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A Day in the Life of Ruth

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.

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7.45am 

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.

 

8.30am

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!

9.30am

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!

11am

Hunger check. Do I want to snag a biscuit from the pantry…or work?

Tough question...

Think I’ll continue working while I figure out the answer.

11.15am

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!

11.45am

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.

1.30pm


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!

2pm

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!

Goodbye 2011, Hello 2012

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!