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.