Curious to know the state of the book market in Malaysia? Eric Forbes, Senior Editor at MPH, shares his thoughts...
Q: As a publisher, what sort of books do you think will sell well in Malaysia in the next few years?
A: There is obviously a bigger market for Malay and Chinese books compared to English books in Malaysia. So it really depends on how comfortable you are with the language you prefer to work with. Malay fiction sells rather well. Health, language and anecdotal stuff in general will always be relevant and sell well in the Malaysian market.
There's not much range in contemporary Malaysian writing. Malaysian writers tend to write the same stuff again and again: how to make a million bucks and live the good life, using feng shui to enrich one's coffers, self-improvement, biographies, etc.
Our current range is limited; though we have lots of cultural, historical, educational, lifestyle and anecdotal stuff, there's somehow still a shortfall in depth.
There's not much good local fiction simply because local writers lack the skill to write good fiction. There are also not enough good essay collections. Also, imported fiction is dime a dozen in Malaysian bookshops.
However, there's more money to be made in nonfiction than fiction in Malaysia. Malaysian writers therefore tend to write more nonfiction. Having said that, there's still a lack of depth in the kind of nonfiction that is being written by Malaysian writers; they need to do more in-depth research and articulate their opinions and thoughts more coherently and intelligently.
However, most of them tend to be rather good in anecdotal nonfiction. There's nothing wrong with that, though the reason for that is obvious: many of them cut their teeth by writing for the papers, either as contributors or columnists.
There are not many avenues for creative writing in English in Malaysia. I am talking about the English magazines and newspapers here. Fiction is not exactly encouraged. Off the Edge magazine does publish short stories once in a while-no fault of theirs, since there are not many good stories to choose from.
Nonfiction rules the day. Many of these writers hone their writing skills through writing nonfiction that is grounded in reality. We have been and are still at the budding stage in the writing of fiction despite the passage of years.
The Malaysian readership is skewed towards nonfiction and if you write nonfiction you will always have a small but consistent readership.
But then quality is entirely another matter. We must nurture good writers. Many of them have proved that they are capable of writing a full-length book. It is really up to them where they want to go next.
Eric also blogs. Visit Eric Forbes's Book Addict's Guide To Good Books