On Book Giving (My 2015 InCoWriMo 14 of 28)


Dear C,

Greetings from Australia. Today is Valentine’s Day! More importantly, it is the International Book Giving Day! Do you like reading? Do you read much? Who are your favourite authors, and what kind of books do you enjoy reading?

It is only mid-February, and I have already bought five books from one of the online retailers here in Australia. I can only afford to buy books when they are on sale, so these are good bargains. I keep a list of interesting titles, so I can always find something to buy whenever there is a sale.

While online retailers are often blamed for the demise of independent bookstores, I think otherwise, because they do make it extremely convenient for readers like me, with no easy access to brick-and-mortar stores, to buy books. A couple of clicks on screen and three to five days of waiting, and viola! The doorbell rings and my books have arrived. How delightful!

Mind you, I do support the one and only real bookstore in our community, whenever I can get there. The fact that I need to point this out shows how politically correct it is to show such support. These days people would eye you differently if you openly declare how much you enjoy buying and reading ebooks. Different from using iPhone, iPad and “smart” things like that, which are considered to be cool and classy, buying and reading ebooks from online retailers is often seen as a “betrayal” of “real” literature and reading. (Interestingly, buying print books from online retailers is still acceptable, although we are often urged to support home-grown businesses instead of international giants such as the dreaded Amazon.com.)

The same applies to self-publishing. Writers who take full control of their publishing journeys still have to deal with the common misconception that they are not as good as their traditionally published peers in terms of quality and prestige. A perfect example is how reluctant many writers are when facing offers from ebook publishers and self-publishing services. Although these writers desperately want to be known and loved by readers out there, they would rather wait to be picked up by a traditional publisher, something that rarely happens. It is either traditional publishing or nothing at all.

These days, I guess, even self-published and ebook writers secretly aspire to win the affection (and affirmation) of traditional publishers. It is almost like self-publishing and ebooks are in their eyes merely “stepping stones” to “real” success. In the same way that love in Valentine’s Day is commonly expressed with roses and boxes of chocolate, these writers need something concrete in their hands. They can only feel successful (and secure) when holding their own title as a print book with a traditional publisher’s logo on the cover.

Do I sound like an old grumpy gal? You bet! An avid reader who also writes and publishes, I have seen many excellent writings buried deep in the dark and secret drawers of their writers or in the even darker and more secret databases of their literary agents. These writers and agents are waiting for a chance to connect with traditional publishers. They have waited, are still waiting, and will continue to wait for an opportunity that may never come, because traditional publishers seldom look back at old writings. Neither do they pay much attention to non-bestselling and non-award winning titles.

So there are plenty of writers and agents who would rather wait patiently in the dark for a highly unlikely chance to shine. Very often it is such a long wait that they have gone stale. Perfect bottles of wine have turned into vinegar. Men and women who were once young, energetic and ambitious are now old, bitter and cynical. Dreams have turned into delusions, then deliriums, then descriptions in one of literary history’s numerous forgotten pages. As time goes by, even these will become smudged and then whited out to make room for newly published titles.

Are you a writer as well? Do you know someone who writes and wants to get publishers? On this International Book Giving Day, I feel like asking all the writers out there to give themselves a book. Publish your writings in every format and through every channel there is under the sun, so that they can exist as books and be remembered. So that they can be read. In the same way that information will never automatically turn into knowledge or even wisdom, a valuable piece of writing will remain a pile of paper if it is not published. Give yourself a book that is your own writing – that is the best Valentine’s Day gift you can find.

Sincerely Yours,



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