When it comes to writing in the digital era, all you need to know is how to innovate your own tool to promote your work as well as to read readers’ mind. The writing trend is changing often, depending on readers’ demands. In Cambodia, the challenge doesn’t stop right there. Local writers continuously battle against foreign authors, encouraging the market the choose Khmer books over English novels.
One of the veteran writers, Meyson Sotheary, has published a book ‘Tumroam Klay Chea Neak Nipunth’ or ‘Before Becoming a Writer’ written in Cambodian language last December, guiding amateur writers on how to become a writer in this modern time based on her own experiences as a writer for more than 20 years.
Sotheary mentioned in her book, “If you want to create a story which has no relevance to spirit, belief, tradition and the references that already exist in readers’ mind, the book will at first sell in great numbers because of new creation, then the sales will decline because there’s nothing special and it will lose the support in a short period as new creation is often mushroomed”.
Va Sonyka discusses with Sotheary about the ways new writers can follow to ensure that their books attract their desired market.
Novels and educational books have different elements – things that writers need to understand clearly before jumping into the writing process.
6 elements of a novel
Storyline: If you think writing a book is only about creating two characters and a conflict, then you’re getting the wrong idea. A story requires innovations, rationales, social issues and relevant circumstances that readers can connect with.
Dialogue: Common vocabularies which readers are familiar are easy to understand.
Sotheary said that her best element in each story is “Do we have natural dialogue yet?!”
Descriptive: This is the art of writing. A good story should be based on action and real feelings. For example, the writer starts his novel by describing the chaotic reality of a traffic jam in the morning.
Creative: creativity refers to how good you are at writing a story in a way that readers will feel what you want to convey.
Character: Question yourself before writing your novel: Is my main character cool, lovely, strong, naughty and sexy enough to get the readers hooked?
Philosophy: It is a must to include this in the story. It is the message that readers will get from your book, which will make them think and feel like they’re not waste their time reading your novel.
2 elements of an educational/informative book
Trendy Information: With the world changing every day, readers also need something new and trendy to apply to their life. That’s why the information in the book should provide readers updated, valuable and factual information.
Writer’s Personal Experiences: If you don’t put your personal experiences in your book, it may come out as unoriginal.
“The main meat of self-help books should be the writer’s own experiences during difficult situations. How did the writer overcome obstacles? What did she learn from the experience?” Sotheary emphasised, adding that readers can easily relate to the story if they depict real life issues.
Novels and educational books have created a big market for local writers. According to Sotheary, self-help books on depression were a smash hit among young readers in Cambodia last year. Based on Sotheary’s prediction, this kind of book will take the best seller tags this year.
Self-help books is a good genre to invest in, suggested Sotheary, as these books can be used and read for long-term benefits. However, she also noticed that the readers may also have a negative feeling when the books they read talk about grand ways on becoming successful without enumerating feasible evidence.
“If the content is too big such as how to be a best seller, some readers may lose their interest half-way. People don’t always aim to be the best; the just want to be happy,” said Sotheary.
Content: Content is the king in the book. Even though you have a lot money for marketing but if your content is poor, it won’t work.
Design: You should invest on designs such as a book cover and the pages inside. Then you should follow the trend of your readers in choosing the materials for book printing.
Brand name: “I used to meet some authors who said they can’t sell their book because they are not famous,” said Sotheary. “They’re upset because they can’t turn readers’ attention toward their works.”
Even though, it is good that you can to build your own brand, it should not be a big concern. Sotheary wrote in her book, “We don’t buy iPhone just because we like Steve Jobs, but because it is a great device”.
The thing is, sometimes when you buy the book, it doesn’t totally mean you like the author, it is because you like the content. Are your friends talking about it? Or, after you check the content, is it good?
Summary: Author needs to know how to summarise their books to make it easy to read. Some authors promote their book by just taking photo of their book cover then posting it on social media. But on the other hand, it makes readers feel bored.
Highlight: As a writer, you should already know which part of your book will attract readers. To highlight them in digital way, you can just take photo of a page and give it a catchy caption.
Seeking help: You can ask help from veteran writers or get a famous and reliable person to market your brand. Celebrities are the new tool to open the market for writers.
“I need at least five celebrities to help sell the book. Without a celebrity, we find it difficult to attract readers,” said Sotheary.
With help from the celebrity, the book will reach more local people, from city to provinces.
Don’t cheat: Don’t copy or plagiarise other writer’s work. This happens in Cambodia, some of the famous stories are translated from foreign books and writers just change the names of the characters.
Accept and Respect Feedbacks
The biggest problem of every writer is that they don’t know their weaknesses. And they’re not even sure that the huge sales really mean they have a huge following. That’s why it is important to talk with readers and ask for feedbacks – whether they’re good or bad.
In the digital era, it helps people a lot when they need to connect with one to another. You can create your own platform to find feedback such as sending direct messages to some of your loyal readers on social media.
But Sotheary warned, “If those who give you feedbacks notice that you are protecting your self too much, they may stop giving you negative feedbacks anymore.” It is essential to ask for both positive and negative comments in order for a writer to learn. The best way is to get comments from people you don’t personally know.