Monday, January 30, 2012

Beruas: one step closer to the Commonwealth Prize

The Beruas Prophecy "has made it through the first stage of the judging process for the Commonwealth Book Prize for best first book ..." said the email from the Commonwealth Foundation in London. The short list will be announced in May, the email said further.

The rules have changed this year. In previous years, there would be a Best Book and a Best First Book. This year there is only the Best First Book. Last year, books were shortlisted by regions and awarded the prize for the region with the winners going in for the final shortlist. We have no idea how it is going to happen this year, considering London appears to be handling all the judging this year. (In previous years, regional prizes were judged by the regional centres -- Australia in the case of the Asia-pacific zone of which Malaysia is a part of). The website does say, "There will be five winners, one from each region. The overall winner of the Commonwealth Book Prize will receive £10,000 and the remaining four regional winners £2,500." Apart from that there are few details.

Still, we are happy for Iskandar Al-Bakri. This is the third Silverfish Books title to make it to the next stage of judging for a major international award. In 2009, Ripples by Shih-Li Kow made it to the final shortlist for the Frank O'Connor Award; in 2010, 21 Immortals by Rozlan Mohd Noor was shortlisted for the Asia-Pacific Commonwealth Writer's Prize for the best first book, and in 2011, it is The Beruas Prophecy by Iskandar Al-Bakri. At Silverfish, we feel vindicated. We have always believed that Malaysians need not live overseas to become good writers. Considering the poor education system and the decades of marginlisation of English in the country, the success of these writers is outstanding. Congratulations to all of them; we know how hard they have worked. And to others aspiring to write, Silverfish will be here to assist you. All we ask is for you to be willing to work hard and take criticism. (Some talent helps, of course. But talent without effort is of no use to anyone.)

Now, let's go out and win something.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Silverfish Writing Programme

Registration for the next programme that will commence on Saturday, 4 February 2012, was opened in early December. As is usually the case, at this jucture, we are half full. There is always a last minute rush in the days before we close. The early bird discount of 10% ends on (including) 10 January 2012, so please hurry to avoid disappointment.

The world is full of stories. Humans are the strangest of all animals. We may miss meals (ask your teenager buried in a book or your aunt or mum hooked on a television soap) but not our stories. Even in famine stricken zones, while people wait for the food trucks to arrive, they tell one another stories to keep alive. In war zones, where life is in danger every single minute, people cannot resist telling stories. All religions have tons of stories that are constantly repeated. Stories are part of our very being, our claim to be human.

We are surrounded by stories every waking minute of the day. When we turn on our radio or television to listen to the news, or to watch a drama or sitcom or even a cooking show, when we open our newspapers or surf the net for news, when we go to the movies, to a dance, listen to a song, or look at a painting, when we go to the office, pitch a proposal to our boss, our clients, meet our co-workers when we relax over tea and gossip, or tell them about our day, or listen to their stories. When we read books, we read stories. And stories will make us laugh or cry or angry, and dozens of other things. We will love characters or we hate them. Good stories never leave us indifferent. We have a desperate need to tell stories in whatever form. That’s why some of us want to become writers. But what do publisher's want?


Create your own local hero

MobyLives reported recently: According to the Businessweek report: A (free downloadable barcode) app, called Price Check, allows shoppers to look up Amazon’s prices by scanning physical products at a store using their phones.

There is nothing wrong with comparative shopping, nor is there anything wrong with one store checking the price of goods in another (it happens all the time), but to pay one’s customers to spy on competition smells of sulphur. Does the app also allow information to be sent back to the mother ship? But that is Amazon, and that is America; can't see them getting away with it anywhere else in the world.

“MobyLives report found it interesting to observe that the survey in question meant brick-and-mortar bookstores were a crucial part of almost 40 percent of Amazon’s sales. We asked then what it would mean to Amazon shoppers, if those stores went out of business.” Talk about killing your golden goose. After books, what?

As a reaction to this (or it could be entirely coincidental), Publishing Perspectives had another story about an extension for Google Chrome that has been created by the owner of Marcus Bookstores, a small chain in San Francisco and Oakland, that warns customers each time they are about to shop at Amazon:

“When’s the last time Amazon brought one of your favorite writers in to read from her work — for free?

When’s the last time Amazon recommended a book based on your actual interests, not a bunch of data they’ve fashioned into a half-assed consumer profile of you? 

Sure, you might save a couple of bucks on this order, but what’s that compared to supporting local businesses, maintaining a local tax base, and buying your books from somebody who actually cares about books?”

Good luck, David. You sling shot is not going to be any good against a Goliath with nuclear bombs. Amazon is hell-bent on world domination, even if it destroys the entire planet. Books, schmooks.

If you really want to fight Goliath, read this: Indies battle Amazon — by becoming publishers. Are you up to becoming a 'creative intermediary'? That's what Silverfish Books did ten years ago. Get Amazon (and the other big boys) to sell your books and give you money. Promote your local small-town author! You'll be surprised how good some of them are.

Let 2012 be the new '1984' for the book industry.