Monday, February 15, 2016

The Frustrations of a Book Editor in Malaysia

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 I am talking about. 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! (Regardless of what we think, any self-indulgent crap slap between two covers with an ISBN is technically a book.) Worst of all is being literally forced to produce books from manuscripts that have been rejected, but somehow clawed their way back from the depths of Hell to scare the living daylights out of Humankind. (These nightmarish books to end all nightmares are lethal enough to kill you instantly!) Publishing in Malaysia is like running on a treadmill; you just go nowhere even after much painstaking exertion. Here are some of my not-so-favourite things about being a book editor in Malaysia!

ONE, authors who are willing to (and actually do) pay others to write about them for them (in biographies or autobiographies) and praise them to high heaven. (In this age of self-absorption, self-aggrandisement and shameless self-promotion, there are indeed people who are so obsessed about seeing their names in print that they are willing to pay others to write their books for them!) Most enjoy praising themselves in their badly self-penned autobiographies!

TWO, authors who are ungrateful to their editors and waste their time when their so-called books fail to make a dent in the local (and global) marketplace. Somehow the possibility that their books are just not good enough never crosses their minds.

THREE, authors who plan their all-important book launches (and the food, of course!) without having completed writing their manuscripts or going through their final proofs. Book launches (at opulent five-star hotels and exclusive golf clubs, no less!) are planned even before the ink on the pages has dried—sometimes even before the book is written! (These are a 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. (I have edited some of the worst autobiographies not only on this planet but the whole galaxy and beyond.) And they are such a waste of precious life and prime retail space.

FOUR, psychotic authors who “hijack” the whole publishing process and behave like prima donnas and divas. (There are many of these prancing and strutting around like peacocks and peahens.)

FIVE, authors who think the publishing house belongs to their dearest daddies/mummies/granddaddies/grandmummies/best friend (choose one). Believe it or not, money (or who you know) does buy you everything nowadays—despite what they teach you in philosophy school!

SIX, authors who are under the delusion that they write better than V.S. Naipaul, Raja Rao, Mulk Raj Anand and R.K. Narayan all put together! (An indepth study definitely needs to be done to delve into this very strange Malaysian malaise.) This state of cockiness and overconfidence is frightening.

SEVEN, authors who are supposedly graduates of some of the finest universities on the planet, 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 creature as a Malaysian. (“If you can’t do such simple things, you might as well flush your degree down the you-know-where,” a schoolmaster once told me in the late 1960s.)

EIGHT, authors who demand advances even though they have no manuscripts to show that they have an interesting story to tell or if they could write. (Go figure out this one!) 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 this beautiful 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 have yet to write anything)! (Mama once told me that this sort of behaviour is rooted in one or a combination of these: traumatic childhood experiences, psychological trauma or defective upbringing!)

NINE, authors who do not like to be edited or 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 just love contradicting themselves, don’t they? (“Don’t you dare edit my work; you are solely responsible for every mistake that occurs in my book and make sure my author photograph is in colour; I want the graphs and tables to be in colour, too. What do you think? Ain’t it pretty?” Or this one: “Don’t you dare edit my son’s manuscript. He’s an Asian scholar and is too good to be edited.”) Here’s another gem: “You may edit my book, but don’t you dare touch the grammar.”) It’s no surprise to find more than one preface and/or five or six forewords in these books! 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!) Or how about this evergreen: “All my friends and relatives have read my manuscript and they all think it’s perfect; there’s no need for more editing to be done.” Or this chestnut: “Why so many rounds of editing-huh?” Or this: “I need commas here and there. I feel unclothed without them.”

TEN, most potential authors simply want to get published; to them, it doesn’t really matter whether their writing is good enough. But we know good writing does matter in more ways than one.

AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST, authors who cry and wail over the phone and who won’t take no for an answer because they have already invested so little time on their manuscripts. Somehow, they don’t seem to understand why I have rejected their yet-to be-written manuscripts. “I’ll only write it if you want it,” they lament! (But I really don’t want them.)

The irony is, I have never had much problems working with authors who could write well; they understand where I’m coming from and know exactly where I plan to take their manuscripts. The non-writers are the ones I find impossible to deal with!

Rare though they are, I have had the privilege of working with authors (not many) who have become great friends over the years. Editing can be a very traumatic experience (especially for the editor), 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 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 aspiring to!

Monday, February 01, 2016

February 2016 Highlights

NOVELS
1. Carry Me (Pantheon Books, 2016) / Peter Behrens
2. A Doubter’s Almanac (Random House, 2016) / Ethan Canin
3. The Queen of the Night (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) / Alexander Chee
4. Under the Visible Life (Serpent’s Tail/Profile Books, 2016) / Kim Echlin
5. Sudden Death (trans. from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer) (Riverhead Books, 2016) / Álvaro Enrique
6. I Am No One (Atlantic Books, 2016) / Patrick Flanery
7. The Vatican Princess (Ballantine Books, 2016) / C.W. Gortner
8. Forty Rooms (Putnam, 2016) / Olga Grushin
9. All The Winters After (Sourcebooks Landmark, 2016) / Seré Prince Halverson
10. The Vegetarian (trans. from the Korean by Deborah Smith) (Hogarth, 2016) / Han Kang

11. The Narrow Bed (Hodder & Stoughton, 2016) / Sophie Hannah
12. A Friend of Mr Lincoln (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Stephen Harrigan
13. The Ballroom (Doubleday, 2016) / Anna Hope
14. The Opposite of Everyone (William Morrow, 2016) / Joshilyn Jackson
15. Shylock Is My Name (Hogarth, 2016) / Howard Jacobson
16. Why We Came to the City (Viking, 2016) / Kristopher Jansma
17. The Silk Merchant’s Daughter (Viking, 2016) / Dinah Jefferies
18. The Drowned Detective (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016) / Neil Jordan
19. The Blue Hour (Atria Books, 2016) / Douglas Kennedy
20. The Heart (trans. from the French by Sam Taylor) (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016) / Maylis de Kerangal

21. Thus Bad Begins (trans. from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa) (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, 2016) / Javier Marías
22. Under the Influence (William Morrow, 2016) / Joyce Maynard
23. The North Water (Scribner UK, 2016) / Ian McGuire
24. Tender (Lee Boudreaux/Little, Brown, 2016) / Belinda McKeon
25. This Census-Taker (Picador, 2016) / China Miéville
26. When the Floods Came (Sceptre, 2016) / Clare Morrall
27. What Lies Between Us (St Martin’s Press, 2016) / Nayomi Munaweera
28. The Heart Stopped (Jonathan Cape, 2106) / Julie Myerson
29. Max Baer and the Star of David (Mandel Vilar Press, 2016) / Jay Neugeboren
30. The Man Without a Shadow (Ecco, 2016) / Joyce Carol Oates

31. The Little Red Chairs (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Edna O’Brien
32. Thomas and Mary: A Love Story (Harvill Secker, 2016) / Tim Parks
33. Arcadia (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Iain Pears
34. Black Deutschland (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016) / Darryl Pinckney
35. Green Island (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Shawna Yang Ryan
36. Martin John (And Other Stories, 2016) / Anakana Schofield
37. For Two Thousand Years (trans. from the Romanian by Philip Ó Ceallaigh) (Penguin Classics, 2016) / Mihail Sebastian
38. Salt to the Sea (Philomel Books, 2016) / Ruta Sepetys
39. Ginny Gall (Harper, 2016) / Charlie Smith
40. Wolf’s Mouth (Michigan State University Press, 2016) / John Smolens

41. The Fugitives (Simon & Schuster, 2016) / Christopher Sorrentino
42. Arcadian Nights (The Overlook Press, 2016) / John Spurling
43. Missing, Presumed (The Borough Press, 2016) / Susie Steiner
44. My Name Is Lucy Barton (Viking, 2016) / Elizabeth Strout
45. Mothering Sunday (Scribner UK, 2016) / Graham Swift
46. Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe (Random House, 2016) / Dawn Tripp
47. The Lost Time Accidents (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016) / John Wray
48. The Extra (trans. from the Hebrew by Stuart Schoffman) (Halban, 2016) / A.B. Yehoshua

FIRST NOVELS
1. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl (Penguin Books, 2016) / Mona Awad
2. Rush Oh! (Virago, 2016) / Shirley Barrett
3. The Butcher’s Hook (Two Roads, 2016) / Janet Ellis
4. Youngblood (Atria Books, 2016) / Matt Gallagher
5. The Book of Memory (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016) / Petina Gappah
6. The Yid (Picador USA, 2016) / Paul Goldberg
7. The Beautiful Possible (Harper Perennial/HarperCollins, 2016) / Amy Gottlieb
8. The Forgetting Time (Flatiron Books/Mantle, 2016) / Sharon Guskin
9. The Girl in the Red Coat (Melville House, 2016) / Kate Hamer
10. Be Frank With Me (William Morrow, 2016) / Julia Claiborne Johnson

11. The Benedictines (Braddock Avenue Books, 2016) / Rachel May
12. Not All Bastards Are From Vienna (trans. from the Italian by Antony Shugaar & Patrick Creagh) (Grove Press/Atlantic Monthly Press, 2016) / Andrea Molesini
13. The Sympathizer (Corsair, 2016) / Viet Thanh Nguyen
14. Ways to Disappear (Little, Brown, 2016) / Idra Novey
15. Anatomy of a Soldier (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Harry Parker
16. Wreck and Order (Hogarth, 2016) / Hannah Tennant-Moore
17. Jonathan Unleashed (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016) / Meg Rosoff
18. Private Citizens (William Morrow, 2016) / Tony Tulathimutte
19. Gold Fame Citrus (Quercus, 2016) / Claire Vaye Watkins

STORIES
1. Sweet Home (Windhill Books, 2016) / Carys Bray
2. Napoleon’s Road (University of Queensland Press, 2016) / David Brooks
3. Children’s Children (Liberties Press, 2016) / Jan Carson
4. Foreign Soil (Corsair, 2016) / Maxine Beneba Clarke
5. We’ve Already Gone This Far (Henry Holt, 2016) / Patrick Dacey
6. A Collapse of Horses (Coffee House Press, 2016) / Brian Evenson
7. The Loss of All Lost Things (Elixir Press, 2016) / Amina Gautier
8. You Should Pity Us Instead (Sarabande Books, 2016) / Amy Gustine
9. Cities I’ve Never Lived In (Graywolf Press, 2016) / Sara Majka
10. The High Mountains of Portugal (Canongate Books/Spiegel & Grau, 2016) / Yann Martel

11. The High Places (Penguin Australia, 2016) / Fiona McFarlane
12. Prosperity Drive (Jonathan Cape, 2016) / Mary Morrissy
13. Under the Rose: Selected Stories (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Julia O’Faolain
14. Light Box (Daunt Books, 2016) / K.J. Orr
15. Ways to Spend the Night (Engine Books, 2016) / Pamela Painter
16. In the Land of Armadillos (Scribner, 2016) / Helen Maryles Shankman
17. Interior Darkness: Selected Stories (Doubleday, 2016) / Peter Straub
18. The Best Place on Earth (HarperCollins, 2016) / Ayelet Tsabari
19. Dog Run Moon (The Dial Press, 2016) / Callan Wink
20. Legoland (Picador, 2016) / Gerard Woodward

21. Miss Grief and Other Stories (ed. Anne Boyd Rioux) (W.W. Norton, 2016) / Constance Fenimore Woolson

POETRY
1. The Blind Road-Maker (Picador, 2016) / Ian Duhig
2. Scarecrow (Wesleyan University Press, 2016) / Robert Fernandez
3. Window Left Open (Graywolf Press, 2016) / Jennifer Grotz
4. Firebreaks (W.W. Norton, 2016) / John Kinsella
5. Shaler’s Fish (Grove Press/Atlantic Monthly Press, 2016) / Helen MacDonald
6. Interference Pattern (Jonathan Cape, 2016) / J.O. Morgan
7. Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones: Selected and New Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2016) / Lucia Perillo
8. Every Little Sound (Liverpool University Press, 2016) / Ruby Robinson
9. The Catch (Chatto & Windus, 2016) / Fiona Sampson
10. Widening Income Inequality (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016) / Frederick Seidel

11. All the Poems (New Directions, 2016) / Stevie Smith
12. Blue Laws: Selected & Uncollected Poems, 1995-2015 (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Kevin Young

NONFICTION
1. Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War (Pluto Press, 2016) / Robin Yassin-Kassab & Leila Al-Shami
2. Stop the Clocks: Thoughts on What I Leave Behind (Virago, 2016) / Joan Bakewell
3. The Long-Winded Lady: Notes from The New Yorker (Counterpoint, 2016) / Maeve Brennan
4. The Iceberg (Black Cat/Grove Press, 2016) / Marion Coutts
5. The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016) / Janine di Giovanni
6. The Man Who Invented Fiction: How Cervantes Ushered in the Modern World (Bloomsbury USA, 2016) / William Egginton
7. Mick: A Life of Randolph Stow (The University of Western Australia Publishing, 2016) / Suzanne Falkiner
8. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2016) / Dario Fernandez-Moreira
9. The Silk Roads: A New History of the World (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Peter Frankopan
10. Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / John Gimlette

11. Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of America’s Founding Father (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2016) / George Goodwin
12. Postcards from Here: A Memoir in Vignettes (Vine Leaves Press, 2016) / Penny Guisinger
13. Reasons to Stay Alive (Penguin Books, 2016) / Matt Haig
14. The Great Fear: Stalin’s Terror of the 1930s (Oxford University Press, 2016) / James Harris
15. Spring: An Anthology for the Changing Seasons (Elliott & Thompson, 2016) / Melissa Harrison
16. Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion (Pantheon, 2016) / Susan Jacoby
17. In Europe’s Shadow: Two Cold Wars and a Thirty-Year Journey Through Romania and Beyond (Random House, 2016) / Robert D. Kaplan
18. Native: Dispatches from an Israeli-Palestinian Life (Grove Press, 2016) / Sayed Kashua
19. Incarnations: India in 50 Lives (Allen Lane, 2016) / Sunil Khilnani
20. In Other Words (trans. from the Italian by Ann Goldstein) (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Jhumpa Lahiri

21. Quicksand: What It Means to be a Human Being (trans. from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson) (Harvill Secker, 2016) / Henning Mankell
22. Aleppo: The Rise and Fall of Syria’s Great Merchant City (I.B. Tauris, 2016) / Philip Mansel
23. Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist (W.W. Norton, 2016) / Anne Boyd Rioux
24. Culloden: Scotland’s Last Battle and the Forging of the British Empire (Little, Brown, 2016) / Trevor Royle
25. Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth (Penguin Press, 2016) / A.O. Scott
26. Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran (Riverhead Books, 2016) / Laura Secor
27. Cursed Legacy: The Tragic Life of Klaus Mann (Yale University Press, 2016) / Frederick Spotts
28. West of Eden: An American Place (Random House/Jonathan Cape, 2016) / Jean Stein
29. Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet (Schaffner Press, 2016) / Terese Svoboda
30. Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Tim Whitmarsh