The Internet is a gold mine of information. Whatever you Google for, thousands of answers will show up on screen - ready for you to take your pick. However, the quest for knowledge in terms of book publishing is less straightforward.
Sure, more than 10 pages of search results pop up when you key in “How Book Publishers work” but to search for something specific to the Singapore scene is slightly more difficult. Coupled with the growing trend in self-publishing and the rise in e-books, the gap between consumers and book publishing houses is growing.
We know more about authors through media coverage of their books or interviews. How about the work that goes behind the books themselves - what gets published and the multiple whys during the process?
Here is a little insight into what book publishing entails with two local book publishing houses - Ethos Books and BooksActually. Ethos Books is an independent book publisher since 1997 and an imprint of Pagesetters Services Pte Ltd. BooksActually is an independent bookstore specialising in fiction and literature since 2005, while publishing and distributing books under their imprint Math Paper Press.
As a publishing house, what does your brand stand for?
Fresh. Different. Enduring. We bring out unheard voices and stories that need to be told. These may not always be comfortable for the reader, and may not be well-received in the beginning. Our hope is to create awareness through meaningful conversations and create more awareness of Singapore literature.
Not always the easiest question to answer but at its core, we want to tell stories, whether they are made-up fiction novels, or non-fiction tomes on travel narratives to autobiographies, we see the publishing house as a "storyteller". And to be a "storyteller" is to be part of a narrative, written / oral history that can passed along the generations.
How do you know which stories are worth publishing or not?
The short answer: when our hearts are in our mouths.
The long answer: Every story is worth telling. However, publishing is a very strategic decision based not only on what the market wants, but also what we think the market needs to read and hear. Like the values that guide life decisions and actions, the values of Ethos Books guide our discussion on whether this is a story we believe people should be reading or will add value to their lives.
To be honest, one is never 100% sure, and it doesn't get easier whether one has published 10 books or 1,000 books. The best approach for me at least is to know that every story is worth sharing, and published. And all the more if the writing is competent, sincere, and comes with the intention of sharing something personal, a knowledge, a way of life or a time of our culture.
What is the process of getting a book published? Talk us through the various stages - book design, manuscripts, editing, etc.
Each publishing project is different as we work with the author to realise their vision. What stays the same is that we always evaluate the manuscript, go through an editing process with the author, followed by the design and layout stage involving close collaboration with the designer. We also liaise with printers and paper merchants for book production, work with bookshops and the media to create advance publicity for the new title.
The process of publication doesn't stop when the book is printed and launched – we're always thinking about how to bring it back into the public consciousness at appropriate moments, and to create such moments for our books.
First, there is the manuscript submission process. The individual submits his / her manuscript based on the submission guidelines that each publisher has. The publisher could take four weeks to a year to come back to you with a response. If the manuscript is accepted, it moves to the second step. The publishing house will meet the author to talk about publishing terms such as copyright and royalties. Once both parties are able to agree what they want, it moves to the third step. At the third step, the author, and the manuscript meets the editor of the publishing house. They will go through several rounds of changes to arrive at a lean mean manuscript that both the author, and editor has envision as a finished book. The fourth step will involve the design and layout of the book. This part of the work is usually in-house at the publisher, and the author has little or no control regards to the cover art. After agreeing on how the book cover looks like, we arrive at the final step. The book is produced at the printers, and the book is launched.
What is one common misconception of book publishing, especially in Singapore?
That we don't exist! There are many publishing houses, authors and companies committed to growing Singapore literature, and a diverse range of titles are already present and made accessible by bookstores and libraries.
Another common misconception is that we’re merely printers or that we publish assessment books (and both being not mutually exclusive). Especially with the burgeoning interest in self-publishing, a misconception that arises is that everyone can write, and every book will sell.
That anyone can write a book. Being able to write a GP essay in school does not equate one with being a writer. Similarly, writing is a rigorous process, one that requires attention, practice, and hours of writing before you get very at it. And most importantly, to publish a book and to be called a writer, you got to read as widely as possible. A writer that does not read voraciously is not a writer.