When I say being a writer in Singapore is difficult, it is an understatement. And by this, I mean that being a spinner of fictional yarn in Singapore is almost, well, mission impossible.
But before I go into the “whys”, let me assure the readers that Singapore does have its iconic writers and publishing stars. Catherine Lim, Russell Lee, James Lee, and many others do make their mark as writers, poets etc.
But where are the writers of other genres? Where are the JK Rowlings, Stephen Kings, David Eddings of Singapore? Surely we have writers who can take on a similar mantle? Well, of course we do. But let’s not forget that these writers too have taken the long and hard journey to get to where they are today. If they have it tough in countries where fiction writing is slightly better off and profitable, imagine how much tougher it is for writers in Singapore where non-fiction and self-help books are, well, selling better.
Sad, right? But very true. Here’s why…
People buy books to answer questions or to fulfill a need.
According to The Intern’s completely unscientific look at book-buying, people may buy books due to “guilt, self-pity, indulgence, or a feeling of righteousness, or need, or even terror.”
The Singapore Department of Statistics found out in 2002 that while children were enthusiastic borrowers, there was a lower percentage of adults who borrow books (usually non-fiction). I bypassed thousands of fiction books at the Library Book Sale to pick up a book on fundraising because I needed some info on the topic.
People buy books to be fashionable
Of those who do borrow or buy fiction, there are only a rare few who will pick up a book by a local author. The rest will cite their favourites among books by foreign authors.
Why? Because books by foreign authors are proven successes that one should read in order to keep up with the trend. I for one had never read Harry Potter until it came out as a blockbuster movie.
The Watchmen? Never heard of it before the blue naked man came alive on the silver screen. LOTR? LOL. I bought it only to ensure my beloved Legolas doesn’t die halfway on me after I was entrapped by Orlando Bloom’s appearance in the live-action. AND so I can boast to anyone who’ll care to listen that I’ve READ IT, HAVE YOU?
People do judge the book by its cover
Covers of local books don’t really inspire me to buy them. Yup, I’m that shallow. If I don’t like a cover, I won’t turn the book over to read its synopsis no matter how gripping the storyline may be. I’m sorry to have to say this but first impressions do make all the difference and you can definitely tell which are the local books from a mile away just based on their covers.
Even some local non-fiction books look boring, with one exception: Norma Sit‘s Gorgeous, Sexy & Rich: Money for Women in Good and Tough Times. On first look, I actually thought it was a beautifully designed book from a foreign author!
I’m not being biased or anything but, who doesn’t automatically think a good looking book comes from a foreign author? If you’re not one of those people, then good for you.
That’s why non-fiction and self-help books do so well in Singapore. Because in commercial terms, they are after all more viable.
So do local fiction (and manga) have a place in the Singapore market? Or even in the world? Leave me your thoughts in the comments.=3