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Alternative Publishing 101

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Alternative Publishing 101

The Limbag Kapihan for writers, artists, editors and translators drew a crowd eager to know “what’s next, now that my manuscript is ready to become a book?” Organized as part of a continuing series by the National Book Development Board with its stakeholders, the forum  was scheduled on the heels of other gatherings with publishers, booksellers, authors, literary editors, and more recently, librarians. A bright and much-needed idea conceived and implemented by executive director Graciela M. Cayton and her deputy, Camille V. de la Rosa.

The audience wanted to know the tricks of the trade, especially the alternative publishing route,  and they could not have chosen a better panel of published authors to learn all these from: Samantha Sotto, Mina Esguerra, Bebang Siy, and Carljoe Javier.

Describing herself as an accidental writer does not detract from Samantha Sotto’s phenomenal success story with her “Before Ever After” novel. Her story is akin to JK Rowling’s writing her first Harry Potter story on table napkins in a coffee shop in Edinburgh. Sotto was in a Quezon City coffee shop, killing time waiting to drive her son from school back to their home in Parañaque, when she found herself writing her first novel. The hours of waiting gave her time to complete it. When the manuscript was done, she did not quite know what to say when her husband asked, “what next?” She was happy enough to have completed it but goaded by that question, she found herself a bargain book, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published,” that led her to write her first query letter to publishers abroad. She found herself an American literary agent who sold her story to Random House, with a first translation license to boot.

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Mina Esguerra is a youthful romance writer who decided in 2010 to publish her own e-books on Amazon (“Amazon has made it so easy to

self-publish”). A dozen digital books later, Esguerra recounts how some of her e-books have been published as hard copies by local publishers—a publishing route in reverse, so to speak, for we usually think of “real” books first before the digital versions. From the start, Esguerra was driven to write for an audience larger than the Philippines and learned many lessons along the way. The first was, in monitoring how many times her first novel was downloaded on Amazon, she observed that her audience did not care to read books with Filipino characters.  Also, one should write fast enough to produce another book to offer to readers of the previous title. She was delighted about the 20,000 downloads of her books over four years—and with the prospect of four novels being published locally because of their popularity as e-books, Esguerra knows that she was right in following her intuition in going digital first.

Carljoe Javier, with his work experience in publishing houses, knows whereof he speaks when he highlighted the pros and cons of traditional and alternative publishing. With the former, you leave the printing, the marketing and the distribution  to your publisher. In effect, your work is done after your manuscript is accepted.  Financially, your income share will be less than if you self-published. With this though, there is the stigma of vanity press and the perception that your work was not meritorious enough for an established publisher to accept. His good humor lightened his sad statements about the selling of literary books but how they haunt and disturb: Local literature does not command a faithful nor sizeable clientele and may be described as

“ghetto-ized.” “One can get more likes on Facebook than actual number of books sold.”

Bebang Siy, a popular novelist in Filipino, dwelt on the value of copyright especially based on her experience working with Filcols or Filipinas Copyright Licensing Society Inc. This is one of the aspects especially ignored by authors in their typical expected exuberance about being published at all.  She has turned copyright advocate, realizing its importance which she impressed on the audience by describing it as a legacy, an inheritance to be enjoyed by the heirs of the creators. The issue of contracts obviously needs further discussion.

Are we as a society so eschewed in our priorities that one letter writer to the NBDB, asking the same what’s next question, responded this way to our reply:  “You made me happy because there is someone in this country encouraging me and hopefully, (other) authors to write books”?

* * *

Here’s a chance for young writers to interact with a published and popular author. “Where the Write Things Are” begins its guest author series with  Grace D. Chong, a six-time Palanca awardee for “Short Story for Children” and author of 36 children’s books, including “The Boy Who had Five Lolas” and the “Oh, Mateo!” series. Chong is the guest facilitator for the Young Writers’ Saturday Hangout at the Canadian American School, 6F Alphaland Ayala Avenue cor. Malugay Street, on June 28 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. for ages 7-10; and from 1 to 2:30 p.m. for ages 11-15.  For inquiries, call/text 0917-6240196 or e-mail writethingsph@gmail.com

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Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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