Becoming an author is not a typical Asian ambition – it’s usually a doctor, lawyer or an engineer. When people ask someone what they do for a living and they say author, the next thought would probably be, “How do you make money?”
Well… tell THAT to this Malaysian author who has sold over HWAANMILLEEON books!!!
In fact, Shamini Flint (the author) HAD a high-flying, typically Asian career before she started writing books. You guessed it right – she was a lawyer. Some of you would be familiar with her as the Penang-born author of the Inspector Singh Investigates novels. They are a series of crime fiction novels with the fat, sweaty, wheezing, Inspector Singh as the main character. Shamini wrote her first Inspector Singh novel in 2009 and today she has published seven of them already.
But how did Shamini go from lawyer to author of a million books? CILISOS spoke to Shamini (who now lives in Singapore) over email.
It wasn’t easy! She started out by publishing her own books
When Shamini left her ‘evil’ corporate law career behind to be a stay-at-home mom, she told her daughter Sasha a story about penguins. Sasha didn’t know what they were, and Shamini realised that Asian children needed books that reflected their own experiences. While shopping for books for her daughter, Shamini saw a huge gaping hole in the market for Southeast Asian books and decided to write her own! That’s how her first book, Sasha Visits the Botanic Gardens, was born.
“It wasn’t particularly hard, as the book in question was a factual, heavily illustrated picture book, designed to fill a niche that I discovered when trying to buy an Asian-centric book that wasn’t a folktale for my young daughter. I didn’t even think of myself as a ‘writer’ when producing the Sasha series, more an irritated mother.” – Shamini told CILISOS over email
Shamini just wanted her daughter to feel a sense of belonging in her own backyard. As a new author, she decided to publish her own books, so she started Sunbear Publishing. According to Shamini, running a publishing business is the same as any other business. You have to have a plan, capital, a product you believe in and lots of energy. At the end of the day, the reader is always right so if you don’t have the right book, nothing can save the business.
Soon, Shamini was expanding into writing children’s books with cultural and environmental themes, and finally, she thought it was time to use her adult life experience as a lawyer and citizen with a conscience to write the Inspector Singh series.
“I decided on crime as a gritty, contemporary genre that would suit my writing style. Having written the first and second Singh novel, I sent off the manuscripts in the traditional way, by post with a begging cover letter, and received three major offers within three months. Timing is everything!” – Shamini
Selling over 1 million books is no small feat for a Malaysian author
Since she began writing 12 years ago, Shamini has written more than 50 titles. In fact, the grand total of books she has sold is MORE than 1 million! If you’re curious to know how this is calculated, publishers provide the totals, along with a royalty cheque two or three times a year.
It’s a big deal when a Malaysian (or even Asian) author succeeds this fantabulously in local markets because local adult readers would rather buy bestsellers such as Dan Brown books, in Shamini’s experience. Selling local children’s books on the other hand is a cinch!
“Children’s books usually do the best for most bookstores. While parents are more willing to spend on their children, the young ones are also more willing to give new and unknown authors ‘a chance’.” – Spokesperson from MPH Singapore, AsiaOne
But now that Shamini’s name is out there, she no longer has to publish her own books. Inspector Singh has been taken on by international publishers – Little Brown, Macmillan, Hachette etc. and in half a dozen different languages including French and German. The children’s novels – especially the Diary series and Ten – have been published by Allen & Unwin, Scholastic, Puffin and soon, Houghton Mifflin in the US, and in translations too.
Well, if you have a good book, why wouldn’t global publishers come scrambling to buy the rights, right? 😉
So you wanna become a femes author too? Here’s Shamini’s piece of advice…
Research is an integral part of writing. She spends months reading fiction and non-fiction, speaking to experts and travelling for any novel that she writes. It is really just not possible to write a compelling novel, unless an author has a firm grasp of the sociological, political and legal backdrop to the novel, Shamini believes. All her hard work has paid off – just look at her reviews on GoodReads:
And people love the character Inspector Singh himself! The Guardian’s review said that it was “impossible not to warm to the portly, sweating, dishevelled, wheezing Inspector Singh.” How does an author create a character that people can like?
“Well, as a lawyer, I assure you that he is a composite character who bears no resemblance to any person or persons living or dead!” – Shamini
BUTTT, Shamini told The Star once that he is in part the lawyers she’s known, family members, and even strangers who have left an impression on her. In fact, she has also started noticing her own personalities in Inspector Singh. In short, she has made him very REAL. People all around can inspire us to create believable and likable characters in books!
Living the life of an author may seem glamorous, but Shamini truthfully tells us that it’s difficult being from these parts because there isn’t a broad reading culture in our societies. Additionally, international publishers are skeptical that a Southeast Asian writer would have a story that would interest a broader audience. However, there are enough success stories to suggest that talent, hard work and luck might still produce a runaway bestseller.
“It’s almost impossible to make a living from being an author unless you have a genuine worldwide breakout bestseller or multiple series that sell steadily across multiple jurisdictions. The point that is worth bearing in mind is that no writer writes with a paycheck in mind. We write because we have a story to tell.” – Shamini
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