Cartoons Underground speaks to Don Bosco, the founder of Super Cool Books, and a talented writer who has established himself in Singapore’s literary circles.
Filled with insight and expertise, Don shares about his business, as well as his observations about Singapore’s literary industry.
May we know a more about how you started your career?
Thank you for your kind and generous introduction! To be honest, I don’t think I can call my writing experience a “career”. Seems like a career is when you have a plan, and you work within a system, and there’s an institution that rewards you for your contribution. Whatever I’ve done as a writer is pretty much the opposite of all this.
I started out writing articles for magazines. And then I created content for websites. And then I wrote corporate and education books. And then I wrote TV shows and screenplays. And then, in this current chapter of my life so far, I got into writing books for children (and more recently for teens too) because I became a parent and it was a nice way to connect with my family. There wasn’t any system that held it all together and carried me along, just my own different interests and openings along the way. And lots of nice people, of course, who guided me and taught me stuff.
These past few years I’ve had to create a publishing studio called Super Cool Books to produce and market my books, and I oversee design, supervise technology development, hire the social media team, etc. All of this so that my books will have a chance to reflect my creative vision more fully, and also to help me reach more readers. So, in short, create cool stuff, keep doing it long enough and good enough to make a difference, and just do whatever it takes to reach the next milestone.
Be entrepreneurial. It was only in 2015, at the end of the year, when my Lion City Adventures book won the Popular Readers’ Choice Award in the English (Children) Category that I realised I should take my current path much more seriously. And so this year I expanded Super Cool Books by launching new titles with two other co-authors, and launching our first Young Adult paperback (Magicienne, co-authored by Ning Cai AKA Ning the Magic Babe), and also creating a guide book for fellow writers who want to specialize in developing their own stories (Imagine All This: How To Write Your Own Stories). So I think my real journey is only just starting at this point.
Are you inspired to write for a specific genre, or do your stories encompass multiple themes?
I like survivor stories. Narratives about someone decent who survived a nasty experience. It can be a war, or a bad day at work, or even a romantic experience that went wrong. I find it really satisfying to explore the ways that a character might develop the emotional strength to go beyond her limitations and fears, as well as the maturity to turn away from the illusions of life.
These stories can come in any form or format, but mostly I like writing thrillers and mysteries. I like to play with the passing of time, the turning of history, the unfolding of actions across generations. In my Sherlock Hong Adventures series, for example, there are families that are still feuding after many generations. This gives the characters a sense of identity, but also traps the characters in a certain destiny.
Congratulations on the release of ‘Imagine All This’! May you please describe how you’ve managed to get your books into Singapore’s major bookstores?
How it works is that there are two categories of bookstores. The big chains mostly take books from established distributors. So if you want to get your books in the big retail outlets, you’ll need to get a distribution agreement with one of the few distributors in Singapore.
If you’re self-publishing your books, you can approach the distributors and they may or may not agree to represent your titles, I think it really helps if they feel that your books are part of a current trend and so might sell quite quickly. The smaller bookstores might agree to sell your books for you directly, so you won’t need a distributor.
For Super Cool Books, we started out in 2011 with the Time Talisman series, which was published by Select Books as ebooks, and by coincidence they also have a distribution arm. So this was helpful when we moved on to publish our own paperbacks, and they’re still our distributors today and bookstores contact them if they want our titles.
For the books that we publish with Marshall Cavendish, which is a big international publisher, they have their own distribution arrangements, and thanks to them our books are in the bookstores as well as online bookstores like Amazon and Book Depository and many more.
Some of your previous work, such as the Sherlock Hong Adventures Series, are also carried by Popular and Kinokuniya.
What were the challenges of getting these earlier titles into bookstores, and how did you overcome them?
Always, the biggest challenge is to coordinate your distribution and your marketing. Basically the distribution side has to make sure the books appear in the bookstores, and the marketing side has to make sure your fans or readers turn up in the bookstores to buy the books.
If this isn’t coordinated right, which means if the readers turn up but the books are not there, or the books turn up but the readers haven’t been informed yet, then you won’t be selling any books. And you often have a very small window to do this, because the bookstores always have more and more new books coming in that they need to sell.
One way around this is to try selling online. When Super Cool Books started out, I would receive many orders, sometimes by email or even WhatsApp, and we would pack the books and have them delivered. This takes a lot of time, but you’re able to create a nice connection with your readers. That’s important. These days there are a lot of online stores that carry our titles, so when someone says they can’t find my books in the stores, I send them a link or two and that takes care of it. It’s more convenient, but I do miss the interaction.
You mentioned publishing books with Marshall Cavendish. Based on our experience, co-productions normally happen in film/animation more than they do in publishing.
How do publishing companies engage in co-publishing ventures?
The film and animation industries are quite new, compared to the book publishing industry. They’re good at using the media to create a buzz around everything that happens. So you hear a lot about how a project is put together, how a deal is developed, how much projects earn, and so on. You hear a lot about their collaborations and co-productions because that’s one way to create publicity. But book publishing is a lot more traditional, more discrete, more reserved.
Some people have even called it secretive. Not that it is, but it started back when business wasn’t something you talked about in conversations, or announced and bragged about. It’s still based on some old ways of approaching business relationships. If you look at the books that are produced today, you might be surprised at the level of co-productions. It’s everywhere. All the movie tie-ins, the bestseller translations, the different story franchises, celebrity books, and even business books.
There’s no one fixed model. Everything’s possible, as long as it makes sense and the readers are keen to support the projects. And most of it is not even called co-publishing. It’s just publishing. It’s about getting something exciting packaged in a book and then delivering this to people who are enthusiastic about owning it.
Marshall Cavendish is a large international publisher. How did you protect your rights?
You need to have all your paperwork, of course. Contracts and payment details and proof of ownership and stuff. But more important than that, I’d say it’s really the same way you’d protect your own rights as a human being. Be sensible, respect other people’s rights, and try and see that everybody else involved continues to benefit from your work.
If you’d like to know more about Don Bosco’s work, you’d be interested in his newest book ‘Imagine All This: How to write your own stories’ (Marshall Cavendish).
‘Imagine All This’ is a fun and inspiring guide to help you use your imagination in clever ways and turn your ideas into a great story experience. All the basics of writing fiction are covered: how to create captivating characters, how to build rich worlds, how to plan and plot, how to write scenes and more.
Follow this link to purchase the book.