Saturday, December 8, 2007

Networking to a New Book

I just networked myself to a new book. OK, the idea for the book wasn’t new. It had been on the backburner for about ten years, one of those one-of-these-days-I-want-to-compile-my-articles-into-a-book-but-never-found-the-time-nor-the-inclination-to-get-around-to-it. Sound familiar? This could apply to any creative endeavor including starting your own business, or taking an exotic vacation, or…

Two things need to happen when you network. One is you have to listen. We can all talk and share our ideas with others – that’s the easy part. But how well do we listen? How well do we act upon what we hear? That’s the second part of network­ing, the most critical part, too – action. Or as Jim Rohn, the success guru for an entire generation of world class speakers and self-help motivators would say, “take massive action”. Ideas are as common as clich├ęs about ideas, starting with “they’re a dime a dozen”. But without action, they’re just that – ideas that can sit on the back burner of your life and follow you to your grave.

A sad thought.

I didn’t want that to happen to this book, nor to all the other novels, narratives, and screenplays that I have written and rewritten over the last twenty-two years. A ton of work, but little to show for it other than a collection of short stories.

When networking with others, sometimes fate can give you a nudge. Having made the move to Sarawak in order to shake up the complacency of my writing life (and to make my wife happy), I was starting to feel restless, and found myself procrastinating on a number of writing projects. So when Krista Goon, my blog­ging men­tor, ex-student, and website designer (along with her husband Nic) sent me a link to a blog by Lydia Teh, whom I haven’t met but whose book Honk! If You’re Malaysian was climbing the best­sellers list in Malaysia, I decided to check it out.

Lydia wrote in “What Sells Books” (April 30, 2007) the three things you need to sell a book and the most important, it seems, is having a good book distributor. You can have great ideas, great publicity (even great book launches), but if the books aren’t in the stores they won’t sell (not in the quantities you’d like). Lydia’s blog was inspired by a blog that a friend of mine, Sharon Bakar, had written “What We Need” (April 29, 2007), which I also checked out. Both blogs struck a chord with me, so I wrote on Lydia’s blog a rather lengthy comment-cum-article “Publishing Books in Malaysia/Singapore” based on my twenty years of publishing experience in Malaysia. I then started my own blog on writing with the same article, something else I had been meaning to get around to.

In the article I wrote about my frustration of getting my book Lovers and Strangers Revisited into bookstores in Kuching (mainly a distribution problem because of the additional expenses for getting the books shipped to Sarawak from Peninsular Malaysia). The publisher Silverfish was willing, but its distributor who would incur the additional expenses, was not. Lydia wrote in response to my article that she felt that her publisher MPH was doing a great job of getting her books into bookstores. (The fact that they have a lot of bookstores help; but sadly, at the time of this writing, none in Kuching.)

Either way, I listened.

Two months later, at the end of July, I was attending a conference in Penang to give a creative writing workshop, and while autographing books, I heard a passing comment from one of the book distributors that MPH was opening a new bookstore in Kuching. I listened and asked for more details.

Then while standing in the food line, Lee Su Kim introduced herself. Having written three books, including the very successful Malaysian Flavours, she had nothing but praise for Eric Forbes at MPH whom she worked with at her previous publisher, I believe, and urged me to contact him.

Again, I listened.

Since I was in Penang I met up with several Penang Players friends including Mary Schneider, the columnist for The Star who mentioned that Eric Forbes expressed an interest in turning the articles from her popular column into a book, but at the time she was unsure whether or not to do this – it would require sifting through over 500 articles and organizing them into various categories, a massive amount of work.

I listened and also offered some advice. Fortunately, ten years ago I had already organized about a 100 articles into various potential categories, so I had a head start.

That evening Mary and I and a few Penang Players friends had dinner with Joelle Saint-Arnoult and the subject of The Secret came up, so we all went to her place and watched it. That really got us thinking about our lives. The possibilities seemed endless, if only we learned how to ask, how to be grateful for what we do have, and to have faith in the universe by using the Law of Attraction. I listened very carefully – my whole future was at stake!

While in Penang, I attended the Little Penang Street Market to sell the remainder of my books so I wouldn’t have to carry them back to Kuching. As fate would have it, Penang Players was involved in reading some work by Beth Yahp, who also happened to be in Penang to conduct a workshop of her own. Although we had never met, as the fiction editor of Off The Edge, she had accepted my short story “Following the Cat” for their July 2006 issue. I attended the reading along with Mary and Krista (who decided to join me at the last minute since I was in Penang). After­wards, Beth mentioned in passing that MPH is bringing out her novel Crocodile Fury, which was originally published in 1992, a year before my own collection of short stories.

Again I listened.

The following day, back in Kuching, I took action. I googled Eric Forbes, read his blog, and emailed him about the idea for this book Twenty-Two Years in Malaysia: Movie Magic, Mysterious Musings and Melodramatic Moments. Being familiar with my work, he seemed eager to see it (or maybe he was just being polite.) Suddenly I had taken this ten-year-back-burner idea and moved it to the front burner. This now required massive action on my part since half of the articles needed to be retyped (written in my pre-computer days), and the other half needed some serious editing, plus some new articles that I had meant to write a long time ago needed to be written.

Had I waited until I rewrote, reedited, rethought the placement of the articles in the various categories (and wrote the new ones, too), I may have given up on the idea, or something else may have come up – life often gets in the way of action, not to mention success. Then once again on the back burner the book would go, and for how long? Another ten years?

Instead, I forced my own hand. Having committed myself to this book (and not wanting MPH to change their minds), I put everything else aside and made the time to complete the project, which took me two months of working in the evenings and on the weekends (sorry, no TV). For my efforts, I’ll have something to show and hold onto, and it all began by networking with some writers. So thank you Krista, Lydia, Sharon, Su Kim, Mary, Beth, Eric and even Joelle for sharing The Secret. If I hadn’t listened nor taken swift action, I wouldn’t have this new book coming out.

Oh, by the way, I managed to turn this into a two-book deal, an additional idea sparked by listening to Beth. Lovers and Strangers Revisited, featuring a couple of new stories and possibly a play based on the story “Neighbors”, will be reissued in 2008 by MPH. There’s even a possibility of a third book, a novel set in Penang, which again will take some more massive action on my part to take it off the back burner and whip it into shape.

Yes, networking with other writers does pay off. But it involves more than just talking about writing. You must listen, and more importantly, you must be willing to take action – massive action – and that will necessitate some actual writing. But isn’t that what we all want? Our projects being completed? Our work being published? So start networking and put your ideas to action! That’s what I did and so can you. Just let me know when your new book comes out.
    --Borneo Expat Writer

*Update, the 20th anniversary of Lovers and Strangers Revisited

Here are links to some of my author-to-author interviews of first novelists:

Ivy Ngeow author of Cry of the Flying Rhino, winner of the 2016 Proverse Prize.

Golda Mowe author of Iban Dream and Iban Journey.

Preeta Samarasan author of Evening is the Whole Day

Chuah Guat Eng,  author of Echoes of Silence and Days of Change. 


Beheaded on Road to Nationhood: Sarawak Reclaimed—Part I