Interview: From the other side of the publishing fence

I often feature interviews with writers and artists who are mostly on one side of the publishing fence. Today, I interview Rosemary who is both a writer (having recently co-written a book titled “Happiness at the end of the world” with her writing group) & a publisher in Singapore. Time to find out more about the other side of the publishing fence~!

Tell us a little about yourself and your company. What do you guys primarily work on?

Two Trees is a tiny company with great ideas. That’s our tagline. We earn
our money editing books for larger publishing companies, running writing
and editing workshops and also a literary tour of Singapore. That gives us
the financing to then do small print runs for our publishing.

You collaborated with the Happy Smiley group to publish a book and took up most of the costs involved in getting it to print, what made you decide to do that?

I’m actually a member of the Happy Smiley Writers Group. The simple answer
is that I could do it so I did. There was all this talent and no outlet. It was an easy decision.

How did “happiness at the end of the world” first originate? What spurred you on to suggest this theme to your writing group?

The title comes from a short story I wrote about eight years ago. It was
published in a literary magazine in Australia and I decided it was time it
had another airing. Since HSWG writers are all good with speculative
fiction we decided to follow on the theme of a post-armageddon world where
someone, somewhere is happy. It is a thumbing the nose at the plethora of
misery literature that seems to define Asian writing nowadays. We wanted
to say that there are happy stories in Asia too.

How well do you think Happiness will do in the bookstores?

Not well. Bookstores are surprisingly the worst place to sell books,
especially Singapore books in Singapore book stores. Just walk into a
Singapore bookstore and you’ll see why. We sell online and through friends
and at events.

What are some of your marketing plans for this book?

Blog, blog, blog! Well, more than that actually. We’ll be doing some
sci-fi writing events and selling it through those, also we’re sending out
review copies to magazines and newspapers as well as to publishers and
agents overseas. We don’t expect to have a bite the first time out with
this book but it at least it lets the rest of the world know that Asia
writing is not just about miserable childhoods.

There must have been some hiccups during the production of this book, were there any particularly nerve-wrecking ones?

Deadlines, of course. We had a lot of fun with cover but there was a
hiccup there because of a lack of the necessary programs. Other than that
it was a straightforward edit and layout. I think it’s important for
writers to learn as much as they can about the publishing process so this
book was a good learning tool for the rest of the HSWG.

You have a second book titled “Bubble G.U.M” in the works, how is this book different from your first anthology?

Bubble G.U.M. is actually a novel rather than short stories. We each
contributed a section at the beginning and by the end of the first round
we had the characters and the basis of a plot. So what we have is Prix
Zero Noir entering National Service in 2045 when Singapore is a Green
Underwater Metropolis protected by a dome made of bubblegum, hence the
title. It has a bit of everything, mystery, love story, action, and lots
of comedy. We always have the happiness somewhere!

How is the collaboration on the second book different from the first book?

I have to admint that I ruled over its creation with an iron rod, or pen,
but that was as an editor because it needed to come together as a coherent
piece of writing seemingly by one writer and not six. It has been an
interesting journey and the world that has come out of it is so different
from what any of the six of us expected individually. It morphed into
something much bigger and better because of the collaboration. There are
many more stories from the Bubble G.U.M. to come.

I understand that you publish new writing to encourage greater creativity from local talents. What are some of the things that will interest you to even consider their queries?

We only publish two or three titles a year but I do have contacts with
other publishers. I think the best thing that local writing talent can do
is learn about how to submit to publishers, how to make a book proposal
and how to lay out their manuscript. The talent is there so I don’t worry
about the novels or stories being any good.

Usually it takes no more than 30 seconds to spot the talent. The editor will always do the job of shaping up the final work so perfection isn’t necessary but a good grab-them-by-the-throat opening is essential. It doesn’t have to be action packed or anything like that, just extremely well written, the best part of the book to keep the editor reading. One rule that I have is that I
don’t deal with misery literature, other than that I’m open to queries.

What do you think differentiates Singaporean writers from their international counterparts? Do you think we’ll stand a chance against them?

Not enough time to write is the simple answer. Too busy with work and
study stresses. Singapore has just as much talent as anywhere else in the
world, not just in writing but in all spheres. It’s a statistical certainty. The problem is the pressure to make a living in a high-cost environment. Singaporean writers certainly do stand a chance in the international arena and it will happen at some point. The HSWG and Two Trees are doing their best!

Thanks to Rosemary from Two Trees for taking the time to join me for the interview~! Check out their website if you’re interested.