The Penang Bookshelf
September 2011 Newsletter
|From The Penang Bookshelf|
Wow! What A Month!
I suppose I should have guessed this wasn't going to be a 'normal' month, whatever that is, when I woke up one on a Monday morning to discover that orders for about fifteen books had come in overnight on the internet. By the end of the day the tally had reached twenty. I did once before have another bonanza day. In that case it was all from one customer, who still orders regularly. In this case there was a lovely mix of regular and new customers.
In fact, the month just went on that way with sales on the internet, in the shop and at a couple of events where I appeared with my stall.Thanks to all of you. Phew! I think this may have marked a turning point. Bye bye hobby, hello business. That said, I hope this isn't going to change me. In my previous three careers I had a gripe with people who called themselves 'professional.' I think Ogden Nash caught my meaning precisely when he wrote ', professional men, they have no cares; whatever happens, they get theirs.' In my experience 'professionalism' is too often a lazy excuse for abdicating from being a human being.
Having wobbled like a gurgling babe into the world of Malaysian and, to a lesser extent, Asian books less than two years ago, I'm still very much learning. It usually happens through your requests for me to find books. On my Mad Monday one generous customer not only ordered a pack of new books which I had in stock, but some others reviews of which had interested me. I just wasn't that sure that meant they'd interest you.
Thanks to a super speedy KL distributor, who had the books on my doorstep within 48 hours, I was able to add them to my stock as well as rush them to my customer. In case you're interested, the two books that particularly took my fancy, they are the ones pictured in this section. You can read more on my website about the books Southeast Asia in the Fifteenth Century and No Man's Land.
Aiyo!... Now For The Steep Learning Curve.
Again, I was looking for a book for a customer. It was a Malay book this time. Oh no! What had I run into here? Pages and pages of Malay books. It didn't take me long to work out that this bookseller had bought the collection of a Professor Rufus Hendon, a US linguist, who knocked about these parts between the 1940s and 1960s. The collection ran into around about 300 books. With a deep breath and a check out with my wife and some customers as to whether I was really going mad, I wrote to the US bookseller and offered to take most of them off him.
I received a speedy reply saying he was ready to undertake his second largest order ever and he had more to offer. It was another 350 or so in the Jawi script. This used to be the principal script used for the Malay language until it graduallly has given way to the more popular Rumi or romanised scipt. Amongst other things I was hooked by the cover art. This lass captured my heart at once. Sadly, I'm not her only suitor. Seems as if a group of Ozzie academics have been buzzing around her too.
So the Jawi books are on their way already and we're still sorting out the rest, mainly in Rumi, but here's a selction of some of the books I've ordered. Unfortunately the cover art is generally a little less exciting.I think that's because many of the Rumi books are text books, poetry and other more worthy tomes and pamphlets.
Of course it's all particularly crazy because I am far from mastering even the most basic Malay. Neverthess, you couldn't think of a better incentive to learn, could you?
There's something about the Malay language and me. My father had a theory that it was the easiest language in the world to learn and so should be learned by everyone to improve international communications. Maybe because of this more than 20 years ago I bought three Malay language books, including a Jawi dictionary, in a second hand bookshop in England. Despite at least three prunings of my library during three major moves since then, they never left my hands. Now Malaysia is my home, I'm selling books and the largest purchase I have made to date is of books in the Malay language. Please explain.
Now What About English Language Fiction?
You might think this month I've overdone it a bit
on books in Malay and on non-fiction books too, but, as I've written before, I try to make fiction about Malaysia one of my strong points.
So this month I was honoured to have the chance of a chat with Chuah Guat Eng. She is often described as the first Malaysian woman to have written a full length novel in English. I've written more about our meeting on The Penang Bookshelf Blog.
If you haven't read any Malaysian fiction in English, her work is probably the best place to start since her work is literary, but very readable. It's also Malaysian in a way that many other writers can never quite achieve.
What I also liked about her was that she spent as much time talking about her own work as she did talking about the work of other writers. In fact, although I originally contacted her about her own writing, she also asked me to sell some copies of the first edition of Scorpion Orchid by Lloyd Fernando on behalf of his widow. Some of you may never have heard of him since his books are seldom seen in book shops now. Well, a good a place to start is by reading this paper. It may be a bit academic for some, but I hope it may also interest others in buying his book, which I'll be putting up on my websites in October.
I Had Hoped To Send This Off Before Midnight,
but I must just mention one more sale this month. I managed to sell the first copy of my most expensive new book.
China in Those Days
It's not only unique because it's the most expensive, but also because it's a new book that was a collector's item before it was ever published. A substantial part of the original and only print run of 3,000 copies was pre-sold by the author, Thomas Brandt, another self-publisher.
My US based customer, a man of few words, was overwhelmed when he received it because it really is a gorgeous book. I'm not just saying that as a bit of marketing blurb. Almost every one who's picked up the reading copy I have in my shop says the same thing. I pass orders on to the author who then dispatches them. He will sign the copy with or without a dedication, if you wish. The price is your local currency equivalent of 129 Euros, post free within Malaysia. As far as I am aware, new copies are not sold anywhere on the internet cheaper than at The Penang Bookshelf. If you want to know more here's a review in Chinese and another one in English. The book is bi-lingual.
To Offer or Not To Offer?
I don't like giving discounts in the shop since the people who usually ask for them specialise in picking out the cheapest book on the shelves and then trying to bargain. In fact, this month I was ticked off by my Ipoh visitor for selling my books too cheaply. That's fine by me as long as I make enough to show the effort of this business is worthwhile.
When I put out offers in my blog, there's a negligible take up rate so I wonder whether there's any point in bothering. Anyway let's have another go. For the month of October I'm offering a 25% discount on these books. They are Syonan - My Story, Abiding Times, Adventures of a Mad Chinaman and The Embrace of Harlots. I have just noticed that the last one isn't on my website yet, but will be in the next couple of days.
The offer is only open to subscribers to this newsletter. If you buy off one of my websites, which are available to the general public, the discount will not be shown, so if you're interested in the offer, just email me and I'll give you the price plus shipping. The books will still be sold post free within Malaysia.
By the time you get my next newsletter I will have almost reached my first anniversary of selling on the internet. November's always been an important month for me. It all started a long time ago with November being the month of my birth. So I am planning to celebrate by offering subscribers to this newsletter a discount on all my priced books in stock at the time.
So Much More to Write
This has been my busiest month yet and, of course, much has been missed. My email responses have been slow and my addition of new books to my website has been abysmal. Many apologies for all that. I hope that October will see me right myself.
I couldn't keep up with the pace if I didn't have the tremendous support that so many of you give me. I'm not just thinking of your purchases, but, just as importantly, the other bits as well. One customer this month put me in touch with national institutions that may be interested in the Malay books. Another offered to spend a weekend with me to transliterate the Jawi titles and generally help sorting them out. As is often the case, I've never met my potential weekend mate and we've never exchanged an email either. We just communicate by sms. That's sufficient. We have a bond.
There is much much more that's happened this month that I'd love to squeeze in, but I'm sure you'll agree that I've gone on long enough. I do hope you've found something of interest. If not, do please let me know what you're missing.
With my best wishes and thanks,
The Penang Bookshelf
|This Month's Surprise |
I attended a couple of book launches this month and I can't say the launch of this book was one I was looking forward to. You may have already guessed the reason why. How on earth could the authors hope to sell yet another Penang picture book? Taking a break from the snacks and the prattle, I had a quick ruffle through the pages. Like Streets of George Town Penang, always a steady seller, it's a handy portable size and it does have a practical layout. It's obviously a book to be used, rather than drooled over. OK I'd stock it, but I didn't have high hopes for sales.
Later I managed to link up with Keith Hockton, whose article about the idea for the book I have posted on The Penang Bookshelf Blog. I can't say that I was totally impressed with the usual publisher/author's chat about this book being 'the best selling tourist book in Malaysia at the moment,' but, being the diplomat I am, I listened. However, I do beg your joint pardons, Messrs Hocton & Tan, this pesky little book sold eight in a week!
I dashed shamefacedly back to the authors to collect another 25 copies. I now listened more closely to what they had to say - an initial print run of 1,000 of which there were only 300 left in less than a month? Yes, indeed. What's the secret? Well, of course it's handy, attractive etc, but it's also about people, as Keith explains in his article. It's not only selling to tourists, but to Penangites as well. One of the shop's copies went to a former owner of one of the houses, others sell to residents keen to satisfy their kay poh (Hokkien for 'nosey/inquisitive') appetites.
This edition should be sold out in October at this rate, so if you're keen to grab one of the last first edition copies, do let me know. There's a revised second edition with more secrets of Penang's nooks and crannies being planned for early 2012.
The Tea's Still Brewing
The Beauty of Chinese Yixing Teapots
The Finer Art of Tea Drinking
More About the Book
Only one sale this month, but a significant one in that it was my first one to a Malaysia based customer. She gave me an interesting piece of information which may be of interest to other tea slurpers - there are apparently masses of websites devoted to the subject. There's one wee snag for some - they're mostly in Chinese. Anyway if you want more information on the subject, do contact me. I'm sure she'll happily part with some useful information.
Or Email Me To Order A Copy
A Book Launch in Neighbouring Ipoh
Thanks to Doris, my trusty GPS device, who usually keeps me out of scrapes with her firm British Rail 1950s announcer's voice, I managed to make my way across to Ipoh in the centre of the country. I'd forsaken Penang to attend a launch for this book, a significant effort compiled by an expatriate resident of Ipoh. The occasion befitted the book perfectly - it had a real family feel with people of all ages and backgrounds playing a part. I managed to get Ian Anderson, respledent in his kilt - the Scottish sarong, I suppose - to sign the three copies I bought. I've already sold one and would happily increase my stock, as soon as I sell another.
Dropping Into The Shop
It so happened that Ipoh folk featured again for me this month. An early morning phone call told me that my first chance of meeting an internet customer was in the offing. He'd decided to hitch a ride from Ipoh with a family member to come over and see what the shop looked like. It was really a joy to meet such a knowledgeable and enthusiastic reader and collector. It so happened that almost all the books he bought were ones I don't normally keep in the shop, but at home. Which reminds me...please remember, I don't keep my entire stock in the shop. The rarer books usually only leave home on special request, but are listed on my websites.
Two of my first time visitors this month wandered into the shop, fingered a book on the shelves and proclaimed, 'I'm glad you stock my book.' The first was the photographer, Halim Berbar, whose books, Journey Through Penang and Journey Through Malacca are in stock.
I was also glad I was to help him to fulfill a long standing ambition of his. I have some neighbours with a premises that's crying out to be photographed, but the owners are vigourously camera shy. The last time Berbar had attempted to snap them he was chased down the road by a stick wielding shop keeper. This time, equipped with long range lenses and other bits of photographic paraphernalia, he managed, unscathed, to get his pic from the safety of the shop.
The second of such visitors, is not a photographer, but a collector of photographs, Tan Kim Hong. He's the author of this book, The Chinese in Penang, a regular and steady seller. He was particularly welcome as he brought with him a troupe of visiting Chinese academics from Xiamen in Fujian.They wouldn't stop buying. My shelves looked pretty bedraggled after they left.
Customers' Wish List
As you may know, I not only supply books from my stock, but also can help find books for you too. I charge 15% of the cost to me of obtaining the book, with a minimum charge of RM15 and a maximum of RM55 per book. Most of the time I'm successful, but some of the time I'm not. So I thought it might not be a bad idea to publicise what some of my customers are looking for. In some cases they're looking for specific titles, in other cases books about a particular subject.
If you have anything in the list below and want to part with it, do contact me and I'll see if the searcher is interested. I would charge the searcher a handling fee based on the rates outlined in the previous paragraph.
Of course this could be a marvellous excuse for you to set off for a browse in your neighbourhood bookshop and earn some money for yourself. Anyway, whichever way suits you best, I'd be grateful for your help.
Bandits by Ewe Paik Leong
Federated Museums Journal Vol 21 (1976)
Gilding the Phoenix by Edmond Chin
Green is the Colour by Lloyd Fernando (original edition)
Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society Vol 12, No 3 October 1934
The same - Vol 24 Pt 1 May 1951
The same - Vol 27, Pt 1 May 1954
Malaya This, Our Native Land by Johnny Ong
Pending Permata by Shamus Frazer
Record of Meritous Deeds of the Chung Family
Run, Tiger, Run by Johnny Ong
The History of the Dutch in Malaysia by Dennis De Witt
Finally, I have a customer who is writing a novel set in the Portuguese Eurasian community in Penang in the 1970s/80s. She was wondering if anyone had any memoirs, novels or other literature about the community at this time.
If you have any wants/wishes that you would like added to this list, do let me know
After a long day in the shop today, I came home to discover a slip from the postman. I couldn't
wait till the Post Office was next open on Monday. My wife, a bemused dinner guest and I zapped around to the parcels office at 8.30 pm and look what we found - the first of many deliveries of hundreds of books!
Two Cries for Help!
People make kind comments about my website, but the perfectionist in me is still not happy with it. One of my main grumbles is that I can't escape, or don't know how to escape, the base currency of the main website being in US dollars. I have noticed that only one of my Malaysia based customers has ever bought directly from the website. Instead those who persevere usually either buy from Ebay or email or sms me. That's fine, but I wonder about the ones I miss! So if you know of anyone who's a web whizz who can advise a web dumbo, do put her/him in touch with me.
Also I've never been happy with my logo ever since I first grudgingly accepted it. To me it gives the impression of being a logo for Penang Airlines rather than for the Penang Bookshelf. My book marks/name cards are just about to run out, so I'm also looking for a designer who could knock up a new one for me. I know roughly what I want, but can't draw for the life of me. So I need someone who will listen. Any suggestions would be greatly apprciated.
While developing this buisness I have tried to keep expenses for any new ventures such as the websites, the newsletter and the shop, within the income the business generates. I tell myself I'm not in this to spend a heap of my savings on wild bits of self glorification. So please don't recommend anyone who's expecting to covert me into another Amazon. We ain't quite there yet.
About The Penang Bookshelf
The Penang Bookshelf specialises in providing book lovers with a broad range of new and second-hand books, both fiction and non-fiction, primarily about Malaysia, but also about other parts of Asia as well.
For General Bargains and Collectibles: Amok Amonst Books
Shop Address: 80, Armenian Street, Penang, Malaysia. (Not full-time, so please telephone to make an appointment.)
Mailing address: 36, Cheeseman Road, 11600 Penang, Malaysia
Registered Business No: PG0282219-D