Bookworm to help local authors
Quitting a well-paying job that offered frequent travel opportunities in order to launch a social enterprise in aid of local authors and readers wasn’t easy for Sao Yourngchantreara. However, troubled by the hardships faced by Cambodian writers, that is exactly the challenge Mr. Treara took upon himself.
After graduating from the Institute of Foreign Languages with a degree in International Studies, Mr. Treara worked with NGOs and social enterprises in the education field for about four years. An ordinary man with a passion for reading and writing, he thought he understood the problems authors faced, but didn’t realize the extent of them until he started researching the possibility of investing in his own social enterprise.
“I talked to more than 20 authors to get a sense of their problems; I learned how hard they must struggle to sustain a writing career. It really hurt me to hear them talk about the barriers they faced just to make a living from writing.”
“When it comes to discussing problems, sometimes the things we are most familiar with are the hardest to describe. It hurts when we achieve something and not only does it go unrecognized, but others then make money from our achievement by stealing the copyright and publishing the work on the Internet without informing the author; and that’s just one of the problems authors face,” Mr. Treara said.
Once he had a fuller understanding of their problems, Mr. Treara tried to think of sustainable ways to help authors.
The social enterprise Snadai Seavpove Khmer was established just four months ago to solve Cambodian authors’ marketing and publishing problems. It sells original books by local authors both online and offline. The organization handles works in both Khmer and English. Its ultimate aim is to get local authors to write more and local readers to read more, and to connect the two groups.
“I am doing this to help Khmer authors, because I learned that they have faced many problems for a long time, but no one has taken responsibility for solving them,” Mr. Treara said.
“I have gotten in touch with over 200 authors whose contact information I obtained from the National Library. I sent emails to over 100 authors, but only a few people have replied,” he said, adding that he also tried calling them. Eventually he got several authors to agree to join an initial meeting.
Since that meeting, some authors have quit writing for more lucrative careers. Others have simply given up on writing altogether in despair.
However, Mr. Treara is still hopeful that veteran authors and younger writers will be able to turn the page and open a bright new chapter in the development of Cambodian literature. From the handful of authors who initially expressed an interest in joining his social enterprise, Mr. Treara now has about 20 scribes cooperating with the Snadai Seavpove Khmer project.
“There are a lot of books by Khmer authors now available on the market. Most are novels, self-help guides, or books on politics or history. We still lack technical books on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“Some authors don’t conduct in-depth research before publishing their books. As a result the quality is below average and can’t compete in the international market,” he said.
Despite the difficulty of marketing books and educating people about the advantages of reading and writing, Mr. Treara said his social enterprise project will continue to promote local authors, and was dedicated to helping them over the long term.
“I need everyone’s support. Students or just ordinary folks can help Cambodian authors by buying books. Scholars can help by producing more educational texts for Cambodians. Donors can provide more financial support,” he said.
Mr. Treara plans to write a book himself before long. He is working on background research to ensure that the end result is a quality book that doesn’t shortchange readers. To purchase a book online, please visit ssk-bookstore.com
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