Sin­ga­pore pub­lisher Phoon Kok Hwa on the pres­sures of work­ing in the city-state’s print in­dus­try


For over a decade, Phoon Kok Hwa has coached au­thors on how to get their man­u­script into book­shops as pub­lisher at Can­did Cre­ation Pub­lish­ing, a lead­ing firm in Sin­ga­pore. He’s helped trans­form the fam­ily-run busi­ness from a com­pany fo­cused on Chi­ne­se­lan­guage books to English-lan­guage busi­ness and self-help books.

How did you get into pub­lish­ing?

Can­did Cre­ation Pub­lish­ing was started by my sis­ter, Dr. Phoon [Kwee Hian] back in 1999… At that point in time, she was short­handed and she needed help, so she asked me do I want to come in and help her… I started from ground zero learn­ing from her, which I’m still very grate­ful for up un­til to­day, be­cause she lit­er­ally showed me the ropes of how the whole pub­lish­ing thing works.

What is the pub­lish­ing scene in Sin­ga­pore like?

Of­ten, I call my­self a gate­keeper of con­tent… It’s es­pe­cially easy for some­one to pub­lish some­thing right now on the in­ter­net… In the past, it was al­ways a lot about [go­ing] through phys­i­cal book­stores, and au­thors of­ten saw pub­lish­ers as the only way that they can re­lease the con­tent. But now, I en­cour­age my writ­ers to re­ally en­gage the mar­ket, be­cause the space between the au­thor and the reader has closed a lot… You no longer just need to be able to write, you need to be able to mar­ket and to en­gage your read­ers [on so­cial me­dia] as well. So, these are the dif­fer­ent roles that have evolved and [that] we have had to adapt.

Tell us about the pub­lish­ing process…

The very first thing we do is called the ap­praisal stage. The ap­praisal stage is when we look at a script [man­u­script] and we start to put on our eyes as a pub­lisher as well as the eyes of a reader to see how is this script shap­ing up and are read­ers able to re­late to the con­tent that’s been writ­ten… It might re­quire some re­struc­tur­ing or it might re­quire some con­tent to be re­moved. It might re­quire con­tent to be added if there are gaps, and that’s when the au­thor needs to then start to what we call re­write and pol­ish the gem again. Un­til such a time when it comes in again, the as­sess­ment hap­pens again. So, this could be a mul­ti­pler­ound it­er­a­tion… Then we would take over and my ed­i­tors will start to edit the text [and]... the de­sign­ers would work on the book cover de­sign. Af­ter edit­ing, we go to type­set­ting, af­ter type­set­ting, we go to a print run, and af­ter the print run, we re­lease the book into the mar­ket.

What tips would you give to as­pir­ing pub­lish­ers?

It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. You need to be in it for the long run. Many [as­pir­ing pub­lish­ers], they thought that they could just come in, get a few books pub­lished, and then that would lead to be­com­ing a pub­lisher. For us, we went through a long way and built a lot of trust with our au­thors along this jour­ney. [Pub­lish­ers should also] be clear on the niche that you wish to oc­cupy. In the pub­lish­ing scene, you have all kinds of pub­lish­ers, from fiction pub­lish­ers, po­etry pub­lish­ers, Chi­nese pub­lish­ers, or even text­book pub­lish­ers, stamp pub­lish­ers, etc. So, be clear on which do­main you want to spe­cialise in, and then from there, build your ex­per­tise and try to learn as much as pos­si­ble about all of the dif­fer­ent books that are within this sec­tor.

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