An Evolving Journey

[NOTE: Good news! You can download the digital version of  The Age of Smiling Secrets FOR FREE from Amazon for the next five days or so. The paperback also priced at the minimum price allowed by Amazon. The free offer is available worldwide. Grab it right away here.]

On 14 August, I woke up to the sound of birds chirping and I just knew that it was going to be a good day. An hour later, I was preparing my breakfast as I mentally listed down all the things I needed to do that day. I remember that moment well. In my kitchen, I was pouring boiling water into the cup when I heard the beep on my phone. Who could be texting this early in the morning? I reached for the phone and saw that the notification that a message had come through from one of the editors at the publishing house that helped with the books.

Quickly, I opened the message on the phone app. Hers were the words I’d been waiting to read for a long time. Both my books Two Snakes Whistling at the Same Time and The Age of Smiling Secrets were printed, bound, and ready for distribution. I was aware that it would take up a month for the books to be distributed all over Malaysia. So, in the interim, I had time to figure out how to make these books available to those outside Malaysia. As such, in this story, I am going to share with you that journey to publishing the novel, for a start, outside Malaysia.

It wasn’t a journey I undertook alone. I roped in my long-time friend, fellow writer and columnist, Rohi. Perhaps, before I share the journey, a little more information about The Age of Smiling Secrets will be helpful.

Malaysia is in a unique position where both the laws of Syariah and the Civil Law are practised concurrently. This has given rise to a conflict in jurisdiction in certain cases. For instance, where a non-Muslim couple is married under the provisions of the Civil Law, confusion arises when one party converts to Islam and converts their children as well. A custody battle often ensues where the Syariah Court can grant custody of the children to their newly converted Muslim parent while the High Court of Malaya can grant custody to the non-Muslim parent.

This is the scenario I’ve played out in my novel where Kamini and her daughter, Nandini, are affected by one man’s selfish actions. It is also a story about Karuppan’s struggles as he tries to survive in modern Malaysia as a child of an indentured labourer.

As you may already know from previous stories I’ve written in this newsletter, ‘The Legend of Nagakanna’, an edited version of Chapter 9 in this novel, was first featured in an anthology called We Mark Your Memory: Writings from the Descendants of Indenture, published by the University of London in partnership with Commonwealth Writers in 2018. The anthology brought together, for the first time, new writing from descendants of indenture across the Commonwealth.

With one adventure over, now came the next challenge. How to make this book available to those outside Malaysia? I sort of know how to create an eBook for Kindle, having created one for Ladoo Dog and The Banana Leaf Men (Reprint). But these were done years ago and I’ve forgotten a lot of the steps. The steps are not difficult to follow, but they require time and patience, both of which are in short supply right now. I have many on-going projects that take up a lot of my time and I knew that there was no way I could manage this project on my own. And that’s how Rohi came into the picture.

One of the first things he asked me was, “In KDP, do you want Kindle, Kindle Unlimited or Createspace?”


I was so confused by all this jargon. And this was only the first step. I decided to use simple language and replied, “Rohi, I want an eBook that we can sell on and a print version for those outside Malaysia.” Mercifully, he said OK, named his fee, and got working on the whole project.

Although we live in different countries, working with Rohi was easy-peasy. He didn’t overwhelm me with questions or choices to make. He simply went about doing what he had to do by meticulously following the instructions provided. In no time at all, he sent me the files to upload onto I would love to explain the differences between the books in terms of font used, the headers, footers and all the formatting issues. However, I can’t because Rohi did all this for me. Thank God! What I do know is this – the formatting issues for an eBook far differ from that of a print version of the book. I will leave Rohi to explain the rest.

Once that was done and dusted, I decided to attempt something that Rohi vociferously encouraged me to do: enter the Kindle version of The Age of Smiling Secrets into a competition. So, we chose the Kindle Storyteller and worked on uploading the files to meet their requirements.

Now, what remains is something special for all the subscribers to this newsletter. I have, for the next five days, made this eBook absolutely free. In return, I will be eternally grateful if you could read the eBook and post a short review it on Here’s the link again:

The Age of Smiling Secrets:

The book and eBook are available worldwide, but for ease of reference, here are some of the more popular links:

What’s next on this journey? I cannot say for sure as the story evolves from day to day. What I am learning is the need to take things one day at a time.  It is my hope by the time you read the next story, I’ll be able to share with you more information about the other book, sales and, hopefully, a story about the success of this competition.

Meanwhile, I trust that you’ll enjoy reading The Age of Smiling Secrets as much as I loved writing it. As I’ve said before, I still cry every single time I read the last sentence in this novel.

(31 August 2018)

Aneeta Sundararaj fears social media and aims to ‘go local’ with ‘the novel’.  Read mores stories like this on her website, ‘How to Tell a Great Story’. (

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Changing Kits

[Full disclosure: Some of the links in this story are affiliate links which means that if you click on them and make a purchase, I get a percentage of the payment made at no extra cost to you. Also, links to the webpages/books/resources mentioned are listed at the end of the story.]

Two weeks ago, I was invited for a lunch in the city. I was mingling with the other guests when, suddenly, a lady appeared in the doorway. I admit that I stared at her for a while. Then, it came to me. This was a person I hadn’t seen for fifteen years. We spent the next hour or so animatedly catching up. Naturally, we spoke about my writing career and she mentioned a pamphlet I’d created for The Banana Leaf Men and sent to her all those years ago. I had forgotten about this. After lunch, I started to think about this pamphlet. The more I thought about it, the more I came to see what’s changed in the publishing world, what hasn’t and what’s evolved.

Let’s start with the one thing that hasn’t changed – ISBN. Years ago, I wrote a piece about this called ‘ISBN in Malaysia’. While the links to the resources I mentioned in the piece have changed, a lot of the information remains the same.

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and is based in London. It is the means by which a book is identified. In Malaysia, the National Library of Malaysia has been appointed as the National Center for ISBN.

From January 2007, ISBN comprises 13 digits. The change has come about as a result of numbering shortages. This is good news for people who love books because it means that there are so many books published that we were running out of 10-number combinations.

Let’s look at this from a practical perspective. The newly-acquired ISBN for The Age of Smiling Secrets is: 978-967-16167-0-3

This is what the 13 numbers mean:

  • The three first numbers (978) is a European Article Number prefix (EAN codes are used worldwide for marking retail goods).
  • The next group of numbers identify the country of publication. Countries may also be grouped according to language, which is why books published in Britain or the United States are identified with the number zero (0) or one (1), the codes for English-speaking countries.
  • Next comes the publisher’s code, then the item number, and, finally, the check digit (arrived at by a formula involving the first 12 numbers in the code).

If you provide the ISBN to the staff at a bookstore, they can tell you if the book is available or place an order for you. The ISBN allows them to identify the right book quickly and efficiently. It also ensures that you don’t get the book mixed up with others having similar titles.

What’s changed with ISBN is how to go about applying for it. During the publication of The Banana Leaf Men in 2003, I contacted the National Library in Kuala Lumpur and asked for help. They faxed to me the necessary forms to apply for an ISBN. I filled in all the blanks and faxed it back to them. A week later, I received the ISBN by post. I took it to my designer and watched as he modified the cover design to include this barcode and numbers.

With The Age of Smiling Secrets¸ everything was online. There was a link on the library’s website that I could use to download all the necessary forms. There were forms for new publishers and existing ones. There were also forms for those whose books are only in electronic form.

Like before, publishers would have to provide accompanying documents such as Identity Card of the applicant, a copy of the cover design and the preliminary pages of the novel (copyright information and title page). The other wonderful thing that’s remained was that the application for an ISBN through the National Library was free of charge. And the officers there remain as polite and obliging as they were years ago.

Once again, I filled in all the blanks in the forms. Unlike before, though, I didn’t send them to the library by fax. Instead, I scanned them, saved them as JPEG files and forwarded them by email. I was also lucky because I had help doing all this from the designers and printers of the novel.

Once my application was approved, I received the ISBN and Barcode by email and forwarded them by email to my designers.

Like before, in the covering letter from the National Library, I was made aware that once The Age of Smiling Secrets is published, I will have to send to the library five copies of the book. And I will have to send them to a new address for this purpose:
National Library of Malaysia
Level 2, AnjungBestari
No. 232, Jalan Tun Razak, 50572 Kuala Lumpur
(U.P: Pusat Kebangsaan ISBN)
Tel. : 03-26814329, 03-26871700 ext 4288
Fax : 03-26811676

When The Banana Leaf Men was published, I knew that I had to get the word out about my books, but hadn’t a clue how to do it. I didn’t have an email newsletter at the time. I had no subscribers. I knew no one in the media who was willing to advise me.

I’d heard about this thing called a ‘Press Release’ and went about learning how to create one. While it sounded grand, what I created for The Banana Leaf Men was elementary at best. I started with a Word document, much like the press release that was created for We Mark Your Memory. I wrote out the blurb, title of the book, author, ISBN and contact details. It was no more than an A5 page. I stuck with black and white and printed two A5 copies. I placed both these A5 pages side-by-side on an A4 sheet and glued them. I didn’t know how to use my Inkjet printer to print two copies of this ‘Press Release’ on a single page.

Once this prototype ‘Press Release’ was made, I took it to a photocopy shop nearby. I made 100 photocopies of this and got the sheets cut right down the middle. This, effectively, gave me 200 copies of my ‘Press Release’. Then, I put this ‘Press Release’ in all the post boxes around my neighbourhood. I was very lucky because a reporter from a local newspaper picked one up and contacted me to request an interview.

My plan for The Age of Smiling Secrets will be similar. I am in the process of preparing the press release. Again, I will do it in Word.doc format. This, time, though, instead of printing it out, I plan to convert into PDF and JPEG formats. These will then be sent out to the masses via Whatsapp, email and other digital methods I can think of. This time, I will be able to add links to several websites in this press release – from links to my website, the publishers, distributors and even the one for We Mark Your Memory.

It’s a little different, but equally interesting, nonetheless.

I would love to know how you promote your books and work. Please share your ideas and thoughts below. And what do you think will change in the next fifteen years?


Links to the webpages/books mentioned:

(15 July 2018)

Aneeta Sundararaj fears social media and aims to ‘go local’ with ‘the novel’.  Read mores stories like this on her website, ‘How to Tell a Great Story’. (

Click here to return to Story Me


Marking Memories

We Mark Your Memory: Writing from the Descendants of Indenture[Full disclosure: Some of the links in this story are affiliate links which means that if you follow them and buy the stuff, I get a percentage of the payment made with no extra cost to you.]

On 17 May 2018, an anthology called We Mark Your Memory: Writings from the Descendants of Indenture ( will be launched in London. I am very proud that one of my stories was accepted for this anthology.

As I read the other works in this anthology, I am fascinated by the stories they tell. Things become even more interesting when the editors say that many artists worldwide have ‘artfully created literary responses to the scars of the system of indenture and its legacies.’ I didn’t see the legacies as ‘scars’. In fact, when I was writing this story, my father was aware that the setting for this story would be where he born and brought up – Foothills Estate. He insisted that I should not write ‘bad things’ about it and said, “It was a very nice place to grow up.”

Recalling my father’s words and reading the stories in the anthology made me think a little more about this whole system of indenture. I recognise some of the events the others write about. Yet, I can see that my father’s experiences (and that of my grandfather’s) are also different. So, I decided to study this whole thing a little more.

For a start, to paraphrase what our editors have written, the abolition of slavery was the catalyst to the arrival of the first Indian indentured labourers in the sugar colonies of Mauritius, Guyana and Trinidad. Indentureship then began in South Africa and Fiji.

In Malaya, the indentured labourer was brought into the country to serve a new industry, the rubber industry. Indeed, there was such a demand worldwide for rubber, that the emphasis of the British shifted entirely to large-scale production of rubber in Malaya. By 1910, there were many plantations all over the country and a whole new community existed.

In A Gentleman’s World: The Legacy of Subhas Chandra Bose in Southeast Asia, Nilanjana Sengupta writes about the Indian labourers brought in by the British:

‘…Plantation work, be it rubber, spices, oil palm or tea, required simple, repetitive, unskilled work for which the British deemed the Indians, particularly the South Indian Tamils to be adequately subservient and suitable. … To quote a planter’s observation around 1911: “The Tamil struck me as being a poor specimen, both in physique and morale and of being abject, cowardly and generally lacking in vitality … The blind admiration of the white man by these Tamils is really rather pathetic.” The entire, close-knit world of the rubber estates came to be built on two founding tenets – imperial power on one hand and the systemic exploitation of plantation hands on the others. Be it in the form of a bonded labour or under the supposedly ‘free labour’ system run by the kanganies, their endemic condition remained the same.

As years passed, certain characteristic features emerged. Firstly, life on the plantation was highly regimented with the European planter at the top of the pyramid, followed by the clerk or the krani, from Asian stock but from Ceylon or Malayalam speakers from Kerala. Separated from the labourers from the communal barrier, they ensured the ‘General Instructions of the Company’ were followed, conducted and early morning parade and roll-call, made sure the labourer dismounted from his bicycle every time he passed the planters bungalow or parted his hair in the traditional way with a tuft. After this came the kangani or the overseer, the actual leader of the tappers, while the South Indian labourers were at the bottom of the pile. Most numerous, they led the lifestyle planned and standardised by the management in miserable ‘line house’ – amidst squalor and hopelessness.

… [The] trend of subsistence wages meant the labourers were left with very little margin after meeting their basic expenses. This margin they could either use for remitting to India, or to buy a return passage home, or as it happened in most cases, spend it on toddy – the only means of easy entertainment available on the plantations.

… This large mass of humanity lived on in comparative isolation in the insular worlds of their estates. With the unbending plantation discipline, which made it difficult even for relatives to visit their families, which made it difficult even for relatives to visit their families living on the estates, meant that they were virtually cut-off from the external world.’

With my grandfather once being the head ‘krani’ in Foothills Estate, Kulim, it is this ‘isolation in the insular worlds of their estates’ that I tried to describe in the story for the anthology, The Legend of Nagakanna.

To read about Nagakanna’s world in your own copy of We Mark Your Memory, click on any of the links below:


(15 May 2018)

Aneeta Sundararaj fears social media and aims to ‘go local’ with ‘the novel’.  Read mores stories like this on her website, ‘How to Tell a Great Story’. (

Click here to return to Story Me


Book Cover Stories

[Full disclosure: Some of the links in this story are affiliate links which means that if you follow them and buy the stuff, I get a percentage of the payment made with no extra cost to you.]

Now that I have come to terms with the idea to self-publish the novel, I’ve got to make a few decisions. One of the most exciting ones, I feel, has to be deciding what goes on the cover. As I reflected on the cover designs for all my books so far, I can see that all my ideas, rationale and experiences have also evolved.

What does ‘cover’ mean?

I still remember that when I approached my first printer, I told him I needed help to create a ‘cover’. He had no clue what I meant. I had to take out a book from my bag and show him what I wanted help with.

“Oh, you mean cover design,” he said, nodding. “That, my designer can help you with.”

The moment I returned from that meeting, I researched the meaning of these words. I learnt that ‘bookcover’ was a term often used for ‘book cover image in library management software’. With hardcover books, the removable paper cover used to protect the book is called ‘dust jacket’. A ‘book cover’ was any protective covering used to bind the pages of a book. Once I understood what these terms meant, I began to analyse the details of what should go on the cover.

I started with what I shouldn’t have on the cover. There was a novel that I was so eager to read. The blurb stated that it was the story of one woman’s struggle in Malaya during the Second World War. The cover design, however, featured a Japanese woman holding one of those paper umbrellas. It made no sense at all and only served to annoy me.

Next, the cover must, at the very least have the title of the book and the author’s name. Everything else adds to this. The blurb is meant to tease and entice the reader into buying the book. The ISBN and barcode makes it easier for bookshops and libraries to locate and stock the book. The ‘puffs’ (comments made by others) means that a person whose opinion matters has read the book and endorses it. A publisher will place his logo for branding purposes.

That word ‘branding’ then hits on what most publishers will try to achieve – strike that balance between marketing and still staying true to the story inside. Most authors who have publishers will say something along the lines of ‘I am not a graphic designer. I am a writer. I leave it to my publishers to decide what is a good cover design.’ This, however, isn’t so easy when you’re self-publishing a book. From my experience, the main concern I had was money. How much was it going to cost to create this wonderful design that I liked and still fulfilled its purpose? Everything depended on the budget.

It’s All About the Money

When I finished the manuscript for ‘The Banana Leaf Men’, I had very limited funds. The budget for the cover design was RM1,000.00. Since the designer was going to charge me RM1,000.00 to convert whatever image I gave him into a format that was suitable for printing and typesetting, I had to think fast. I sat the dining table and, with pencil in hand, sketched my protagonist. Since the overall costs would increase if I used colour, I decided to stick with black white. The only concession I allowed was that the border and script would be burgundy in colour.

After this first foray into fiction, I worked on non-fiction works like ‘Mad Heaven’ and ‘My Cholesterol Journey’. For these, since I was not funding the project, the people who were the subject of these biographies had the final say. They used images of themselves and, naturally, there was lots of colour.

By the time I came to work on ‘Ladoo Dog’, two things had changed: I had a little more money to spend and eBooks were becoming more popular. Again, to get that actual ‘look’ I wanted, I created a painting of Ladoo. Then, I contacted Mitch Moccia of I gave him a basic idea of the colour I’d like to use and voila, he came up with a cover design that everyone loved. The cost to create this design was US147.00. When all the print copies were sold, I uploaded the JPEG format file to

At the same time, Rohi suggested I do a reprint of ‘The Banana Leaf Men’. So, I commissioned Mitch Moccia and asked him to create this new, more colourful design for the eBook.

With ‘Knowledge of Life’, MPH Publishers were very kind and asked my co-author and I for our input. I remember being impressed because taking into account that all the stories were about Ayurveda, the designers had used the lotus as one of the main elements of the design.

Making Memories
Once again with ‘Mark Your Memory’, it’s the publishers who’ve decided on the cover image. This one intrigues me for I’ve never seen a photo of an Indian woman standing with her elbow on the man’s shoulder. I’ve also never seen South Indian men here in Malaysia wear such elaborate turbans. It makes me wonder… And that, perhaps, is what makes this cover design work – it makes me want to take a closer look at the book.

Now that I’ve dissected all the cover designs I’ve been involved with in the past, I need to work on the one of the novel. It’s a literary novel and the examples I’ve looked at include ‘Shalimar the Clown‘, ‘God of Small Things‘, ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin‘ and so many more. While all of them have their plus and minus points, none has served to inspire me thus far.

I clearly need some inspiration and would love to know your stories about cover designs for books. For those who’ve published their work, please share how you chose your designs. For those who are readers only, please tell me what made you like a particular cover design. You can either enter your comments in the box below or send me an email ( )

(15 April 2018)

Aneeta Sundararaj fears social media and aims to ‘go local’ with ‘the novel’.  Read mores stories like this on her website, ‘How to Tell a Great Story’. (

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Trials and Tribulations of the Edi-Mission Process

[Full disclosure: Some of the links in this story are affiliate links which means that if you follow them and buy the stuff, I get a percentage of the payment made with no extra cost to you.]

Sunrise at Baray Lake

Tomorrow is a new day.

During the opening monologue of the 2018 Oscars, Jimmy Kimmel spoke about the discrepancy in the payments made to Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams in a movie. The fee for the actress was paltry while the actor received a huge sum of money. They had the same agent and Kimmel said, “[I]f we can’t trust agents, who can we trust?” This reminded me of what I call the ‘Edi-Mission Process’ which involves interactions with agents, editors and commissioning publishers. Today, I laugh, but there was a time I did nothing but cry.

There are also two reasons why I choose to share these stories with you now. First, is that a subscriber wanted a recommendation for an editor he could work with. Second, I’m ready to venture back into self-publishing ‘the novel’.

Broadly speaking, the editing process can be divided into three parts which are writing and preparing the manuscript for editors, editing the manuscript and where I am now.

Perhaps, some background is necessary. I completed the novel in 2010 and started the submission process. By 2012, since there was no response, I decided that something wasn’t right and reworked the novel from scratch. Then, life happened. Between 2013 and 2016, I lost seven people (including the dog) and didn’t have the heart to work on it. I spent 2017 picking up the pieces of my writing life and now that we’re in 2018, it’s time to look again at this project. Quite simply, the novel deals with issues that arise because of two concurrent legal jurisdictions.

Round 1 of Edi-Mission Process: Font, Spacing and Numbers
Today, there are books, websites, tutors, mentors and even software that can help you write a novel. When I started, I turned to books such as Artists and Writers Yearbook and First Draft in 30 Days. They taught me about the usual requirements like use 12 Point, Times New Roman font, double spacing and only on one side of numbered pages.

The biggest problem with the novel was its plot and structure. The one resource that helped me was James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish. I learned about Doorways, Disturbances and the amazing power that comes from putting things in the right place.

Round 2 of Edi-Mission Process: Being Insulted
Once I was ready, I sent the novel out into the world. My first option was to go local. This meant asking writer friends for their professional opinion about the novel. They gave their feedback and helped me re-work the piece. But I wanted something more. I wanted someone who had no clue about my world to tell me if the story would work. I chose to work with some editors from the UK. This proved to be half a mistake.

Before that, you may ask why the UK and not the US? Well, I was trained in UK English and write in that manner (meaning I write ‘colour’ rather than ‘color’). It seemed easier.

The half that wasn’t a mistake was because the editors identified a fundamental issue and asked me a simple question – why was I highlighting this jurisdiction issue in the first place? The answer is something Malaysians take for granted which the British, with their single legal system, can’t understand. I worked the answer to this question into the novel.

The half that was a mistake related to blindly working with an editor because he was ‘supposed to be the best’. This editor insisted that I change my story fundamentally by removing the legal issue altogether and concentrating on a murder-mystery instead. I told him that it didn’t make sense as if I did, all my fellow lawyers would laugh at me. He then said two things that still annoy me. First, no one cares what Malaysian lawyers think. Second, I should insert a ‘white’ element in the story (such as a half-Caucasian character or make the setting somewhere in Europe) so that it would appeal to British readers.

Desperate to please the editor, I tried to do what he asked. But the story didn’t make sense at all and he scolded me for not following his ‘strictures’.

After shedding some tears and paying his demand for full payment (including all bank charges and fees), I reached out to writer friends. One explained something important to me: When an editor avoids addressing the queries you’ve raised and starts picking on nitty gritty, he does not understand the novel. Unwilling to come across as stupid, he’ll pick on your abilities as a writer. More often than not, he will go back on what he’s said previously.

Here’s a perfect example. One of the characters in the novel is Papa Aunty. In the opening pages, I explain that ‘Papa’ is a Tamil word that roughly means baby. In fact, my grandmother’s nickname was ‘Papa’. A year ago, the editor had said he loved these exotic names. When I couldn’t follow his instructions, he wrote to say that British people would be confused by the use of the word ‘Papa’ for a woman.

I wondered if British readers were, in fact, so dim-witted that they can’t fathom a world where one’s grandparents are referred to something other than Grandpa and Grandma. I mentioned this when I contacted the people at In particular, I wanted an editor who would help me make this story understandable to the reader, not change the focus so it was a commercial success.

I was so lucky to be paired with fabulous editors like Debi Alper and Susan Davis. I also signed up for the self-editing course. By the end of 2014, I was ready to begin the submission process again. But, as I said, life happened.

Round 3 of Edi-Mission Process: Level Playing Field
That said, once I started re-submitting the novel in earnest, I had some luck. For one, Legend of Nagakanna, which is a chapter in the novel, was accepted as part of the anthology called We Mark Your Memory: Writing from the Descendants of Indenture.

While I am delighted by this success, I am aware that my desire to have the novel published in the UK is no longer as intense, especially when I receive comments and feedback like the ones below.

  • Thank you for sending novel. … Aneeta doesn’t know how to write a novel.
  • It was nice to meet you [recently]. I’m sorry. I don’t think this is a right fit for our agency. I’ve put the [books you gave me as a] gift in the post and am returning them to you.
  • Aneeta’s legal knowledge is a bonus, but she has made the good character good and the bad character bad.
  • Anita, I apologies. You can’t hammer the story down your readers’ throats. You have to seduce them with your words like Charles Dickens.

The least they could have done was to get my name correct. Or worked on their grammar and punctuation.

Two months ago, I was grateful to be rejected by a particular publisher because the day after I received his email, I learned that he was publishing the memoirs of a politician the world hated. Imagine! The politician and I could have had the same publisher, much like Wahlberg and Williams having the same agent.

Laughter aside, here’s what I’ve learned from all this:

  • Honesty is important.
  • Don’t insult me, my dreams, work or people.
  • I admire the publishers who rejected my novel because they were scared the issues in it were too sensitive.
  • I will still work with an editor who refused to take my money because she didn’t know my part of the world and thought she wouldn’t do justice to the novel.
  • I respect writers who write about their world, rather than a world that their editors think will sell.
  • With the internet, we’re now on a level playing field.

Ultimately, it’s wonderful to work with agents and publishers because our combined resources allow for a project to reach far more of its potential than going it alone. This, however, should never be at the expense of insulting each other.

I would love to know your stories of working with editors, agents and publishers. Please share them. You can send me an email ( or place your comments in the box below.

(15 March 2018)

Aneeta Sundararaj fears social media and aims to ‘go local’ with ‘the novel’.  Read mores stories like this on her website, ‘How to Tell a Great Story’. (

Click here to return to Story Me


Why I Prefer Print to E-book/Electronic

With the advent of Industry 4.0, there are no limits to the options available for consumers. Is this a good thing, though? Especially for writers and readers? Is there still a need for books, journals, newspapers and magazines? The stories below show that we still need physical reading material to make life worth living.

Disaster, luxury and skills
Here’s what happened when I started writing for the papers. Delighted to see my words in print, I cut that page out and glued it into a scrapbook. As the number of my published articles increased, so did the space in this scrapbook. When I mentioned this to the editor, she told me off and said I should ‘just keep the links and go digital.’

I am glad I didn’t listen to her. Instead, I bought more scrapbooks and kept physical copies of every single one of the 280-odd articles that were published. You see, in less than three months after the first scrapbook was full of my articles, the newspapers changed the design of their website. All the links to the stories I wrote for the papers were gone. If I had kept only the digital links, it would be as though I never wrote for the papers at all.

My desire to read things in print was reinforced when, last year, I bought a copy of the New Yorker. In it, there’s a story by Hanna Beech about Aung Sun Suu Kyi called ‘The Shame of Myanmar’s Heroine’. It was such luxury to read this article over a cup of coffee. I enjoyed the writing and learnt something new. Later, during a discussion with a friend, I encouraged her to buy a copy of the magazine. I wanted her to read how Aung San Suu Kyi stayed true to the principles of non-violence. From memory, I said, “Look at page 29 in the first column.”

Later, it occurred to me that had I sent the online link, I couldn’t have told her exactly where to look. I would probably have said something simple like, “Scroll down the page.”

Here’s what I know – when I read stuff on paper, I read slowly. There is a method to my reading which I cannot put into words. But I retain the information better and I am sure that there is some scientific explanation for it. Perhaps, the words I’m looking for are best enunciated by Amata Luphaiboon, an architect in Thailand. He says, “Websites don’t provide the depth that books can. With the printed product, you can compare plans and look at the actual built project on the page. I don’t think web readers can develop their analytical skills in architecture as well as those who read actual books.” 1

It’s in the word
With actual books, it’s there in the very first phrase you’d say such as, ‘I picked up a book in the store,’ or ‘I picked up a trashy novel in the airport bookstore.’ No one I know says, ‘I picked up a tablet.’ Magazines, books, journals and other reading materials are something solid. Remember the slightly rough texture of a page? Or running your fingers across the embossed words of the title on the dust jacket?

Would you say the same of a tablet? Be honest. Have you ever run your fingers across the cover design of the novels you’ve read on a computer screen? Would you ever smell the screen to inhale the smell of a page? Chances are if you can smell something off a screen, it’s just plain filthy.

More than physical
That said, there is one benefit to reading eBooks that remains undisputed. With an eReader, you can store an infinite number of books at a fraction of the cost. I was at a launch of a book one time and the author was not particularly proud of his achievement. I wondered why. He confided in me that even though his book was selling like hot cakes locally, he couldn’t send the books to those who mattered to him like his sister in Canada. “Aneeta,” he said, “my book retails at RM19.90. But the cost of postage is RM15.00. It’s not worth it.”

Indeed, this seems to apply to newspapers as well. The national newspapers here in Malaysia recently underwent a restructuring exercise and states that, “The other initiative is the creation of new content verticals, a merger of editorial content teams with digital product development and brand management, with education and lifestyle verticals becoming the first to be established. These content verticals are introduced to meet the new business landscape, offering new value added alternatives and customer centric approach.” 2

‘Content verticals’?
‘Education and lifestyle verticals?’

I don’t understand what these terms mean. And when I look them up, I see that they have to do with businesses wanting to cater to the millennials. I close the webpage to do some soul searching.

First, since the beginning of the year, the number of pages in this national newspaper has reduced drastically. In fact, the weekend papers now don’t have a full page of comics. Instead, they publish articles about food and chefs to holidays in exotic locations that most Malaysians can’t afford. What is even more shocking is that the price of the paper has remained constant. Although I am still ordering the print edition, I am beginning to wonder if it’s worth the money.

Second, I am no millennial and I’ve reached the stage where I want to enjoy a story. Not read it because the source I’m reading from is the first to report it. I don’t care if someone is writing the story years after the event; if it’s well-written, I will still enjoy it.

Perhaps, what I should do is follow the example of Amata Luphaiboon and subscribe to only three magazines. This is because I still love the feelings and experiences that come with reading a print newspaper or book.

And there it is, it all boils down to ‘feelings’. I can never forget the feel of the hard cover copy of ‘Joseph Anton’. Or the yellow pages of ‘The Long Pilgrim’. Then there’s the leather-bound copy of the Holy Bible with wafer-thin, gold tipped pages. There are torn copies of Amar Chitra Katha which I glued to keep from falling apart. I wrote my name on the cover of some of them and it was the first time I was using long hand.

So, yes, I feel that when it comes time to publish my next book, I will choose to print a proper book. I may choose an eBook, but this will be in addition to the actual book.

I would love to know your thoughts on this subject matter. Please join the conversation below.



  1. Nicharee Phatitit. Society Bookworms Part 2 of 5: Amata Luphaiboon. Dec 21, 2017 []
  2. Awaina Arbee. NSTP restructures management in digital push. []

(15 February 2018)


Aneeta Sundararaj fears social media and aims to ‘go local’ rather than ‘go global’.  Read mores stories like this on her website, ‘How to Tell a Great Story’. (

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Industry 4.Perfection

In the last quarter of 2017, I had to learn something new fast and write about it – Industry 4.0. Wikipedia says that, essentially, ‘it’s the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies’. Yes. At first glance, it all sounds like gobbledygook.

As I worked on the article, though, I began to wonder how this trend would affect the publishing industry. Would we writers and storytellers respond favourably to it? How could we automate the writing process? Could robots write our stories for us? What if they started writing their own stories? What would they say about humans? Ah… the many questions, permutations and combinations.

Let’s see if I can narrow all this down a little. For a start, the term Industry 4.0 refers to the fourth industrial revolution. The steam engine marked the first industrial revolution which had the largest impact on the transportation industry. Then came electricity which marked the second industrial revolution and changed the face of the manufacturing industry. After this came the internet which gave rise to services such as e-commerce. Now, with the fourth industrial revolution, the idea is that everything is being driven by technology.

Revolution of Perfection
With Industry 4.0, the internet is no longer limited to exchange of information among people. Machines will now talk directly to each other. In the future, there will no longer be rows and rows of factory workers doing the same tasks. Instead, these will all be automated. A robot will control these machines and there will be little or no manual labour involved in the whole process. Reducing our dependency on humans, we eradicate human error, thereby, achieving a stable or higher productivity rate. In this brave new world, Industry 4.0 pillars of computers, automation and robotics will be integrated.

The fear that many people have now is that they’ll be left behind if they do not embrace Industry 4.0. There are multiple examples to show how all sorts of people are investing in Industry 4.0.

Robot at Nam Heong Kopitiam, Ipoh
(from Star Online)

As recently as two days ago, I received a link to an online video where robots were now being used in a kopitiam (coffee shop). While there were still humans who took orders and greeted you, it was the robots who served the food. And they seemed pretty polite about it.1

Then there’s the shoemaker who wants to have robots greet you at his stores in Malaysia. That robot will take measurements of your feet and, after you’ve chosen the right pattern, the robot will send all the necessary data via the internet to his ‘counterpart’ (presumably another robot) in a factory in Italy. Lo’ and behold, you’ll have your custom-made Italian leather shoes delivered to your doorstep. And you didn’t even have to leave the country.2

In China, there is now an orthopaedic robotic system that assists surgeons to carry out surgeries on the extremities, pelvic fractures and the whole spinal segment (cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral vertebrae).3

Reading all these Industry 4.0 examples, it occurred to me that we weren’t entering Industry 4.0. We were, in fact, well into Industry 4.Perfection.

Was I ignoring Industry 4.Perfection at my peril? I mean, see what happened when Kodak refused to embrace the digital camera? I, therefore, made a concerted effort to join an online community. Horror-of-horrors, I registered for a Facebook account. I began to look at software that could help automate my writing and publishing endeavours.

How Much Lonelier Can We Be?
As sure as the sun rises each day, the moment I decided to embrace all this new stuff, the universe sent me vital lessons and challenges to put one baby toe in to join Industry 4.0. It began when my old lap top died and I lost all my email contacts. The old mobile phone was so clogged up that I couldn’t take a single photo without an annoying message popping up to tell me that I’d run out of storage space. Storage space? On a phone? I tried formatting my phone. Twice. What was I? An involuntary hoarder of digital nonsense?

Anyway, I finally listened to my telephone guy who said I had no choice but to invest in a new phone. While mulling over the money I’d have to spend, I chanced upon an article that made me rethink this whole Industry 4.Perfection. The writer had struck up conversation with a young businessman. Since his was a one-man-show, the businessman didn’t need to rent an office space. What he wanted, however, was to become part of a ‘co-working office’.

Trusty old Wikipedia explains that ‘Co-working is a ‘style of work that involves a shared workplace … Unlike in a typical office, those co-working are usually not employed by the same organi[s]ation.’ This young man preferred the co-working office because he wanted to be around people to have a sense of belonging.

A few days later, I met some friends for coffee. One of them had lost a tremendous amount of weight in the last 12 months. We assumed that it was because she’d finally used the expensive gym equipment her husband installed in their home.

“No,” she replied vehemently. “I joined a gym.” Responding to our incredulous looks, she said, “I was so bored in the house. I wanted to see other people.”

The common thread in these stories is that both of them were lonely and needed human interaction. It occurred to me that we writers are already solitary people who often work alone. If we embrace this Industry 4.Perfection, how much lonelier will we be?

Robotic Show and Tell
To add to my concerns, I then read a NYT piece by Alex Williams who feels that ‘a jobless future for mankind looms as robots make their presence felt.’4 He refers to a book written by Martin Ford (Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future) and says that with Industry 4.0, we’re not replacing old machines with new ones and still keeping the humans. We are getting new machines to replace us.

One by one, Williams discussed the professions where humans will no longer be needed. Then, there, in writing were the words I feared – even journalists [read it as ‘writers in general’] are delusional if we think we’re not going to be affected by these robots. ‘The Associated Press,’ he wrote, ‘already has used a software program from a company called Automated Insights to churn out passable copy covering Wall Street earnings and some college sports, and last year awarded the bots the minor league baseball beat.’

Trying to end the piece on a positive note, Williams mentioned Andrew McAfee, a management theorist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. McAfee feels that ‘[r]estaurants that have very good hospitality staff are not about to go away, even though we have more options to order via tablet.’ Obviously, neither Williams nor McAfee have visited that kopitiam in Malaysia.

And what of the article I wrote that started all this thinking in the first place? Well, even with a new laptop and WiFi, it was impossible for me to meet the deadline. The monsoon season was upon us and the technician who came to check our internet lines informed me that the floods had caused state-wide disruption to the internet connection.

As I deactivated my Facebook account to connect with ‘real’ friends, I was left with this one, still-unanswered question: In the time of Industry 4.Perfection, will a robot be able to control the weather?

(15 January 2018)



[1] Meals on wheels at this kopitiam
Ivan Loh –

[2] Putting his best foot forward
Joy Lee –

[3] First robotic surgery a huge success
The Online –

[4] Will Robots Take Our Children’s Jobs?
Alex Williams –

Aneeta Sundararaj fears social media and aims to ‘go local’ rather than ‘go global’.  Read mores stories like this on her website, ‘How to Tell a Great Story’. (

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Templed In (2)

Angkor Wat at Moonset

When I first contacted my guide from, I told him that I’d watched videos posted online about the sunrise at Angkor Wat. In some, there were close to 2,000 people competing to get one beautiful photograph. I was horrified and desperate to avoid this. My guide agreed to my request and chose an entrance that was devoid of visitors for our sunrise visit to Angkor Wat.

Later in the morning, as we left this UNESCO World Heritage site, I was puzzled and this feeling remained throughout my trip. Only much later I understood that it all had to do with the ‘where’ and ‘what’ of this place together with a dose of semantics.

My point of embarkation was that Angkor Wat is described as a ‘temple complex’. I referred to an article I wrote based on an interview with Mr. Rajaji (‘Worship and a way of life’

What Mr. Rajaji said was that in Hindu mythology, Lord Brahma created the cosmic man, Purush, when he was creating the Universe. In the process, things got a little out of hand and Purush became too large to manage. At the behest of the other Gods, Lord Brahma contained Purush by pinning him down with his head towards north-east and legs to the south-west. Unable to bring Himself to destroy Purush, Lord Brahma decided to make him immortal. Henceforth, he was known as Vashtu-Purush and all mortals needed to first worship him before any construction work began.

A Vashtu-Purush-Mandala (

Ancient architects called the metaphysical chart used to create a building a Vashtu-Purush-Mandala similar to the one above. They chose the square as the fundamental form to symbolise unity, inertia and permanence. All other shapes such as the triangle, hexagon, octagon and circle were derived from this square. At its most basic, the chart is divided into 81 parts (9×9). The number 9 is very important and is derived from the human body. We have nine ‘holes’ – two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, one mouth, two orifices for waste.

Layout of Gangaiconda Cholapuram temple (

As for the worship proper, after all the preliminary rituals are completed, one steps into the Mahamandap (main hall) and moves forward to face the presiding deity. As the sun rises, the worshipper will witness the sun’s rays shining on the presiding deity. The layout would be similar to the Gangaikonda Cholapuram temple as above.

Keeping all this in mind, it made sense that whenever I visited a temple in the morning, I went at what I call the ‘right’ time. This was usually after the temple opened and before the sun became too hot and burnt the skin on my back. It also meant that I always entered the temple from the east and faced the west.

Layout of Angkor Wat (

With Angkor Wat though, it was different (as can be seen from above). Yes, because we chose to avoid the crowds, we entered the temple through the east. But this was on the other side of the main entrance. It effectively meant that if we were worshiping at this temple and stood before its presiding deity, the sun would be in our eyes and not on our backs. It was as though the architects of this temple had taken a standard Vashtu-Purusha-Mandala and rotated it 180 degrees.

Indeed, on page 64 of Andrew Booth’s book ‘The Angkor Guidebook: Your Essential Companion Guide to the Temples’, he writes as follows:

‘Why Angkor Wat was oriented to the west continues to be debated but could be determined by the temple’s dedication to Vishnu, preserver of the universe, who is sometimes associated with the west in Brahmanic tradition.’

All this made me wonder if this structure was a temple at all especially when I read Booth’s further comment that, ‘[t]he unusual orientation may also be linked to the motivation for building the temple. It was possibly designed as a tomb for King Suryavarman II, the sponsor whose death would be symbolised by the daily setting of the sun.’

A tomb? This word presupposes that a burial has taken place. But Hindus and Buddhists don’t often bury the dead. We cremate them. One possibility is that the king’s ashes are interred at Angkor Wat.

(Layout of Kailash (as shown on

There is only one other structure I know where this West-East orientation exists. It’s one the first sites in India to be given UNESCO Heritage status – cave 16 of Ellora, known as Kailash. In the same way as Angkor Wat, we enter the main hall from the west. The thing is, there is no suggestion that Kailash has any Buddhist influence. It is a Hindu temple with a Shiva linga in its inner sanctum.

After all this reading and thinking, instead of being less puzzled, I was also confused and frustrated. No doubt, as is usually the case with anything related to Hinduism, mythology, philosophy and religion, there are many permutations and combinations to decipher. My questions remain unanswered.

Was Angkor Wat a temple?
If so, who was the presiding deity?
Was there a deity at all? Or a stupa?
If it wasn’t a temple, was it a tomb? Or a funerary?

If you have answers to any of these questions or wish to share some of your stories, please tell us in the box below.

What remains unquestionable, though, is that Angkor Wat inspires awe. It is an architectural masterpiece and I am deeply grateful I got to visit it. If only I could go back in time and ask the architects of this place to explain their rationale when designing this building.

(29 July 2017)

Aneeta Sundararaj has travelled all her life. It’s only now she’s started to write stories about her unique adventures. Read mores stories like this on her website, ‘How to Tell a Great Story’. (

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Templed In (1)

The World Heritage Centre at the UNESCO website describes Angkor in the following way:

‘Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 km2, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations. UNESCO has set up a wide-ranging program to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.’

I have always been interested in photography as an art form for I admire the skills needed to take a great photo. So, with the guidance of an able photographer and guide from Angkor Photography Tours (, I learned how to properly use my camera.

In less than three days, I took close to 1,300 images and I wish I could show them all to you. With great difficulty, I chose the following to share here. Gallery 1 is what I call the ‘quality’ photos. Gallery 2 is what I call ‘story’ photos. These are the ones that all have a story behind them. In my next post, I’ll share these stories. For now, enjoy the photos.

(Note: click on the image to view its actual size)

Gallery 1: Quality

Gallery 2: Story

(19 July 2017)

Aneeta Sundararaj has travelled all her life. It’s only now she’s started to write stories about her unique adventures. Read mores stories like this on her website, ‘How to Tell a Great Story’. (

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Over the Bridge

This is a surprise. Climbing the Sydney Harbour bridge. You’re living the high life, I see.

This was the whatsapp message I received from a relative. What was she surprised about? That I was in Sydney? That I didn’t tell her I was on holiday? Or that I was on holiday at all. It had to be the last one.

That tinge of envy in the message aside, I admit that I told very few people about this desire to climb the bridge. The only ones who knew were my friends in Sydney, my mother and some very close friends. Also, I got the feeling that some didn’t think I was serious about it. In fact, my editor wasn’t interested in a story because she felt that there was nothing unique about climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The first time I thought about climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it wasn’t even possible to do so. This must have been in the early 1990s. I stood on the balcony of one of our friend’s homes looking at the view of a city drenched in sunlight. While everyone else commented on the warm weather and fussed over the barbecue, I looked at the magnificent steel contraption in the distance and wondered what it would be like to climb.

In the many years since that day, I’ve often thought about that view. On miserably grey days in the UK, I tried to explain to friends that in Sydney, it could be freezing cold, but with that cloudless sky, your spirits were bound to be lifted. I wondered if I would ever fulfil this desire to climb the bridge and mulled over all the expenses involved. In short, I made no concerted effort and it remained something I talked about, but never did.

All this changed in January this year when a friend from Sydney visited Kuala Lumpur. On the off chance, I asked if she was interested in something like this fully expecting her to say no. She surprised me when she was keen to join me in this adventure. We agreed to meet up in about two months and take it from there.

It’s only when I started looking for hotels to stay in that I realised just how much of this city I’d forgotten. I couldn’t recognise many of the names of the suburbs I used to visit. Wondering why this was so, I searched my memory and it then occurred to me that it was some 19 years since I was last in Sydney. Yes, I have visited Australia a few times in the last two decades, but always skipped Sydney.

Anyway, the hotel, bridge climb and flights were booked and paid for. My hotel was located in Potts Point which is described as a ‘small, densely populated suburb of inner-city Sydney.’ The only firm plan I made for this five-day stay was to climb the bridge on Wednesday. Other than that, I was prepared to take what came my way.

The next day, I joined a free walking tour of the city. I expected there to be about 10 people at most. There were close to 100 and we were split into two groups. At the end of the tour, I took a photo of the bridge from the Sydney Opera House. I wanted a record of the kind of weather I was probably going to have to deal with during the bridge climb the next day.

Throughout that walking tour, I enjoyed the rain and was deeply amused by my fellow tourists. Two girls, one from Germany and the other from the UK, were disappointed by all this rain and insisted that they should have spent more time in Melbourne. Here I was, the Malaysian, desperately trying to convince them with, “No! Don’t think that. Sydney is really very beautiful. You must come again and see it when it’s bathed in sunlight.”

And my friends in Sydney made me laugh. Wearing Wellington boots and armed with umbrellas, I’d never had city dwellers apologise so much for awful weather. I assured them that the weather wasn’t going to make or break my trip. Sydney was damp, but it was still beautiful.

Anyway, the evening before the climb, I refreshed some of my knowledge about this bridge and trawled through the many websites and learned this: the Sydney Harbour Bridge is affectionately called the ‘Coathanger’. It was opened in 1932 after six years of construction. The 800 families that lived in the path of the Bridge were relocated and their homes demolished without compensation. 16 people died during its construction. The official Bridge Climb started in 1998.

Before bed, some apprehension set in and I remembered the ‘advice’ and ‘objections’ I’d received so far. The first was that I’ll have to train hard for this bridge climb. Not really. It’s just over 500 steps to the summit of the bridge. If you sit all day in front of a computer, then this may be a problem. But if you’re active, it’s a breeze. Here’s a comparison: if you’re Malaysian and can climb the steps up Batu Caves twice, you can certainly climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Except for one part where there are four sets of stairs that are almost vertical, the tread depth is wide and the riser is no more than 6 inches high.

‘Careful. You’ll fall off the bridge.’ This is the second comment someone close made and it still makes me laugh. One of the first things you’ll know when booking this bridge climb is the obsession, almost, to maintain safety during the climb. You have to have a breathalyser test. If you’re above the alcohol limit, you’re not allowed to proceed for the climb. It makes perfect sense. Can you imagine wobbling on the route? Other than being tethered to the railings at all times, we’re also not allowed to carry a single thing with us – not even a bobby pin to keep our hair in place. It’s logical because if something falls from that height, it’s bound to cause an injury to those below.

And here’s the last comment made: Why spend so much money to do this? True. The cost of this bridge climb together with photos costs more than AUD$400.00. But it’s like saying, “I’m going to Agra, but I won’t see the Taj Mahal because there’s so much else to see.” I mean, it’s been my dream to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge and if I listened to everyone who told me not to follow my dreams, I wouldn’t have this website and platform to tell you this story.

The next day, we chose to climb the bridge at twilight. It rained in the morning and it rained in the afternoon. By 5 pm, though, it stopped raining, just as we took our first steps onto the bridge. The twilight walk proved to be the right choice because as we ascended, we got to see Sydney in daylight (albeit a cloudy one) and as we descended, we saw Sydney at night. It was the best of both times.

What was the whole experience like? I have struggled since 15 March 2017 (the day we climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge) day to put to words it feels like. Exhilarating seems too mild. Courageous is being facetious. Lucky doesn’t fit the bill as I wanted to do this for a long while. I suppose the best description for this unique trip comes from a friend who saw the photo taken by our guide during the climb. She says, “Your smile says it all. It’s been a long time since anyone has seen you this happy.”

Aneeta on the Sydney Harbour Bridge

The next day, my friends asked, “Now that that’s off your bucket list, what’s next?”

I smiled and replied, “Ah… that would be telling.”

If you have climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge and can share your story, I’d love to hear from you. Please enter your comments in the box below.

Useful links:

(21 June 2017)

Aneeta Sundararaj has travelled all her life. It’s only now she’s started to write stories about her unique adventures. Read mores stories like this on her website, ‘How to Tell a Great Story’. (

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