[Full disclosure: Some of the links in this story are affiliate links which means that if you click on them and make a purchase, I get a percentage of the payment made at no extra cost to you. Also, links to the webpages/books/resources mentioned are listed at the end of the story.]

Two weeks ago, I was invited for a lunch in the city. I was mingling with the other guests when, suddenly, a lady appeared in the doorway. I admit that I stared at her for a while. Then, it came to me. This was a person I hadn’t seen for fifteen years. We spent the next hour or so animatedly catching up. Naturally, we spoke about my writing career and she mentioned a pamphlet I’d created for The Banana Leaf Men and sent to her all those years ago. I had forgotten about this. After lunch, I started to think about this pamphlet. The more I thought about it, the more I came to see what’s changed in the publishing world, what hasn’t and what’s evolved.

Let’s start with the one thing that hasn’t changed – ISBN. Years ago, I wrote a piece about this called ‘ISBN in Malaysia’. While the links to the resources I mentioned in the piece have changed, a lot of the information remains the same.

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and is based in London. It is the means by which a book is identified. In Malaysia, the National Library of Malaysia has been appointed as the National Center for ISBN.

From January 2007, ISBN comprises 13 digits. The change has come about as a result of numbering shortages. This is good news for people who love books because it means that there are so many books published that we were running out of 10-number combinations.

Let’s look at this from a practical perspective. The newly-acquired ISBN for The Age of Smiling Secrets is: 978-967-16167-0-3

This is what the 13 numbers mean:

  • The three first numbers (978) is a European Article Number prefix (EAN codes are used worldwide for marking retail goods).
  • The next group of numbers identify the country of publication. Countries may also be grouped according to language, which is why books published in Britain or the United States are identified with the number zero (0) or one (1), the codes for English-speaking countries.
  • Next comes the publisher’s code, then the item number, and, finally, the check digit (arrived at by a formula involving the first 12 numbers in the code).

If you provide the ISBN to the staff at a bookstore, they can tell you if the book is available or place an order for you. The ISBN allows them to identify the right book quickly and efficiently. It also ensures that you don’t get the book mixed up with others having similar titles.

What’s changed with ISBN is how to go about applying for it. During the publication of The Banana Leaf Men in 2003, I contacted the National Library in Kuala Lumpur and asked for help. They faxed to me the necessary forms to apply for an ISBN. I filled in all the blanks and faxed it back to them. A week later, I received the ISBN by post. I took it to my designer and watched as he modified the cover design to include this barcode and numbers.

With The Age of Smiling Secrets¸ everything was online. There was a link on the library’s website that I could use to download all the necessary forms. There were forms for new publishers and existing ones. There were also forms for those whose books are only in electronic form.

Like before, publishers would have to provide accompanying documents such as Identity Card of the applicant, a copy of the cover design and the preliminary pages of the novel (copyright information and title page). The other wonderful thing that’s remained was that the application for an ISBN through the National Library was free of charge. And the officers there remain as polite and obliging as they were years ago.

Once again, I filled in all the blanks in the forms. Unlike before, though, I didn’t send them to the library by fax. Instead, I scanned them, saved them as JPEG files and forwarded them by email. I was also lucky because I had help doing all this from the designers and printers of the novel.

Once my application was approved, I received the ISBN and Barcode by email and forwarded them by email to my designers.

Like before, in the covering letter from the National Library, I was made aware that once The Age of Smiling Secrets is published, I will have to send to the library five copies of the book. And I will have to send them to a new address for this purpose:
National Library of Malaysia
Level 2, AnjungBestari
No. 232, Jalan Tun Razak, 50572 Kuala Lumpur
(U.P: Pusat Kebangsaan ISBN)
Tel. : 03-26814329, 03-26871700 ext 4288
Fax : 03-26811676
E-mail: isbn@pnm.gov.my

When The Banana Leaf Men was published, I knew that I had to get the word out about my books, but hadn’t a clue how to do it. I didn’t have an email newsletter at the time. I had no subscribers. I knew no one in the media who was willing to advise me.

I’d heard about this thing called a ‘Press Release’ and went about learning how to create one. While it sounded grand, what I created for The Banana Leaf Men was elementary at best. I started with a Word document, much like the press release that was created for We Mark Your Memory. I wrote out the blurb, title of the book, author, ISBN and contact details. It was no more than an A5 page. I stuck with black and white and printed two A5 copies. I placed both these A5 pages side-by-side on an A4 sheet and glued them. I didn’t know how to use my Inkjet printer to print two copies of this ‘Press Release’ on a single page.

Once this prototype ‘Press Release’ was made, I took it to a photocopy shop nearby. I made 100 photocopies of this and got the sheets cut right down the middle. This, effectively, gave me 200 copies of my ‘Press Release’. Then, I put this ‘Press Release’ in all the post boxes around my neighbourhood. I was very lucky because a reporter from a local newspaper picked one up and contacted me to request an interview.

My plan for The Age of Smiling Secrets will be similar. I am in the process of preparing the press release. Again, I will do it in Word.doc format. This, time, though, instead of printing it out, I plan to convert into PDF and JPEG formats. These will then be sent out to the masses via Whatsapp, email and other digital methods I can think of. This time, I will be able to add links to several websites in this press release – from links to my website, the publishers, distributors and even the one for We Mark Your Memory.

It’s a little different, but equally interesting, nonetheless.

I would love to know how you promote your books and work. Please share your ideas and thoughts below. And what do you think will change in the next fifteen years?


Links to the webpages/books mentioned:

(15 July 2018)

Aneeta Sundararaj fears social media and aims to ‘go local’ with ‘the novel’.  Read mores stories like this on her website, ‘How to Tell a Great Story’. (http://www.howtotellagreatstory.com).

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