A reader talks back

One of the joys of writing a column is receiving meaningful feedback from readers that raise questions and open up needed conversations.

One such feedback comes from author Marie Silva Vallejo, who talks about the challenges faced by authors who are self-published. I commend authors like Vallejo who continue to write and publish despite the seeming nonsupport of the publishing community. Her letter was written in July after I wrote about the National Book Development Board’s (NBDB) Philippine International Literary Festival, which had keynoter National Artist for Literature Resil Mojares exhorting writers to “Mine our historical resources.”

Vallejo’s letter:

“I just finished reading your article ‘Mining our historical resources.’

“We have not mined our historical resources enough. What about guiding the writers toward finding a subject matter and undertaking research on it?

“There are few books written by local authors, fiction or non-fiction on topics with the flavor of a certain island or province. Aside from the lack of guidance for the writers, I believe that there is also no support for the local authors. It costs to hire an editor and have a book published. I do not know if there are organizations that would sponsor such.

“After publication, the book stores are not supportive of local authors. The Filipiniana sections of the two leading bookstores are in a corner with hardly a conspicuous sign on top. Foreigners usually come in to look for Philippine history books and there are hardly any on the bookshelves. If there is no copy of a local book, how would someone know that that is available? I hear the bookstores charge 40% of the selling price. If only they could lower their fee to support local authors. Also have a special table with a large Filipiniana sign with local books on it. One author told me that she had to pay the bookstore for that table to display her book!

“An author friend who published beautiful coffee table books on Philippine architecture and design was also discouraged because she could not find her books on the shelf. She was told that interested persons would have to order it. How would they know if they wanted to order the book if there is none to look at.

“The owner of one of the two bookstores told me that if the book does not sell, they discontinue carrying it on the shelf. One will have to order it. By that time, the interest is lost. Filipiniana books and other books about the Philippines, historical, fiction or non-fiction, are a niche and therefore will not be selling like hot potatoes unless it is by celebrity authors like Ambeth Ocampo or cookbooks. And there is nothing wrong with that. But it would be very helpful and encouraging to local and budding authors to write if they see some support even if they are not Ambeth.

“Now when foreign friends of mine ask where to find books about the Philippines, I direct them to La Solidaridad, Popular and Tradewinds, bookstores that are more geared toward carrying […]

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