(Books featured from L to R: Tenggelam Timbul by Tok Rimau, Stingarden by Sinaganaga, Ka-Wah by Pipiyapong, Rok n Roll Lu Memang Brader by Zanbassist and Monolog Seorang Lelaki by Azzam Supardi. Get the books from Sindiket Sol-jah or Studio Anai-anai by emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com)
The Kuala Lumpur Alternative Book Fair took place last weekend. My friends the Sindiket Sol-jah and Studio Anai-anai boys were there to peddle their wares. I had things to do and a movie to catch but in the end decided to spend my Sunday at the Annexe Gallery in Central Market with them, mostly because I was interested to observe the scene and see how these people make a living.
These, I must say:
- Duality: Writers are no different than other people who practice creative arts such as painters, songwriters, sculptors etc. They take something internal and personal, regurgitate it into a form that is (somehow) recognizable, and then share it with the world. In the same sense, they open themselves to the possibilities of rejection and scorn and failure for doing something that they love. Well, who doesn’t? The writers that I met are some of the most eloquent, gregariously funny and self-deprecating people around – yet they loathe to talk about their books, almost painfully shy, a little embarrassed maybe with the attention and the fact that they have a physical manifestation of a piece of themselves on display – ready to be traded for a few Ringgit. This duality, while charming, is not unique and is not new. It happens to all of us and to the best of us. Get over it.
- Fake It: If there is one lesson that I learned from my years and years of being around rockstars, watching them, emulating them, working with them, it would be this – showmanship first, skills second. A writer is a performer, not just in the performing the act of writing itself. You are a performer in the literal sense. A reader doesn’t just buy a book. She buys your thoughts, idealism, personality, hopes and fears. She identifies with you, sees a connection, finds her own voice through the words you chose. So, when you are out there, give them a show. It is okay if you fumble (it’s charming, trust me), and it is certainly okay to be awkward and uncomfortable and for all these flaws to show. You need to be able to face your public, tell them why you should matter to them and make them feel special. Learn to write memorable (and personal) autographs, pose for photos, ask questions and answer them, be a little cocky and believe that the whole world is in love with you. Every rockstar I know fakes this, and no one can tell the difference.
- Stake a Claim and Own It: The alternative book industry is hard, particularly when a previously successful business model is copied by others, making it harder and harder to be heard and be noticed. So, own it. Make each book event a big deal and a serious deal. Arrange for readings, live performances, meet-the-fans session, live-tweet it or even stream it online somewhere. Be on time, look good, smile. Get hot girls to man the booth, dress your area up outrageously that your neighbours complain to the organisers, create feature walls, give free ice cream. Make people want to come and see you and stay and open their wallets and pick up a book and go home with a memory of what great time they had at your booth.
And that, as they say, is that.
Sol-jah’s at work with Ana Raffali during a MASKARA night. Photo (c) Sindiket Sol-jah’s blog.