Epigram Books Blog
Welcome back to the hectic harried universe of Epigram Books. In this edition, our Rights and Marketing Manager Felicia gives us an inside view into the glamorous world of book marketing.
I’m Felicia, the Rights & Marketing Manager with Epigram Books. Basically what this means is that it is my job to ensure that all our titles are known by and hopefully read by everyone the world over!
Now. When I decided to join Epigram Books, I thought that I would be taking on something less hectic in my old age. I mean, after more than five years in book retail, what could compare to prepping for the release of the final book in the Harry Potter series or a new Lee Kuan Yew title? Now that’s the Hard Truth. Little did I realise the insanity that awaited me at Epigram Books: firstly, a food crazy Managing Editor constantly dragging us around the island for lunch to try new food places; secondly, a Managing Director who only answers emails after 2am. And yet…I wouldn’t change anything for the world (Well, maybe just the printers. Maybe).
So here you go. A peek at my to-do list slash post-it mad day.
TO DO LIST
- Ask someone how to turn on the darn Mac! Buy new mouse because the Apple mouse has no roller and fingers are not equipped to deal.
- Call Canadian publisher to discuss sale of rights for Archibald and the Blue Blood Conspiracy. (Update: When trying to use a Skype account, first remember to set up Skype account.)
- Read Rights Contract. Bring contract home to read. Bah. (Note: Go back to school to get a law degree.)
- Chase editors to fix a launch date for new titles in Stage to Print series: Model Citizens, Fear of Writing and Mimi Fan. (Note: Remember to read scripts in order to appear somewhat intelligent when talking to playwrights.)
- Talk to Min about press kit for Stage to Print series. (To think about: How far is too far when it comes to creating controversy over political plays? Should probably check with someone as would like to keep job.)
- Tell Aran minion to mail samples of The End of Char Kway Teow and Heritage Cookbook title to Overseas Singapore Unit (OSU). (Update: Make sure that all future minions are taught from the start that they should write the address on the front of the envelope not the back.) — Reminder: Email OSU about new cookbook for lazy people aka students!! Also newlyweds.
- Check with Boon how to print paperwork needed to process first ever Epigram Book title order from Dubai!!! (Note: Also ask Boon why the printer hates me and refuses to print for me. Create own Epigram Books letterhead because the printer hates me.)
- Talk to Jocelyn about marketing plan for new local kid’s poetry book coming out. (Reminder: Tell her about the time I almost drowned longkang fishing since there’s a poem about longkang fishing in the collection.) Also ask Sok Wan what’s the progress on the SG Poets series (Note: Think really, really hard about how to plan an event with Professor Edwin Thumboo, Robert Yeo and Kirpal Singh).
- Email Adeline Foo on her upcoming appearance at the Hong Kong International Young Readers Book Fair in March. IMPORTANT: Make sure Sok Wan is around to speak Cantonese in case HK distributor calls to talk about sending The Diary of Amos Lee titles to Hong Kong. Speaking Mandarin in a funny accent does not Cantonese make.
- Continue to set up meetings for Edmund at the Bologna Children’s Fair in March. To check: What exactly constitutes spam mail? (OMG, remember to actually BUY Bologna fair tickets for Edmund!!!!!)
- Prepare for Books-in-Progress meeting next week. (Note to self: actually prepare this time, don’t pretend to have lost notes. THEY KNOW.)
- Help draft email to comic creators keeping in mind delicate sensibilities of artists (Note: remember to hide notepad so no one can see comments on delicate sensibilities of artists, especially in-house designers).
- Do a to do list for tomorrow. (Reminder: Buy more post-its too. Sticky ones this time)
It’s time again for another dispatch from the world of Epigram Books! This week, we learn what goes on in Jocelyn's day.
Someone recently asked me how I’ve liked working here as editor since joining the company in December 2011. I think my haiku “Lo Hei”, which I composed after our company lunch during the Chinese New Year and posted on my Facebook wall the same evening, should speak volumes.
Feastful of dishes:
Never more tasty than in
For one, I now have a namecard that says, simply, “Jocelyn Lau, Editor”, printed on a nice hard card. Editor, not Assistant Editor, not Associate Editor, not (oh gosh) Production Editor. Just Editor. (It matters!)
For another, everything I’d imagined life as an editor would be, since the year 2000 when I graduated from the University of Denver Publishing Institute course, has finally taken form. I’d almost given up (boss, you know this), disillusioned, until this job presented itself.
At present, I’m juggling five book projects: Model Citizens by Haresh Sharma of The Necessary Stage (April––it’s a very, very good play! Read it! Or go watch it!); a book of rhyming verses for children (April––this will have sweet hand-drawn illustrations); a cookbook for clueless Singaporeans (May––I will be buying my own copy), Singapore Classics 2’s series of books (October––interesting job, this one); and a to-be-edited manuscript for Singapore expatriates (August?). [All the editing and proofreading at Epigram Books are done in-house.] There’s also a new photographic book project we’re brainstorming, due Christmas. And a couple of other projects in the pipeline we’re keeping an eye on.
Today, I had my face in a complicated author’s contract, which has been negotiated at length. Taking breaks while doing so, I wrote to a literary agent in New Zealand to explain why we want to edit the Singlish used in a book we’re hoping to republish; texted another writer to request personal particulars for an ISBN application; communicated with two photographers about a potential project; and wondered about a potential author’s silence over a draft contract. In between, our studio manager managed to distract my intense gaze from my Mac screen long enough to receive my project updates for the next day’s publishing meeting. And just before dashing off, late, to pick up my kid from his daytime minders, I sent off by email my suggestions for the title of that book of poems, knowing full well that ideas will come in fast and furious from various colleagues – throughout the night.
It’s been a good day at work.
The latest entry in our series on working at Epigram Books. In this episode, our intern Aran finds out what it’s like to track down an author the old-fashioned way.
Today Jocelyn, one of the editors, approaches me to give me more work. This is most satisfactory––an intern is created to serve. As the voluntarily enslaved, designated master of menial tasks, lackey work is what I exist for. Maybe it will be a new press clip to upload to the website, or a parcel to pack. Or maybe even an invoice to do up…One has the right to dream.
But Jocelyn has in mind something outside my usual job scope. Today I am to be an intern-cum-private investigator, set on the trail of a case shrouded in mystery and intrigue: The case of a man named Tan Kok Seng, who wrote a series of notable books in the 1970s but who has now seemingly vanished off the face of the earth. A tip-off from an unnamed informant tells us that he is still alive, and still in Singapore. Jocelyn has done reconnaissance via the Yellow Pages; I’ll just have to call every person with that name.
There are 49 people named Tan Kok Seng in Singapore.
Tan Kok Seng #1:
“Hello.. Can I speak to Mr Tan Kok Seng?”
“He’s working. What you want?”
“Do you know if he’s written a book before?”
“没有 la [No, he hasn't]. Bye bye.”
The next 10 or so calls repeat this pattern: “Don’t have la”…Never pick up…Never pick up…“Sir not home sorry”…“Wrong person”…Weird sound (dial up connection?!)
Around #15 is this very funny Tan Kok Seng.
Me: “Have you written a book before?”
TKS: “Return book?! I never borrow book how to return?”
Then around #17/18 is this old lady.
“Can I speak to Tan Kok Seng?”
“Can I speak to Tan Kok Seng?”
“Can I speak to Tan Kok Seng?”
“(same thing in chinese)”
“Oh…ha ha. 他不在 [He's not here].”
Wah lau. The search for the true Tan Kok Seng does not seem to be drawing closer to an end. I pause for a while to contemplate the enormity of the task and the disastrous consequences of failure, then continue.
At #30 plus is this Tan Kok Seng who actually wrote a Chinese book before, but nothing in English…
By this time I have perfected my manner of speaking to grumpy old men, which is what most Tan Kok Sengs turn out to be (no offence to the handful of nice/youthful/non-grumpy TKSs). Just speak loudly and impatiently and they will relate to you/understand what you are saying much better.
#32-39 is this long stretch of no one picking up and discontinued numbers. By this time I’m almost just going through the motions. Even as the excellent, resilient intern I am, any hopes of getting to the end of this mystery are rapidly fading. Of all the countries in the world, Tan Kok Seng has sought refuge in the one where the most people share his name, and spun around himself a web of deception and misdirection. His insidious guile has bested me and he will forever remain an enigma, a phantom roaming the dark streets of Ang Mo Kio, an urban legend whose books we’ll never get to publish. With a heavy heart, I pick up the phone to resume.
Tan Kok Seng #40:
“Hello can I speak to Mr Tan Kok Seng please?”
“(woman’s voice) Ok wait”
“Hello? Mr Tan?”
“Yes, this is Tan Kok Seng speaking.”
“Hi Mr Tan I’m calling from a book publishing company. Have you ever written a book before?”
“What book are you talking about?”
“It's called Son of Singapore.”
“Oh yeah, my first book was Son of Singapore, my second book was Man of Malaysia, my third book was….”
But I’ve stopped paying attention. An angel’s choir has erupted in my head, and I feel like my entire being has been flooded with light. Felicia, Sok Wan and Charmayne, who have been eavesdropping on my phone calls and laughing at my failed conversations, freeze and turn in my direction.
“Mr Tan!!!!! I have been looking for you!!!!!!!!!!”
What is it really like to work at Epigram Books? How is a manuscript or an idea scribbled on an NTUC receipt turned into a finished book that you hold in your hands?
Now, with our new series A Day In the Life, you can find out! First off is our managing editor Ruth, who recaps a typical day. We hope you enjoy this glimpse into the wild, weary and wonderful reality of literary publishing.
I fumble for keys as I walk towards the locked doors of the office. First to arrive. Again. Have just dropped my son off at his primary school––school starts way too early, and I’ve nothing to do after bidding him goodbye, so that’s why I’m always the first one in. After staring at my computer for a while, I begin work.
First task of the day: sieve through the 100 emails I have received. Indian company advertising its book cover design services. Hotel in Frankfurt advertising cheap hotel rates. “Book now for the Frankfurt Book Fair in October (or risk disappointment!)”. I also get other emails: a potential author griping the advanced royalties we offered him is way too low (“how to feed family?”), a colleague who sends a funny quote she read on how to write well, and another cold call from a wannabe writer with a tome of a manuscript for me to assess. I make hot tea while contemplating the trajectory of my day. Oooom.
Ding, dong! We receive a surprise visit from Robert Yeo! How I love that man––such an easy person to work with, always a gentleman, so dapper. We republished his book The Adventures of Holden Heng last year. Robert is stopping in to drop off his introduction to a play we’re hoping to publish in April––Mimi Fan by Lim Chor Pee. I look at the introduction––it is handwritten! How cool is that! I spend the next hour typing it out. For you, Robert, anything!
After sending off the introduction to my intrepid designer, Boon, for layout, I buckle down to look at the emails that really matter. Imaginary Friends Studios has just sent in the draft illustrations for the new Archibald book, out in May. Eeks! Why does Archibald look like a Japanese manga character? It’s ok, it’s ok––still early days, and I’m very confident they’ll get it right because Darren Tan of IFS is DA BOMB.
Have a quick discussion with Stefany regarding the draft cover. We also spend time choosing eight portions of the book to illustrate––these will be spot illustrations, more like sketches. Should we illustrate the twist at the end of the book? Hmm. Would it give the story away if someone accidentally flips to that picture at the end? Double hmm. Should we illustrate the evil villain? Hmm. Hmm. Hmm. Or leave it to the readers’ imagination? Got budget? What is best for reader? Decisions, decisions, decisions. And oh yes, Stef and I both agree this Archibald book is even better than the first one. Go SherMay!
Hunger check. Do I want to snag a biscuit from the pantry…or work?
Think I’ll continue working while I figure out the answer.
Receive an email from Lim Chor Pee’s family. They are the ones signing contract with us as Lim Chor Pee has passed away. The daughter, Claudine, explains she is from a family of lawyers. I understand the reason for her explanation as I read her email––she is requesting to include, among other things, the following clause in our contract:
The illegality, invalidity or unenforceability of any provision of this Agreement shall not affect the legality, validity or enforceability of any other provision of this Agreement.
Wha wha what?
I call Claudine and she is extremely friendly and approachable. In essence, the terms and terminology and phrasing and phraseability of the aforementioned contractual agreeity are rectified, clarified and demystified in, but not in exclusivity of, and not limited to but in consideration of the following ways: colloquial banter, jokes, plainspeak and much humour and discreet laughing. In short, we sorted it out!
Contract settled (I think! I hope!). It’s time to…call some celebrities! Yes, celebrities! Wait, let me check my breath. My nail polish. My hair. JUST kidding. First on the list: Woffles Wu. Yes, we are doing a book project with Woffles and he is lovely to talk to over the phone. Next I call Mr Brown. I hope to convince him to do a book project with us. I call, and call, and call. Then email. He replies to email, “Ah, that was you? Sorry, having flu.” I tell him I will call him later. It’s off to lunch then. Lunch is porridge, colleagues, talk of board games, Munchkin, Ticket to Ride, Hwa Chong students, doing wushu as CCA and studying in America.
Start chatting with Felicia, our marketing manager about marketing ideas for our Gurkha Book and our Teochew Recipes Book. Unlike our fiction titles, these non-fiction titles rarely receive sponsorship or grants. =( How do we ensure they make money for us? How do we ensure people buy our beautifully-designed cookbooks and photo books? We think of a few ideas which Feli will follow up on. Suddenly, I get a call from SherMay––she was supposed to drop by to discuss marketing for Archibald. “Sorry, Ruth, I have flu. On the way to doctor’s. Postpone to next week?” Is there a flu epidemic today? Hee. No matter, I start to type out my discussion points with her over email, since our meeting has been postponed. Don’t want to lose a week because of flu!
Off to a meeting with Edmund which will take the whole day. But before that, I note down my key tasks for tomorrow: a) Proofread Mimi Fan in layout b) Call Mr Brown c) Send new short story to Dr Howard Goldblatt who is helping us translate some Cultural Medallion Chinese novels, including You Jin’s, for publication in October this year c) Chase Tan Tarn How for the revised manuscript of Fear of Writing (yes we’re hoping to publish that in Apr!) and d) Send email IFS to discuss our comments for the book cover (make Archibald less manga!) and spot illustrations.
I switch off my computer, grab my bag and speed off behind Edmund while he harrumphs and harranghs about our celebrity book project, his latest culinary find ODP and how we should rename a poetry book we’re putting out soon. That’s all, in the day of a life of an Editor, for you!
Happy New Year to one and all! In this special Q&A, Epigram Books staff look back on the year nearly over and gaze into the months ahead.
1. What was one of your favourite projects this year?
Sok Wan: I enjoyed working on all of the projects! I worked on a variety of projects this year: a play collection, a food guidebook, a cookbook, a photography book and also a children’s book. But if I had to pick my favourite, it would be The Fish Book. The fish photographs by Ernest are all so whimsical and quirky! I think it is amazing that he managed to capture various moods (happy, sad, grouchy, cheeky, etc.) of the fish. I never knew fishes were so expressive!
Min: The time I spent working on Epigram Books’ website and Facebook community was pretty rewarding. Besides the fun of conceptualising and writing blog entries and Facebook posts, it was interesting to learn how WordPress and Facebook page administration worked behind the scenes.
Ruth: I really enjoyed working on Archibald and the Blue Blood Conspiracy by SherMay Loh. I love SherMay’s writing, and it was fun working with Imaginary Friends Studios to illustrate the book and see the characters come to life through their amazing drawings. Conceptualising the book cover with our designer, Stefany, was also a cool experience––we had a lot of discussion about “imagining” the scene that is now the front cover of the book.
2. What was a high point of your year?
Sok Wan: Selling NOTBOOKS at the MAAD Pajamas market. It was quite tiring to stand at our stall (by the road and no shelter!) for 8 hours straight, but seeing the NOTBOOKS sell like hot cakes was really exhilarating! It was also fun to see groups of people crowding around our NOTBOOK banner laughing as they pointed at different NOTBOOKS to assign the different titles to their friends. I am looking forward to seeing more NOTBOOK-related merchandise come out next year!
Min: I was thrilled to sit in on an exploratory meeting that included several local comic artists. I’ve been reading some of their comics for years and it was fascinating to see these creators in person and hear the personal thoughts and concerns outside of their works.
Ruth: One of the high points was selling Chong Tze Chien’s collection of plays, Four Plays, at the staging of Charged in July 2011. Why was this a high point? For one, the book sold like crazy! We could hear the click-clack of our little cash box opening and closing all night long. Secondly, it was the first time the whole Epigram Books team hauled itself down to execute a book launch. We were like travelling salesmen for the night, carrying posters, books, spare cash, receipts, and we even had to do catering that night! Talk about one multi-talented editorial team, plus it was a bonding experience!
3. Name a person or thing that inspired you. Why did they inspire you?
Sok Wan: Madam Padma Krishnan is a very lovely person who is fiercely passionate about cooking. I am glad we published her cookbook which fulfilled her wish to document her family’s recipes so that future generations can get to taste authentic South Indian cuisine. I can still remember the scrumptious feast she prepared for us when we went to her house for food tasting––the food she cooked was truly inspirational and till today, the colleagues who came along for the food tasting are still asking when we can have a meal at her place again!
Min: The Epigram Books and Epigram team! It’s a pleasure to come in every day knowing at some point someone will make you laugh, teach you something new, or complete whatever request you might make with professionalism and grace.
Ruth: For a while, being the only Editor with a car, I played “delivery man” and helped deliver our NOTBOOKS to several lifestyle shops in Singapore. I am very encouraged by shops like Cat Socrates and Woods in the Books. These are small, quirky, independent locally-owned lifestyle shops, started by people with great passion and vision. I’m glad there’s still the spirit of enterprise and passion out there in our local shops–that really makes me happy!
4. What are you looking forward to next year?
Sok Wan: I am looking forward to working on upcoming photography books under our Wee Editions imprint. Titles that are scheduled to be released in 2012 include The Effigies Book, The Teochew Muay Book, and The Durian Book, to name a few. We hope to expand our photography titles in 2012 and I’d like to take this opportunity to invite all interested local photographers to contact us if you have any works you’d like to publish, or if you have ideas for a photography book!
Min: It looks like we’re adding to our marketing resources in the new year, so I look forward to thinking up publicity and marketing strategies to get Epigram Books’ titles in the hands of people who would enjoy them…even if they may not know it yet.
Ruth: I am looking forward to editing the five Cultural Medallion works we are publishing in English next year. These will be works by Chinese authors You Jin, Xi Ni Er and Dr Wong Meng Voon, Tamil author M. Balakrishnan and Malay author Suratman Markasan. We have been hard at work putting the series together, meeting these luminary Cultural Medallion authors and identifying good translators who will do justice to their works. For me, having read some of You Jin’s works in Chinese before, I especially look forward to editing her works in English! Happy New Year everyone!
It’s been a hectic two months since the official launch of Epigram Books’ NOTBOOKS. So, what happens when a small book publisher decides to take its first plunge into retail by selling its own line of designer stationery?
For one thing, formerly deskbound staff found themselves getting up to 150 additional minutes of cardio a week due to new delivery duties, plus toned arms from lifting boxes of NOTBOOKS (50 count). Especially exciting for the shopaholics among us, we got to meet (virtually or in-person) the managers and merchandisers of cool indie stores like Cat Socrates and Woods In the Books. We even got to play shopkeeper as we participated in holiday fairs and bazaars. It was great fun to have people stop by our stalls to browse and comment out loud on the books that would be perfect for certain friends or co-workers. (Don’t worry, your comments are safe with us.)
Two months on, we’re pleased to see our NOTBOOKS selling briskly, and furthermore, that they’ve won mentions in various lifestyle blogs and magazines like Home & Decor, Simply Her and Young Parents. All you dreamers, shopaholics and bossypants out there, thanks for the support! And stay tuned, because this won’t be the last you’ll see of NOTBOOKS.
By the way, if you haven’t already, order your NOTBOOKS directly from Epigram Books to get up to 3 books free! This promotion will end December 30, 2011.