I went for the All In! Young Writers Seminar today, 10am to 5pm. It’s organised by the National Arts Council, the National Library Board and NUS’s Literary Society, open to undergrads, junior college and polytechnic students.

It was surprisingly helpful, what with all the talks by publishing professionals and writers. Granted, they’re local writers and are not as well known and the scale of the event isn’t as big as it would be in, say, the UK or the States. But it’s heartening to see the NAC organising this for free for young aspiring writers in Singapore.

The few talks today posed a few questions that are really fundamental questions, but I found myself having to consider them for a moment before coming up with an answer:

Why do you want to write? What do you invest in your writing?

And there were talks on the pros and cons of self-publishing and traditional publishing. And the figures they provided are staggering! In recent years, several chain bookstores from the UK and the States have returned to becoming local independent bookstores and Borders USA is even starting to liquidate its assets this year and just declared itself bankrupt on Wednesday. Plus, in 2009, the percentage of self-published books was more than 50% and by 2010, 76% of books are self-published. I’ve always believed in going the traditional route, but it’s irrefutable that the odds are against us writers. There are millions of people aspiring to be writers, but all of us have to get through the gate-keepers of publishing in order to see our books on the shelves.

But the current trend of ebooks is such that it doesn’t have to be that difficult to publish your book anymore. Amazon.com offers ways to publish your book, along with many other companies.
But there is always the perception that the self-publication route is for those who aren’t good enough to be picked up by literary agents and publishers. Plus, to self-publish, you’d have to engage a professional editor, cover art designer, and take on all the marketing and promotion on your own. Granted, you can earn more per book if you self publish (if you go the traditional publishing way, you only earn about 10 to 15% of the royalties, while the rest goes to the distributors and publishing house), but you need to build a really extensive platform that will support your book. Publishing houses – good ones like Little, Brown or Simon&Schuster or HarperCollins, etc – will help to wrestle film rights and market your books thoroughly, milk it for all its worth. By going the self-publishing way, chances are your readership following is smaller and promotional activities aren’t as grand.

I guess it seems obvious I’m still sticking by the traditional publishing route. My friend (met her today at the seminar, really nice fourth-year from NIE called Eleanor) asked me why I don’t self-publish. Apart from all the cons I listed above (that I know of), there’s also the less practical reason of satisfaction. It simply feels more satisfying to have an agent pick up your book, champion it because they love it, and help you pitch it to publishing houses.

Anyway, what I got from today’s seminar – apart from all the wonderful industry information and a new friend – was a new career goal. I want to work at the National Arts Council after graduation. Or the National Library Board. I want to help develop the literary arts sphere in Singapore, develop a community that is passionate about books, reading and writing. Sounds noble, sounds idealistic, but come on, I only just got this notion. Don’t shoot it down just yet, will you? It’s nice to finally have something to look forward to after graduation.

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