A Publisher with a Passion for Books – an interview with Philip Tatham (11 July 2005)

Introduction

I met Philip at a ‘Meet the Author’ Session in a local bookstore – not at one of his usual places ! It was a most pleasant meeting. Then, he gave me his card and when I returned home, I looked at his site. A most interesting site indeed. I asked if he would be interested in an interview and he agreed. It gives me great pleasure to introduce to you, Philip Tatham.


Aneeta: Hello Philip, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

Philip: Thank you for the opportunity. It’s always a pleasure to blow one’s own trumpet.

Aneeta: Tell me a little about yourself Philip.

Philip: I’m a Singapore Permanent Resident of British origin who has been living in Singapore for five years. Prior to moving to Singapore I lived in KL, Malaysia, for about six years. I have a degree in Southeast Asian Studies and, as part of my undergraduate degree, I spent one year at Universiti Malaya in KL, where I studied Bahasa Malaysia and Mandarin.

Aneeta: Why did you go into publishing? Tell us a little about the publishing company that you set up. Did you set it up alone?

Philip: While at university I decided to look for jobs in publishing, I have a passion for books and wanted to be involved with the industry. I worked in magazine publishing in KL for three years before joining the “Encyclopedia of Malaysia” team to work on a volume on Malaysian architecture as well as one on peoples and traditions of Malaysia. After moving to Singapore, I joined a well-known publisher of illustrated books as an acquisitions editor. It was there I learned about acquiring titles, commissioning authors and reviewing unsolicited manuscripts as well as the whole process of taking books through to press.

After about eight years in the industry, mostly working on illustrated books, I decided to go it alone in 2002 and set up a publishing company, that would concentrate more on fiction and literary non-fiction. Although I set up Monsoon Books Pte Ltd alone, I was fortunate to have friends in the industry who were very generous with their advice. And, over the last couple of years, Monsoon has built up a network of trusted freelancers: cover designers in London, editors in Singapore and UK, and publicists in Singapore and America. Monsoon prints locally in Singapore and distributes throughout Asia, Australia, NZ, America and Canada.

Aneeta: What kind of books do you publish?

Philip: Monsoon Books publishes classic and contemporary crime, literary and pulp fiction, humour, and creative non-fiction under the “monsoon” imprint. Some of our authors include Gerrie Lim, Stephen Leather, Erich R. Sysak, D. Devika Bai, Ee Lin See, Andrew Hicks, Peter Neville, Janet Lim and Moammar Emka.

Aneeta: Would you like to share with us a little of the books you have published so far.


Dog Catcher by Erich R. Sysak
List Price: Singapore S$20.95 Paperback (208pp)
Singapore: Monsoon Books (2006) ISBN: 981-05-3374-8


The Flight of the Swans by D. Devika Bai List Price:
Singapore S$23.50 Paperback (320pp)
Singapore: Monsoon Books (2005) ISBN: 981-05-2367-X


My Kiasu Teenage Life in Singapore List Price: Singapore S$16.50 Paperback (176pp) Singapore: Monsoon Books (2005)
ISBN: 981-05-3016-1


Sold for Silver: An Autobiography of a Girl Sold into Slavery in Southeast Asia
List Price:
Singapore S$24.95 Paperback (240pp + 8pp photographs) 15 b/w historical photographs Singapore: Monsoon Books (2004) ISBN: 981-05-1728-9


You’ll Die in Singapore: The true account of one of the most amazing POW escapes in WWII by Charles McCormac
List Price:
Singapore S$22.50 Paperback (224pp)
Singapore: Monsoon Books (2005) ISBN: 981-05-3015-3


INVISIBLE TRADE: High-class sex for sale in Singapore List Price: Singapore S$18.95 Paperback (208 pages)
Singapore: Monsoon Books (2004) ISBN: 981-05-1033-0


SHOPPING FOR ANTIQUES & COLLECTIBLES: SINGAPORE & MALAYSIA 2003/4
List Price: Singapore S$24.95 Paperback (248 pages)
Singapore: Monsoon Books (2003) ISBN: 981-04-8857-2

Aneeta: How can people order your books?

Philip: Our books are available at leading bookstores in Asia, Australia, NZ, America and Canada. They are also available from major online retailers such as Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com, as well as from the Monsoon website ( http://www.monsoonbooks.com.sg ).

Aneeta: Now, please tell me, what are the problems/restrictions that the publishing industry in Asia faces?

Philip: One problem that many start-up publishers in Asia face is finding distributors outside of Asia (it is difficult to establish a viable company if relying solely on sales in the region). To sell books on Amazon for example, you need a US-based distributor, which supplies the trade via Ingram and Baker&Taylor. On the other hand, many local publishers are rejected by overseas distributors due to poor quality covers, badly formatted text, wrong choice of paper and incorrect barcode information for the international market.

Censorship is obviously another major problem for publishers in parts of Asia, albeit frequently self-censorship on the part of the publishing houses. One of Monsoon’s titles, “Invisible Trade” by Gerrie Lim, is currently banned in Malaysia despite being reviewed favourably throughout the world and being stocked by many university and public libraries elsewhere in Asia, in Australia and in the US.

Finally, the local publishing industry is naturally restricted by the levels of readership in Asian countries. While this situation is improving, more effort is needed on the part of the governments, educators and parents to encourage the young to read. And to read quality books. I was disturbed to discover, back in the mid-90s, a male lecturer at a local Malaysian university using a soft porn novel as a class text in a tutorial of all female students.

Aneeta: How do you see the publishing industry in Asia, say five years from now?

Philip: I believe the outlook for the literary scene in the SE Asian region, particularly in Malaysia, is looking up providing there is continued support for authors from publishers, retailers and government literary bodies. Local publishers need to be willing to take more of a risk on upcoming local writers. There are many illustrated-book publishers in the region but few who try to promote local novelists in the region and beyond. One of Monsoon Books’ primary aims is to introduce quality writing from Southeast Asia to the more established book markets in the West. Local retailers need to give more support to home-grown authors and to mid-list books instead of stocking shelves purely with international bestsellers. Government literary bodies need to organize more forums and workshops for aspiring writers. In Singapore we are fortunate to have an active book council, which arranges for workshops to be conducted on every aspect of the publishing industry by leading professionals from around the world.

Aneeta: What exciting titles have you got in store?

Philip: Our latest title off press, “Dog Catcher” by Erich R. Sysak (see above), is a very exciting gritty urban noir fiction set in the world of greyhound racing in Florida. We have already been approached by HarperCollins in USA for a sample of the book with a view to them acquiring the US rights. Coming off press in August are two titles that have done very well elsewhere in Asia under different imprints. “Private Dancer” by international bestselling author Stephen Leather is currently a hit in Thailand and Monsoon has acquired the worldwide, ex-Thailand, rights. “Jakarta Undercover” by Moammar Emka sold over 200,000 copies in its original language, Bahasa Indonesia, and Monsoon has taken worldwide English-language rights.

Aneeta: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Philip: To any aspiring writers out there — write for love not money. Only a small percentage of writers will ever be published but that should not deter people from pursuing their dream of writing a book. There is a great sense of achievement to be had from writing one’s own book regardless of whether it becomes a commercial success.


This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.

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