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The Learning curve

The publishing house that romance built

A few decades ago, readers of Philippine romance novels demanded that the heroines be virgins. Were they to lose their virginity, they simply had to end up romantically with the responsible party at story’s end. The titles of the stories must be memorable enough to grab the reader’s attention, and, yes, even the authors’ pseudonyms, should their real names jar the romantic mode,  need to be carefully thought out.

How the times have changed. The requirements for today’s storylines have become more relaxed, more permissive. Virginity is no longer required of the heroine and the ending need not be so seamlessly perfect. What Precious Pages publisher and writer Segundo “Jun”  Matias Jr. describes as the “black mirror”—the device in your hands—has had a tremendous impact on these changing tastes.

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Also, women writers seem to be more skillful at writing romance novels because they know the precise—and, yes, precious—details to prolong the romance, to the delight of readers.

These were some of the insights expressed during an interesting public conversation on “Future Trends in Publishing” between Matias and writer and broadcast personality Lourd Ernest de Veyra, both witty and entertaining. This was the main feature of the general assembly of the Book Development Association of the Philippines a few days ago. Headed by Ani Rosa Almario, it is the largest industry association, and was responsible for initiating the popular Manila International Book Fair.

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It was logical that Matias would take center stage, as he is acknowledged as a highly successful Philippine publisher. How is such success measured? No financial statements are needed. Suffice it to say that when he began his publishing company in 1991, he had all of P32,000—considered a generous amount then, which he had earned from a movie script he had written. Today, he has a staff of 200 holding office in their own Precious Pages building.

The book brand is known for its pocket romances which are in high demand, especially by lonely and homesick overseas workers. Its other product lines are children’s stories, Palanca award-winners and Matias’ “Alamat and Kuwentong Nanay” series under a sister company trademark, Lampara Books. Another line carries the Filipino translations of bestsellers like “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” “The Alchemist” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” and Charo Santos Concio’s “My Journey.”

Matias confessed that he did not mean to be both publisher and writer. He saw these as two separate roles, but was driven to writing with the demise of brilliant writer Rene O. Villanueva, who was writing for Lampara. Suddenly, Villanueva, who was often teased for being a jukebox writer because of his constant and effortless output of excellent writing, was gone and there was nothing to publish.  Matias recounted that he was forced to write—but that statement should not mislead, because he is a prolific writer himself who trained in the workshops of Ricky Lee and is a Palanca award-winner.

Readers love the flow of his Filipino.  He has turned to writing young adult novels, his “Moymoy Lulumboy” series and “Mga Batang Poz,” which has stories of teen HIV victims. The latter has been noticed by ABS-CBN for a drama series.

Long before the Philippines had a country stand at international book fairs, Matias was in constant attendance. Thus, he has been able to sell rights to his books and buy international rights.

Regarding the issue of popular literature versus literary works, Matias is hardly bothered by the distinction. To him, the philosophy that keeps him going is to write and publish books that will get everyone reading. He overcomes the challenges of the trade, from social media to e-books to marketing, with that goal in mind and his open and welcoming attitude toward technology. “I embrace it, I am open to it,” he said.

Matias looks forward to the day when locally published books enjoy a larger and more prominent space in bookstores. To him, that is a foolproof formula toward more sales and more readers.

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

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TAGS: Book, Book Development Association of the Philippines, novels, Philippine, publishing house, Romance, women
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