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Sunday December 9, 2012

What sort of children’s book writer do you want to be?

What sort of children’s book writer do you want to be? Making money is great but wouldn’t it be good to do that with a product of the best possible quality rather than one that is merely good enough?

IT always cheers me to come across children’s and young adult books with Asian, especially Malaysian, content, even better if these books are the work of Asians.

It puzzles me that not more of these books are getting published. I teach creative writing and I know that there are Malaysians who write very well and who could, if they put their minds to it, produce good books. Of course, they would have to then find a publisher willing to give their stories a chance, and also devote time (and money) to getting them ready for publication.

At an editing class that I took recently, the facilitators used actual manuscripts they’d worked on to explain certain editing processes and techniques. It transpired that one of the manuscripts was the soon-to-be-published debut work of an author who had, a couple of years ago, conducted a creative writing workshop in Kuala Lumpur, which I’d had the good fortune of attending. One of the other participants at the editing workshop was puzzled: Why did this author’s work need editing when she was a creative writing teacher?

It’s a little like how doctors are advised not to treat members of their own family. You tend to lose objectivity when it’s someone close to you. And this is also the case when you’ve spent years working on a book. If an editor has accepted your book for publication, she has seen its potential and believes in it, yet has enough distance to give you objective and constructive advice on how to make it an even better piece of work.

If your publisher tells you that your work doesn’t need editing and will only be proof-read, I would advise you to find another publisher. No one is above being edited, although I dare say some big names don’t get edited as much as they should – either they are in a position to insist that no one touches their work (there is no limit to the shamelessness of an inflated ego) or the publishers figure that these authors are so famous, their books will sell even in draft form.

You want your book to be as good as it can possibly be before it hits the bookstores, so hearing that it will be edited and that an editor will be working on it with you, should be music to your ears.

I know a local writer who does very well with her self-published children’s books. In my opinion, the books need a lot of editing and one series she’s produced has exceptionally hideous illustrations. Still, the books are bestsellers (so I hear) and so perhaps all my talk about editing is a lot of rot. Then again, as we know, some trash sells millions (see Twilight and Fifty Shades Of Grey)....

I guess it boils down to the sort of writer/publisher you want to be. Making money is great but wouldn’t it be good to do that with a product of the best possible quality rather than just one that is good enough?

Alexandra Carey’s two Ted Ted books are examples of work I feel have much potential but could do with more editing than they seem to have undergone.

To begin with, I feel that the plots of the books (Ted Ted And The Dhobi Ghats and Trouble In Tokyo) are too similar as they are both about Ted Ted going missing, his owner Tilly coping with her loss, and how the toy eventually finds his way home again.

Furthermore, I think the books would work better as illustrated early-readers than as picture books. They have generally more text and less artwork than the average picture book, the text stands quite well on its own, and the stories do not rely on picture-propelled page-turns to move forward – the way they would if they were picture books.

I would also work out a better way of explaining certain place names and difficult words used than placing them in parentheses.

For example the placement of the parentheses in the following sentence seems to confuse things further: “The location of this calamity was Mumbai in India (which used to be called Bombay).”

I do, however, like the fact that Carey’s stories are set in Asian cities. Perhaps there will be more to come, including one about Ted Ted’s adventures in Kuala Lumpur. I hope he doesn’t get lost again, though!

Daphne Lee reads to wonder and wander, be amazed and amused, horrified and heartened and inspired and comforted. She wishes more people will try it too. Send e-mails to the above address and check out her blog at daphne.blogs.com/books.

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