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FAQs & Guides

Frequently Asked Questions and Guides to save, spend, invest and earn money in Malaysia. Youth-centric.

Guide: How to Publish a Book in Malaysia (& Its Costs)

To keep our expectations clear, I’ll start off the article with this statement: most people don’t earn that much money from publishing books.

In fact, if your sole aim to write one is to make money from it, and you’re in a fairly tight financial situation, I’d recommend you to try other ways to make money from freelance writing. If you’re adamant, then your best bet is to pick and write about topics that tend to sell well in Malaysia, like religion, finance and self-help.

That being said, if you have always wanted to know how to publish a book in Malaysia, for personal or professional reasons – self-satisfaction, to establish yourself as a subject matter expert, to leave behind a legacy, to call yourself an author, etc – then it’s a worthwhile endeavour to take.

In this article, I will cover the processes involved in publishing a book in Malaysia (but not HOW to write a book – that one different story).

Step 0: Write the manuscript

For new, never-before-published writers, you will probably need to write that book first, or at least finish a few chapters. You probably won’t get anyone to agree to publish your book without something to show for it. ‘Hi I have a book idea in my head’ won’t work.

Sometimes, the publisher may be able to commit to publishing a non-fiction book without the manuscript. However, this privilege is only reserved for selected people, such as authors who have written commercially-successful books and authority figures with a large following.  

I’ll go ahead and assume you have not been published before, but would like to. Let’s go on to the first actual step.

Step 1: Choosing the publisher (or not)

So you wrote your first draft, got it edited, collected feedback from beta readers, worked on it a bit more, re-edited it, and repeated this process again and again until you’re satisfied with your manuscript. Now you’re ready to publish it!

You have three options:

  • Option 1: Traditional publishing. Aside from the writing part, they will do everything for you – edit, format, proofread, print, distribute, do marketing*, you name it. In return, they will take a 90%** cut. That means if your book sells for RM29.90, you’ll get RM2.90 or 10% from each book.  
  • Option 2: Half/Half publishing (also called Vanity publishing). You will be paying companies an upfront fee to turn your manuscript into a book. By the end of the arrangement, you will have your final-version book. You get 100% of the profits from the book sales, minus the upfront cost and whatever expenses you incur while selling it.
  • Option 3: Self-publishing. You do everything yourself, either DIY or outsource people to take over specific tasks (designing the book cover, for example). You get 100% of the profits from the book sales, minus the upfront cost and whatever expenses you incur while selling it.

IMPORTANT: Companies categorised under Option 2 (Half/half / Vanity publishing) frequently use the term ‘supported self-publishing’, ‘assisted self-publishing’ or ‘guided publishing’ to encourage writers into engaging their services, which makes things a tad confusing. The biggest difference between option 2 and option 3 is using a company vs doing it yourself.

*Note: You are expected to do some marketing on your end as well to boost book sales

**Note: All numbers are based on current book publishing trends in Malaysia. Specific publishers may use different figures or structures.

Each publishing option has its pros and cons. Let’s explore them.

Traditional publishing

Examples of traditional publishing companies: MPH, Gerakbudaya, Buku Fixi

Traditional publishing is great for:

  • Wide distribution – They tend to be big names, and have branches at many locations thus maximising reach for your books. Also, being ‘endorsed’ by these brands will greatly increase your credibility as an author
  • Least work – Your job is to write, and market the books afterwards. That’s it.
  • No upfront cost – All you need is brain power and writing tools

Traditional publishing is NOT great for:

  • Profit cut – You only get 10% of book sales
  • Customisation – The publisher usually get the final say on editing, design, book cover, and things like that
  • Some genre not accepted – To minimise the likelihood of low book sales (and therefore losses for the company), traditional publishers may not accept some types of content

Note: Always check the publisher’s page and check the submission requirements BEFORE you send off your manuscript. Make sure to give them the information they need, or chances are you won’t hear back from them.

Half/half / Vanity publishing

Examples of half/half / vanity publishing companies: NotionPress, The Inspiration Hub, Snappars Publishing, Argent by SilverFishBooks

Half/Half / vanity publishing is great for:

  • Outsourcing some work out – Depending on which package you select, they can help you sort out editing, formatting, cover design and printing (other services may be available). Example of packages with transparent pricing (Singapore).
  • Book and Ebook distribution – Some of them can help you place your books at bookstores, as well as help you turn your book into an ebook and list them at ebook-selling networks

Half/Half publishing is NOT great for:

  • Consistent quality – They may do a good job, they may not. The only way to find out is to find their past customers and ask for an honest review. Here are some things to note.
  • People without capital – You will need to pay a hefty sum upfront. Check out Anna’s cost comparison post below


Self-publishing

Self-publishing is great for:

  • Complete control – You get to choose what subjects to write about, how you want the final version to look like, who to hire (book printer, editor, etc) and more. You will also learn how to publish a book (or ebook, or both), from start to finish, during the process
  • Maximum profit – No one gets to take a cut of your profit without your consent

Self-publishing is NOT great for:

  • Those without marketing skills – Unless you just want to keep a stack of books in your house, the selling part is all up to you
  • Those who just want to write and not deal with the business side of book publishing – it takes a fair amount of organisational skills and discipline to do everything by yourself

Technically, you can create and publish a book with zero cost if you do everything yourself (minus printing costs, unless your work is purely digital).

There are plenty of online tools, guides and resources that can help you write, edit, proofread, design, format your book and more. You can also sell your work via free online selling platforms, including directly from your social media profiles.

However, you might want to invest some money to make your book look more professional and attractive to your target audience. Some to consider:

  • Book cover design
  • ISBN registration
  • Professional editing and formatting
  • Illustrations
  • Marketing materials and tools
  • Website/landing page
  • And more

Notes on book printing:

  • As a rule of thumb, the more copies you print, the lower the cost-per-book
  • Custom (book size, shape and measurements, etc) might incur higher charges
  • Keep the colours minimal for reduced printing costs

Which publishing option to pick?

Which option(s) are the best? Up to you. If all you want to do is write, pick traditional publishing. If you want to test your business and marketing skills, try the other options.

You may also do a bit of mix and match. For example, you may go with traditional publishing for the physical book, but self-publishing for the ebook version. There are ebook distributor platforms in Malaysia where you can submit and list your ebooks for sale.

E-Sentral, the largest of such platform takes a 50% cut from each ebook sold. You can also choose to list your ebooks in your own platforms (websites, etc), or platforms like Smashwords, Amazon Publishing (35-70% cut, depending on pricing) and Google Play (50% cut).

Step 2: Reading the contract

If you go with the traditional publishing or half/half / vanity publishing route, you will probably need to sign a contract.

Make sure to read and understand what you’re signing. Some may include clauses that prohibit you from selling on other platforms. Some limits your rights to your own work. Some are time-bound. Get a lawyer friend to help you decipher the document if you must.

When you’re happy with what you’re getting into, go ahead and sign that contract 🙂

Step 3: Do the work, if any

Depending on what’s required of you, work with whoever you need to work with and do what you need to do to get your manuscript finalised into the final product, a book.

Step 4: Market the book and collect royalty/sales

By this stage, your book is out! Congratulations!

From here onwards is the fun part 🙂 The company(ies) you enlist with might have payment schedules, and all you have to do is to wait for the money to come in. Obviously, with some marketing effort on your end to encourage demand for your book, you can ensure continuous sales and maybe even re-prints (for physical books).

If you choose to sell your books yourself without the help of a book distributor, then marketing and sales are more important than ever. Don’t forget to factor in expenses in your book prices, or you might be selling your books at cost price or even worse, make a loss!

What’s next after this step? Write another book and do it all over again!

Acknowledgements

I know nothing about how to publish a book in Malaysia if not for the kind contributions of our local writers and members of the Malaysian Writers’ Society. My sincerest thanks to Gina Yap Lai Yoong and Anna Tan (click the names to see their writing portfolio).

Published writers, I need your input here to make this article even better. Please comment tips you know about publishing a book in Malaysia. What worked for you? What didn’t? What could’ve been better? Let us know!

[SPONSORED] 4 Lesser-Known Tips to Get The Best Credit Card in Malaysia (For You)

Choosing the best credit card in Malaysia is like choosing dates on Tinder. Sometimes, you accidentally ignore the good cards (fast left swipes). Sometimes, the cards themselves beg for your attention (superlikes). And sometimes, the cards you want are not available to you (they didn’t swipe right for you..).

It can be a frustrating search process. You thought you have a lot of choices, but why is none of them suitable? But eventually you’ll find that perfect match for you, and you’ll never imagine life without them. Amirite, Tinder couples reading this?

Tinder analogy aside, credit cards really are great financial tools. I use them to earn points, shop (online and offline), make instalments on larger purchases and top up e-wallets (usually for the discounts). If you can practice these habits that make you a responsible card user, I’d recommend you to get one. They can help you build a good DSR score, too – good if you’re planning to buy a house in the future.

Here are some lesser-known tips I can offer you.

Tip #1 – Always start with the process of elimination

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The Comprehensive Personal Finance and Support Guide for LGBT in Malaysia

Let’s face it: Malaysia is NOT a good place for LGBT individuals to freely express themselves. But no one can choose where they’re born at, can they? Discrimination is sadly common, usually justified by religion.

If you disagree with ‘the LGBT lifestyle’, I ask for your empathy. This is not a ‘guide to be gay’ article, this is a ‘what to do when you need help’ article. Know the distinction. Don’t kick people when they’re down. No religion teaches that.

This article answers the following questions (in order):

  1. My family kicked me out after they find out I’m gay / lesbian / bisexual / trans / queer. What can I do?
  2. I need to check my STD / HIV / AIDS status and find out where to find information about medical help, treatment and support
  3. My colleagues at work are bullying me because of my sexual orientation / gender identity. I need the job. What can I do?
  4. I need to talk to someone. What are my options?
  5. My gender does not align with the sex I was born with. How can I transition and what kind of expenses can I expect?
  6. I can no longer/do not want to stay in Malaysia. What can I do?
  7. I am in a committed, if unrecognised relationship with my partner. If anything happens to me, how can make sure she/he can inherit my money and properties?
  8. I don’t have immediate problems but would like to prepare myself financially, in case anything happens. What can I do?
  9. I’m LGBT individual / ally with financial means. How can I help?
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How to Charge Clients: 5 Methods Freelancers Can Use

One of the questions I regularly get from friends and readers who do freelance work is, “Suraya, a client is interested in my services. How much should I charge them?”

I’m still learning myself, but let me share what I know. Here are five methods you can use to figure out how to charge your clients. This guide is mostly for freelancers who sell services like writing, designing, consulting, etc, not products.

Please comment if you have additional info to add.

Method #1 – Get the client to make an offer

This is a favourite method of mine – I use it whenever I can, especially if the request is slightly different from usual and I have no idea what’s considered a ‘fair’ compensation for it. Your conversation might go something like this:

  • Client: Hi, how much do you charge for X?
  • You: Thank you for your interest! X will take me x days/weeks/months to complete and involves (brief steps). My rates are flexible and I am happy to receive an offer on your end.
  • Client: Great! We typically pay [amount]

Four things can happen here: the client gives you a better-than-expected rate (I’ve had this happen a few times), the client gives you an okay rate (good), the client gives you a low rate (not good obv), or the client insists on getting your rates (see other methods). What you can reply back:

  • Better-than expected rate: Great, that is more or less my usual rate (you’re bullshitting but whatever the client doesn’t need to know that)
  • Okay rate: Great, I accept the offer
  • Low rate: I’m sorry, but that is below my usual rate. My usual rate is [higher-than-usual amount]. Can we meet in the middle and settle on [a lower amount that is worth your time]?

My assumption is you’re not desperate for the work. If you are, and you will work for the lower rate just to make ends meet for now, go ahead and accept the offer. I respect your hustle.

Method #2 – Ask fellow freelancers in the same or similar fields

If the client insists on getting your rates and won’t make an offer, then what you can do is ask your peers. I offer writing services, so my information is biased for this field, but I’ve seen people in writing-related FB groups ask how much to charge:

  • Per word, page or project
  • For editing, proofreading, translating, speech-writing etc
  • For website, brochures, newsletters, articles, reports etc
  • Across different industries and niches
  • And more

So you can see how varied the rates can be – no wonder setting them is a hard process for new freelancers! If you’re lucky enough to get replies from your contacts, you can use the rates as a benchmark. Eventually, you’ll want to set your own rates (we’ll get to that in Method #4).

It’s a good idea to start joining groups related to your field now, even if you’re just starting out. Share information and be helpful when you can. Start cultivating those relationships early. Freelancing tends to be a solo activity, but it doesn’t have to be.

Method #3 – Find out the market rate

I personally don’t like this method but still have to put it out there. ‘Market rate’ ranges so much between platforms, specialisations and many other factors that it’s hard to pick which rates is the ‘right’ one. When I first started, I thought I was overcharging at $20 per article after seeing many writers on the same freelancing platform charging just $1 for each article!

Note: worth mentioning – some clients picked me anyway despite technically costing 20x more. I guess you get what you pay for.

Having personally used this method, I don’t recommend it at all. Maybe this method will work better for other industries? I don’t know tbh, comment if the industry you’re in follows set rates. I imagine freelancers who are attached (even loosely) to a company or agency will find it easier to find out their average market rates. Examples: Coway agents, property agents, Grab drivers, etc.

Method #4 – Calculate your own rates

Some people would advise this method first, before everything else presented in this list. Sure, if it works for you. It’s just incredibly hard. I’ve been self-employed for a few years now and STILL sometimes have no idea what is my own rate. Method #4 forces you to think of how much you value your time, and heck that’s a hard process for the soul.

I remember Tina Isaac’s advice here (she’s one of the core members of Malaysian Writers Society). In a workshop I attended, she said this regarding rates-setting:

Work backwards. How much do you want to earn from freelancing per month? How many hours can you dedicate to it? Say you want to earn RM4000, and you work 40 hours per week, that means your hourly rate is RM25 (RM4000 divide by 160 hours). If the project takes about 10 hours to complete, then charge RM25 x 10 = RM250.

That sounds simple right? Straightforward. However, from my own research, I’ve seen both advocates and haters of this particular method. It’s fair to highlight haters’ arguments too:

  • You’re limiting your earning potential because you’re already capping your income
  • You’re not paid for admin work essential in running your business – getting leads, answering emails, etc

Valid points too. Well let’s not choose sides. If you lean towards this method, you can give yourself a high monthly income and include admin hours when billing clients.

Method#5 – Just pull a number out of your ass

I’ve used this method, and, uh, I have to say, it’s strangely effective, if somewhat risky. Let me explain.

  • Client: Hi, what is your rate for X?
  • You: Thank you for your interest! X will take me x days/weeks/months to complete and involves (brief steps). The total cost of the project is [amount that is favourable for me].

From here on, there are three possible outcomes: client agrees, client negotiates, or client ghosts you.

  • Client agrees: Great! Now you know you can charge this rate and get away with it. Next time you can use this as the benchmark, or maybe even quote a higher amount.
  • Client negotiates: Good, at least you know this type of work with this specific client cannot fetch this rate. Depending on the counter-offer process and the final rate the client is willing to pay, I may or may not proceed with the job
  • Client ghosts you: If you want the job, follow up in a couple of days. Sometimes they really did miss your email.

This method works best if you can show the client how solution-oriented you are. Here you’re selling efficiency and quality, not just your time. It’s a good idea to send a combination of your work samples, testimonials and qualifications to back up your claims. “Here’s how I solved a similar problem in the past” works way better than “I can do x”.

Conclusion

There you go. Five methods you can use to figure out how much to charge your clients when they are interested in working with you. Established freelancers, which of these methods works best for you? Or do you use another way? Share in the comments section 🙂

On a separate but related note, what else do you want to know about freelancing? Let me know and I may turn it into a guide! Make sure to read other self-employment slash freelancing guides I have here at Ringgit Oh Ringgit too!

Short plug: I’m organising a personal finance-themed writing competition. Tell me your stories! Check out the details here.

What No One Tells You About Investing in Malaysia

Here are some of the things you always hear about investing: it’s important, you should do it early, and you shouldn’t put all your money in just one basket (one type of investment vehicle).

I’m not going to focus on that here. This article is all about what people don’t tell you about investing in Malaysia. Or not enough, anyway.

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Crypto & Blockchain in Malaysia: Communities, Companies and Associations in Malaysia You Should Know

blockchain in malaysia

One thing I noticed about people who are passionate about cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology is their ideologies and values. They tend to be the same people who rank transparency, efficiency and financial inclusiveness high in their belief system. Not all of them (some just got in it for the moneh), but many of them. And for that reason, I support the industry.

In the interest of promoting the cryptocurrency and blockchain in Malaysia, I have compiled Malaysia-based companies, associations and groups you should know. Note that this list is not exhaustive – I might have missed some – but the popular ones with active members are here. If you know of any more, please comment and I’ll add it in.

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I Created My Own Cryptocurrency For Fun (And How You Can, Too)

create your own cryptocurrency

Before I begin this,

HI BNM! YOU’RE DOING AN AWESOME JOB! BTW THIS ‘CRYPTOCURRENCY’ I DID HAVE NO VALUE AT ALL! ABSOLUTELY NONE! THIS ‘CRYPTOCURRENCY’ IS MORE LIKE A FUN BUCKETLIST PROJECT AND A CREATIVE EXPRESSION RATHER THAN A CURRENCY PER SAY. IN FACT THINK OF IT LIKE TOKENS OR POINTS. I AM A TAX-PAYING CITIZEN!

Okay now that’s done…

Guys, I made SurayaCoin! 1000 of them! And it’s super simple via the Waves Platform – literally just 4 steps!

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Guide: What To Do When You’re Tight With Money

tight with money

While I have never been truly broke, I’ve had moments when money was tight. It became necessary to save money. It became necessary to allocate where each ringgit should go.

Therefore this guide. Here I’ve compiled all the strategies you can use to get through moments when you’re tight with money. To make things clear and actionable, I have divided the strategies into categories.

Remember that:

  • Cut down expenses = Awesome (this post focuses on this)
  • Earn money = Awesome
  • Investing money = Awesome
  • Cut down expenses + Earn money + Investing at the same time = HOLY GRAIL TO FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE YEAH
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