Guide on how to publish a book in Malaysia

Most people don’t earn much from publishing books. In fact, if your sole aim is to make money, and you’re in a fairly tight financial situation, best to try other ways like freelance writing instead.

If you’re adamant, then your best bet is to write about topics that sell well in Malaysia, like religion, finance and self-help.

That being said, if you have always wanted to know how to publish a book in Malaysia, for personal or professional reasons – self-satisfaction, to establish yourself as a subject matter expert, to leave behind a legacy, to call yourself an author, etc – then it’s a worthwhile endeavour to undertake.

Step 0: Write the manuscript

For never-before-published writers, you will need to write that book first, or at least a few chapters. You probably won’t get anyone to agree to publish your book without something to show for it.

Sometimes, the publisher may commit to publishing a non-fiction book without the manuscript. However, this privilege is only reserved for selected people, such as authors who have written commercially-successful books and authority figures with a large following.

Step 1: Choosing the publisher (or not)

So you’ve written the draft, got it edited, collected feedback from beta readers, worked on it a bit more, re-edited it, and repeated this process again and again until you’re satisfied with the manuscript. Now, you’re ready to publish it.

• Option 1: Traditional publishing. Aside from the writing part, they will do everything for you – edit, format, proofread, print, distribute, marketing*, you name it.

In return, they will take a 90%** cut. That means if your book sells for RM29.90, you’ll get RM2.90 or 10% from each book.

• Option 2: Half-Half publishing (also called Vanity publishing). You pay companies an upfront fee to turn your manuscript into a book.

By the end of the arrangement, you will have the final version. You get 100% of profits from the book sales, minus the upfront cost and whatever expenses you incurred while selling it.

• Option 3: Self-publishing. You do everything yourself, either DIY or outsource people to take over specific tasks (design the book cover, for example).

You get 100% of the profits from the book sales, minus the upfront cost and whatever expenses you incurred while selling it.

IMPORTANT: Companies categorised under Option 2 (Half-half/Vanity publishing) frequently use the term “supported self-publishing”, “assisted self-publishing” or “guided publishing” to encourage writers to engage their services, which makes things a tad confusing. The biggest difference between option 2 and 3 is using a company versus doing it yourself.

*NOTE: You are expected to do some marketing on your end as well to boost book sales.

**Note: All numbers are based on current book publishing trends in Malaysia. Specific publishers may use different figures or structures.

Each publishing option has its pros and cons.

Traditional publishing : MPH, Gerakbudaya, Buku Fixi

PROS:

• Wide distribution: They tend to be big names, and have branches at many locations thus maximising your book’s reach. Also, being “endorsed” by these brands will greatly increase your credibility as an author.

• Least work: Your job is to write, and market the book afterwards. That’s it.

• No upfront cost: All you need is brain power and writing tools.

CONS

• Profit cut: You only get 10% of book sales.

• Customisation: The publisher usually has the final say on editing, design, book cover, etc.

• Some genres not accepted: To minimise the likelihood of low book sales (and therefore losses for the company), traditional publishers may not accept some types of content.

NOTE: Always check the publisher’s page and check submission requirements BEFORE you send off your manuscript. Make sure to give them the information they need, or chances are you won’t hear back from them.

Half-half/Vanity publishing: NotionPress, The Inspiration Hub, Snappars Publishing, Argent by SilverFishBooks

PROS:

• Outsourcing some work: Depending on which package you select, they can help with editing, formatting, cover design and printing (other services may be available). Example of packages with transparent pricing (Singapore).

• Book and Ebook distribution: Some help with book placement at bookstores, convert your book into an ebook, and list it at ebook-selling networks.

CONS:

• Consistent quality: No guarantee they will do a good job. The only way to find out is to find their past customers and ask for an honest review.

• People without capital: You will need to pay a hefty sum upfront.

Self-publishing

PROS:

• Complete control: You choose what subjects to write about, what the final version will look like, who to hire (book printer, editor, etc) and more.

You will also learn how to publish a book (or ebook, or both), from start to finish, during the process.

• Maximum profit: No one gets to take a cut of your profit without your consent.

CONS:

• Must have marketing skills: Unless you just want to keep a stack of books in your house, the selling part is all up to you.

• Must deal with business side of publishing: It takes a fair amount of organisational skill and discipline to do everything yourself.

Technically, you can create and publish a book with zero cost if you do everything yourself (minus printing costs, unless your work is purely digital).

There are plenty of online tools, guides and resources that can help you write, edit, proofread, design, format your book and more.

You can also sell your work via free online selling platforms, including directly from your social media profiles.

However, you might want to invest in making your book look more professional and attractive to your target audience.

Some things to consider:

• Book cover design

• ISBN registration (How to apply for ISBN in Malaysia)

• Professional editing and formatting

• Illustrations

• Marketing materials and tools

• Website/landing page

• And more

Notes on book printing:

• As a rule of thumb, the more copies you print, the lower the cost-per-book.

• Custom (book size, shape and measurements, etc) might incur higher charges.

• Keep colours minimal for reduced printing costs.

Which publishing option to pick?

You may also do a bit of mixing and matching. For example, you may go with traditional publishing for the physical book, but self-publishing for the ebook. There are ebook distributor platforms in Malaysia where you can submit and list your ebooks for sale.

E-Sentral, the largest of such platforms takes a 50% cut from each ebook sold. You can also choose to list your ebooks on your own platforms (websites, etc), or platforms like Smashwords, Amazon Publishing (35-70% cut, depending on pricing) and Google Play (50% cut).

Step 2: Reading the contract

If you go with the traditional publishing or half-half/vanity publishing, you will probably need to sign a contract.

Make sure to read and understand what you’re signing. Some may include clauses that prohibit you from selling on other platforms. Some limit your rights to your own work. Some are time-bound. Get a lawyer friend to help you decipher the document, if you must.

When you’re happy with what you’re getting into, go ahead and sign that contract.

Step 3: Do the work, if any

Depending on what’s required of you, work with whoever you need to and do what you need to do to get your manuscript finalised into the final product, a book.

Step 4: Market the book and collect royalty/sales

By this stage, your book is out! Congratulations!

From here onwards is the fun part. The company(ies) you enlist might have payment schedules, and all you have to do is wait for the money to stream in.

Obviously, with some marketing effort on your end to encourage demand for your book, you can ensure continuous sales and maybe even re-prints (for physical books).

If you choose to sell your books yourself without the help of a book distributor, then marketing and sales are more important than ever.

Don’t forget to factor in expenses in your book prices, or you might be selling your books at cost price or even worse, make a loss.

This article first appeared in ringgitohringgit.com

Suraya is a corporate writer-for-hire and the blogger behind personal finance website Ringgit Oh Ringgit. She is more of a minimalist, less of a consumerist, a konon DIY enthusiast, a let’s-support-small-businesses-over-big-corporations kinda girl. Prior to her current role, she worked in various capacities within the non-profit industry.