So you’d like to learn how to publish a book in Malaysia. 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 make money from freelance writing instead. That will give you more immediate income.
But I still want to write a book..
If you’re adamant on making money by publishing a book, but you don’t have online or offline following yet, 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 don’t care so much about profit, and just wanted 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 exact steps in learning how to publish a book in Malaysia- all the processes involved, from start to finish. I will NOT cover HOW to write a book – that one different story.
At the end of this article, you will also find a newly-added bonus section: my own experience after publishing 4 books in Malaysia. You should know I am writing this guide from expert advice as well as experience.
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.
In short, ‘Hi I have a book idea in my head’ won’t work.
Sometimes, the publisher may be able to commit to publishing a 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 in how to publish a book in Malaysia.
Step 1: Choosing between traditional publishing, Half/half publishing or self-publishing
- 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 are ready to publish your book! You have three publishing 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.
**Note: All numbers are based on current book publishing trends in Malaysia. Specific publishers may use different figures or structures.
Yes, 90%. That means if your book sells for RM29.90, you’ll get RM2.90 or 10% from each book.
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.
Option 2: Half/Half publishing (also called Vanity publishing)
Companies categorised under Option 2 (Half/half / Vanity publishing) may also use the term ‘supported self-publishing’, ‘assisted self-publishing’ or ‘guided publishing’, which makes things a tad confusing.
Basically, choosing this option means you will be paying companies an upfront fee to turn your manuscript into a book. Yes, you need to pay them. By the end of the arrangement, you will have the final version of your book.
Half/Half or 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
Option 3: Self-publishing in Malaysia
If you choose to do self-publishing in Malaysia, then basically you do everything yourself.
You can either DIY all parts of the work yourself, or outsource people to take over specific tasks, like designing the book cover. Technically, you can create and publish a book with zero cost if you do everything yourself. You could even not pay printing costs if you choose to only sell digital copies, aka ebooks.
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 – You get 100% of the profits from the book sales, minus the upfront cost and whatever expenses you incur while selling it.
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 effort, organisational skills and discipline to do everything by yourself
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 (How to apply for ISBN in Malaysia)
- Professional editing and formatting
- 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). Related:
Step 2: Reading the contract
If you go with the traditional publishing or half/half or vanity publishing route, you will probably need to sign a contract. How to publish a book in Malaysia if no paperwork is in place right?
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, and others 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.
Some tasks include:
- Rewriting chapters
- Working with editors
- Collaborate with book cover designer
- Print out the books (and sorting out the logistics – where to keep the books, how to post to customers etc)
- Writing blurbs, synopsis, excerpts and whatever else required
- Taking nice pictures of yourself for promotional use
- Looking for interview opportunities so you can get press coverage
- Attending writing or book events for networking
- Presenting or giving a talk at events
- And more
From my own experience, at least 6 months is needed to write a book. It’s not uncommon for the process to take years.
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 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!
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, and what didn’t? What could’ve been better? Let us know!
Bonus section: My own experience publishing books in Malaysia
As of time of writing, I have published 4 books under my name. They are:
- Money Stories from Malaysians: Volume 1 (self-published) (read first chapter)
- Money Stories from Malaysians: Volume 2 (self-published)
- Cerita Duit Orang Malaysia: Jilid 1 (self-published)
- Bergaji & Pokai: Membina Kehidupan Bebas Tekanan Melalui Pengurusan Kewangan Yang Realistic (traditional publishing with Iman Publication) – Will be out on 1 November 2022 🙂
Below, I’ll share with you my experience with both.
My first 3 books were self-published. I sold them through my platform ringgitohringgit.com, and made a nice profit.
However, here’s something many people didn’t realise – even if you self-publish, you can approach bookstores and ask if they could put your books on their shelves.
I can confirm you can absolutely do this, because *I* did it. MPH Distributors carried my books in all major bookstores in Malaysia, including MPH, Popular, Kinokuniya and more.
Getting Bookstores to carry my self-published books
To do this, you need to (1) meet or email book distributors, and (2) convince them that the book will sell, if not they won’t do it. What I did was:
- Shared proof that people were buying my books
- Listed what marketing activities I plan to do to promote the books
- Send them a few books for review
If they say yes, then they will send the paperwork and contract to sign, and get you to arrange to drop off/send the books to their warehouse. How it works is: the distributor buys your books (at a steep discount), and stocks them in bookstores they manage.
However, I do want you to think twice before proceeding with distributing this way, because this service is not free. There is also a distribution fee of x% of book price which you have to pay, regardless whether your books sold or not.
For example, let’s say the distribution fee is 5%, the book is sold at RM35 and you supplied 1000 books to the distributor. The distribution fee will be: 0.05 x 35 x 1000 = RM1750.
So if you want bookstores to carry your books, you better do your marketing and promotional activities or you’ll suffer a loss. That’s the last thing I want for you.
Getting a collaboration offer from a publishing house
For the longest time, I wanted to self-publish my fourth book myself, but the passion and motivation wore off so I cancelled it after about a year in (and pocketed ~RM5k in personal losses). It wasn’t an easy decision, but the right one.
Little did I know that the universe wanted me to be in the right headspace for an upcoming opportunity. Soon after, I got a collaboration offer from Iman Publication – a publication house I personally admire for creating and curating great content primarily for the Malay audience.
They asked if I’d like to write a personal finance book in Malay and I’m like, in Malay? I’ve never done that, I’ve mostly written in English! Polishing my Malay writing skills? Targeting a whole new target audience? Interesting, yes I’m in!
As a solopreneur and someone used to working alone, working with a professional team was a joy. Not worrying about editing and designing book covers on my own was wonderful. And unlike self-publishing (and half-and-half publishing), I didn’t have to pay anything out of pocket!
Bergaji & Pokai: Membina Kehidupan Bebas Tekanan Melalui Pengurusan Kewangan Yang Realistic will be out online from 1 November 2022 onwards, and later in bookstores. It would be swell if y’all could pick up a copy 🙂
Thanks for reading, and all the best in publishing your own books!