009 4:32:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

No, you are not. You are one of my favourite people!

Thursday, March 12, 2009 4:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We should salute publishers who produce unusual books. Some time ago, in MPH, I saw a labour-of-love effort, the title of which, if memory serves, was "The History of Lawn Bowls in Malaysia". Of course, the author is a very important Malay gentleman, so perhaps the publisher of that title took a non-financial, friendship-related decision of a type not uncommon during those long-departed days when British publishing was "an occupation for gentlemen".

Friday, March 20, 2009 10:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You mean you have to edit manuscripts that have been rejected? How?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 6:10:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Strong connections.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 6:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sick of looking at those ugly biographies that keep appearing in the bookshops.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009 2:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of the worst books on the planet are produced here. The standard of academic writing is deplorable, with no redeeming qualities whatsover. They are published precisely because they are bad and, believe it or not, because there really is a market for bad books. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009 5:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No. 11: Authors who ask the Editors to write their speech for them to read during the launch.

Friday, April 10, 2009 12:21:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

I know of some authors who keep on emailing me changes even after their books have been printed and are on bookstore shelves!

Saturday, April 11, 2009 10:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In a society that gives credence to to money or status, people with either of these or both are allowed to speak louder.

Saturday, April 11, 2009 11:44:00 PM  

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