Hello from the other side
Snapped during the Making Kin with Katong poetry walking tour
I’m Cassandra, the new editor at Ethos Books, and your fellow consumer of these thoughtful letters.
I hold these updates in high regard, so it’s a little daunting to think that my words will be arriving under their banner this week.
But at the same time, it’s not lost on me that I’m now on “the other side”; deep undercover, I can bring you a report about a world that not too long ago, I longed to peer into.
Perhaps like you, I clicked on the link to “Subscribe” because I was curious about what goes on behind the scenes of a publishing house.
Up to that point, my understanding had been shaped by shows like K-drama Romance is a Bonus Book and Rachel McAdams’ character in About Time (“You read for a living?”) They painted a somewhat glamorous, idyllic but not challenge-free industry.
Through these letters, I peeked at the inner lives of those who keep an independent publishing house ticking. Elegantly worded, dreamily ruminative, they seemed to perceive literary potential in well-nigh everything! I came away from reading each missive feeling a little smarter.
However, it wasn't until I stepped into the office and put on the hat of a literary editor, that I began to grasp something of the work’s essence.
In my former professional lives, I’ve experienced the hecticness of a news cycle, the frantic bursts of publicity campaigns, and the grind of churning out articles for an insatiable search engine algorithm.
As book publishing generally operates with longer timelines, I wondered about the rhythm of day-to-day work. Did the intensity come in spurts each time a book was launched? What happened in between?
What I found was a steady but urgent hum. Activity ran in quiet constancy: reviewing submissions, guiding manuscripts, checking in with authors. I found space for incubation which left room for the vagaries of life and inspiration, while earnestly seeking a way forward.
The voices sought were different from what a news organisation or corporation would emphasise. The more personal, the more singular and distinctive, the better; the lesser heard, the more it was welcomed.
And I found that selling books was hard. No matter how wonderful the product birthed, it still had to compete with hundreds of cries for attention, many from sources more quickly and conveniently consumed. Releasing a book requires author, manuscript, publishing vision, and readers’ awareness and appetites, to serendipitously coincide. Sometimes it happens, sometimes not.
All the while, a publishing house remains a business, with a vital need to consider the bottom line—easily precarious in a small outfit such as this.
One thing I’ve found that has absolutely held true to the letters: the people who run this place are as attentive and passionate as their writing would have you believe.
Seeding, nurturing to fruit, and sharing voices and ideas that help us meaningfully engage with living in Singapore and as humans, is a long-drawn, intentional, sometimes brutal, task. I’m privileged to be tending the garden at Ethos Books.
And I look forward to hearing from you, maybe working with you, and remaining always, your “source on the inside”—taking part in the process while never losing an onlooker’s wonder.
All my best,
To receive more thoughtfully-penned weekly letters freshly delivered to your mailbox, subscribe to Attunement here: bit.ly/ethosletters