Publishing with Math Paper Press & Ethos Books
The internet is a gold mine of information. Whatever you google for, thousands of answers will show up and you can take your pick. However, the quest for knowledge on book publishing is less straightforward.
Sure, more than 10 pages of search results pop up when you type “How book publishers work”. But to find something specific to the Singapore scene is more difficult. Coupled with the growing trend in self-publishing and the increasing popularity of e-books, the gap between consumers and book publishing houses is growing.
We know more about authors through interviews or media coverage of their books. But how about the work that goes behind the books themselves — what gets published and the multiple “why”s during the process?
Two local book publishing houses share their insight on the business. Ethos Books has been an independent book publisher since 1997 and is an imprint of Pagesetters Services Pte Ltd. Established in 2005, BooksActually is an independent bookstore that specialises in fiction and literature, and it publishes and distributes books under its imprint, Math Paper Press.
As a publishing house, what does your brand stand for?
Ethos Books: Fresh. Different. Enduring. We bring out unheard voices and stories that need to be told. These may not always be comfortable for the reader or be well received in the beginning. We hope to create awareness through meaningful conversations and bring attention to Singapore literature.
BooksActually: Not always the easiest question to answer but at its core, we want to tell stories. Whether they are fiction novels or non-fiction tomes on travel narratives to autobiographies, we see the publishing house as a “storyteller”. And to be a “storyteller” is to be part of a narrative, written or oral history, that can be passed down for generations.
How do you know which stories are worth publishing?
Ethos Books: The short answer: when our hearts are in our mouths.
The long answer: every story is worth telling. However, publishing is a very strategic decision based not only on what the market wants, but also what we think the market needs to read and hear. Like the values that guide life decisions and actions, the values of Ethos Books guide our discussion on whether this is a story we believe people should read because it will add value to their lives.
BooksActually: To be honest, one is never 100% sure, and it does not get easier whether one has published 10 books or 1,000 books. The best approach is to know that every story is worth sharing. And all the more if the writing is competent and sincere, and the author intends to share something personal, a knowledge, a way of life or a slice of our culture.
What is the process of getting a book published? Talk us through the various stages — book design, manuscripts, editing, etc.
Ethos Books: Each publishing project is different as we work with the authors to realise their vision. What stays the same is that we always evaluate the manuscript and go through an editing process with the author. At the design and layout stage, we will collaborate with the designer. We also liaise with printers and paper merchants for book production, as well as work with bookshops and the media to create advance publicity for the new title.
The process does not stop when the book is printed and launched. We are always thinking about how to bring it back into the public consciousness at appropriate moments, and to create such moments for our books.
BooksActually: First, the individual submits his or her manuscript according to the guidelines that each publisher has. The publisher could take four weeks to a year to respond. If the manuscript is accepted, the publishing house will meet the author to discuss publishing terms such as copyright and royalties. Once both parties come to an agreement, they proceed to the third step, where the author meets the editor of the publishing house. They will go through several rounds of changes to arrive at a manuscript that they both have envisioned as a finished book.
The fourth step will involve the design and layout of the book. This part of the work is usually done in-house at the publisher, and the author has little or no control over the cover art. After agreeing on how the book cover should look like, we arrive at the final step. The book is produced at the printers and launched.
What is one common misconception about book publishing, especially in Singapore?
Ethos Books: That we do not exist! There are many publishing houses, authors and companies committed to growing Singapore literature, and a diverse range of titles is already available in bookstores and libraries.
Another common misconception is that we are merely printers or that we publish assessment books (and both being not mutually exclusive). With the burgeoning interest in self-publishing, a misconception that has arisen is that everyone can write, and every book will sell.
BooksActually: That anyone can write a book. Being able to write a GP essay does not equate one with being a writer. Writing is a rigorous process, one that requires attention, practice and hours of writing before you get very good at it. And most importantly, to publish a book and to be called a writer, you have to read as widely as possible. A writer who does not read voraciously is not a writer.