|2nd Manila International Literary Festival|
November 16-18, 2011, Ayala Museum
Last week I attended what I was told was to be the year’s most prominent event in the literary scene, the 2nd Manila International Literary Festival. Held at the Ayala Museum last Nov 16-18, it was organized by the National Book Development Board. As an avid reader, it was my first time to attend such an event and I was blown away by the host of writers, publishers, and literary speakers who were there. Both local as well as international authors were present, including Junot Diaz and Edward Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The Known World respectively. I was thrilled just to be in their presence, to hear them speak about their successes, experiences and issues, and most of all to have my books signed!
But something surprised me so much I still can't get over it and it was how little the reader was included in the discussions. I know that this was supposed to be a convention on writing and literature, but aren't books written to be consumed by readers? Therefore wouldn't it be in the best interest of authors and publishers to know as much as they can about the reader? I used to work as a marketing manager in an FMCG company where the business is built around knowing as much about the consumer as possible, and I always thought that there are many analogies between a manufacturer and a publisher. Both businesses produced products, distributed them to retailers, marketed and sold them to consumers. In the case of publishers, they printed books, distributed them to bookstores and marketed and sold them to readers. Of course the dynamics may not be exactly the same. I have never worked for a publisher, but I would like to think that there are many similarities.
I was extremely surprised by the answer of one of the panelists when I asked a question about readers. My question was on the type of readers they had and the activities they did to reach out to them. I won't name any names but the answer was something like "Readers? Diba yung bookfair pang readers yun?" Another answered that they didn't know their readers because they only sold to bookstores and got sales figures in return. I was so shocked I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I already knew that publishers rarely tried to learn about their readers but I didn't expect it to be like this. To learn more about the Pinoy reader does not require sophisticated or expensive market research studies. We are living in an age where digital social media has permeated every aspect of life, and reading is no exception. To maintain a Twitter account, like Simon and Schuster said they do, is free and provides great real-time interaction with readers. Visprint, publishers of the popular Bob Ong and Kikomachine Komiks, conducts a Writers and Talks activity that is well attended by readers. Rose Fres-Fausto, author of Raising Pinoy Boys, has a great website of the same title where she interacts with her readers. Scy Sze, author of The Lost Diary of Rizal, has a Facebook page with more than 3,600 fans where she gets direct feedback from her readers. There are also at least 3 social media groups of Pinoy readers today, Read Philippines, Shelfari, and Goodreads. But I have yet to see writers and publishers take advantage of this media and join the thousands of readers who are eagerly awaiting them there. It just requires a shift in mindset to make the decision and do it.
However, we Pinoy readers must do our part as well. In his opening speech entitled Where in the World is the Filipino Writer? , Mr. Resil Mojares, multi-awarded Filipino author of House of Memory, said that perhaps the question is not whether Filipino writers are visible to the world, but whether Filipino writers are visible to the Filipinos themselves. If we do not know or even value our own literature, how can we even expect the world to value it? My 18-year old niece, who is a voracious reader, says that she never knew books written by Filipino authors could be very good too until a teacher required them to read Eating Fire, Drinking Water by Philippine-born Australian author Arlene Chai. Since then she would like to know more good books by Filipino authors but doesn't know where to start. If you are a typical Pinoy who was made to read Florante at Laura or Nena at Neneng in high school, you would be confused, too. I'm not a writer or anything either so the only advise I could giver her was how I started and that was with friends' recommendations which were winners of the National Book Awards. I hope I had given her good advice and that she'll like what she reads so she'll continue reading.
A bookstore, continued Mr. Mojares, is perhaps the best indicator of a country's mental environment. Walk into a bookstore in Barcelona and you will find at least 70% of its books written by local authors in Spanish, while the rest are international titles in foreign languages including English. But in the Philippines it's the other way around. A member at Read Philippines commented in the discussion thread How to get Pinoys to read more books by Filipino authors about the way our locally published books are presented, which is, sorry to say, cheap and unattractive as if saying, "We're just locally published books, don't take us seriously." For example, F.H. Batacan's award winning book Smaller and Smaller Circles, a great crime novel, is a very small, thin paperback selling for P150 only, while a typical international paperback (which may not necessarily be as good or even better) sells for P350, and yet international titles make for bulk of the sales! Its not a surprise why my niece says that she and her booklover high school friends practically avoid the Philippine Lit section in a bookstore. Not that it's intentional, and I don't blame her. But then why do we even have to separate locally published books under a "Philippine Lit" section in the first place? What if they were placed under their respective genres and given great looking covers and placed together with other international titles at the same price. Then maybe a typical Pinoy browsing through the titles in a genre would consider them as much as they would consider international titles. I believe they are just as good, maybe even better. (I, for one, really love the cover of Blue Angel, White Shadow by Charlson Ong, winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Fiction. Look at that and tell me it's not provocative!)
I am a Pinoy reader, and I would very much like to promote reading and publishing of both local as well as international titles among Pinoys. I would like writers and publishers to learn more about us, but we readers have to do our part as well if we want to continue reading quality books.
|Junot Diaz - speaking on the first day about writing from minority backgrounds|
|Edward Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Known World (left),|
and Vicente 'Vince' Groyon, multi-awarded author of The Sky over Dimas (right)
|Panel on "World Book Market vs World Readership Market"|
Panelists: Rino Balatbat (Random House), Jennifer Javier (Simon and Schuster), Nida Ramirez (Visprint)
Moderator: Karina Bolasco
|A Conversation with Junot Diaz|
Moderated by: Jose Dalisay, Jr.
|A Conversation with Junot Diaz (Right)|
Moderated by: Jose Dalisay, Jr. (Left)
|Panel on "The Philippine Writing and Publishing Landscape"|
Panelists: J. Neil Garcia (UP Press), Nida Ramirez (Visprint), John Jack Wigley (UST Publishing House)
Moderator: Maricor Baytion
|Panel on "Crime, Horror and Suspense"|
Panelists: Charlson Ong (Blue Angel, White Shadow, not in photo),
Budjette Tan (Trese), F.H. Batacan (Smaller and Smaler Circles)
Moderator: Dean Alfar
|Panel on "Writing the Memoir"|
Panelists: Nerissa Guevara, Dr. Rosario Cruz-Lucero
Moderator: Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo
|Panel on "Folktales, Myths and Legends"|
Panelists: Carl De Mesa, Yvette Tan, Budjette Tan
Moderator: Dean Alfar
|My favorite writers Xin Mei (author of Afraid to be Chinese),|
and Charlson Ong (author of Blue Angel, White Shadow)
My signed books! A reader's treasure: