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YRC 24: PROFESSIONS (Publisher)

Lim Li Kok
Publisher, Asiapac Books
Interview by Natalya Thangamany

If any of you are familiar with comic titles such as Gateway to Chinese Culture, Gateway to Peranakan Culture, Stories of Compassion, Top Friendship Tips and Origins of Chinese Festivals, then you have read some of the works produced by locally renowned publishing house Asiapac. Having celebrated its 30th anniversary back in 2013, Asiapac was set up by its managing director Ms Lim Li Kok in 1983 with the goal to educate readers about Asian culture. Since its beginning, it has released numerous comic titles that have been enjoyed by readers of all ages. YRC speaks to the woman behind Asiapac, Ms Lim Li Kok, and discovers that behind the hands that work hard at publishing is a veteran well-wizened and experienced in life.

The Veteran of Books
Ms Lim, who turns 60 this year, was raised in a school, literally. “I grew up in a school,” she shared. “My father used to run a village school. I grew up in that village school and there was a small library where I will read all the time. This was in the 1950s, after the war. After the war, my father set up the school. My mother and aunt were teachers there. Later, my dad went into business and politics. The school was my house, and I always loved to read. I thought that I was going to write, do research and teach one day.” She added with a chuckle, “When I was in Primary Six, I wrote down that I specifically wanted to be a writer and bring happiness to people. Not just any kind of writer, but a motivational writer.”

Although she had a love for books and reading, publishing was not Ms Lim’s life ambition; writing was what she wanted to pursue. “I later became a book seller, before I became a publisher in 1983,” she shared. “I did not write a lot as I became unsure about what to write.” It was in her university years, while still pursuing her ambition to be a writer, that her life slowly changed course. “When I was in university, I started to realise that I did not have much experience and have nothing to write. That’s why I decided to join some activities and then my life slowly changed.”

Her bookselling ventures started after she left university, when she opened a bookshop with some friends. It was during those years Ms Lim realised that there were not enough books to educate and inform the public more about Asian culture. “After a few years of selling books, I started to feel a cultural imbalance between East and West in the books. We were reading a lot of books from the West, but hardly any books from the East and about Eastern culture. It was then I had this intention to set up books about Asian culture in my sixth year of bookselling.”

That led her to open Asiapac Books in 1983 and on the publishing path. The first book published was a comic entitled Only A While The Mountain Sleeps, which was revised and renamed to Labour Pains. “Since I have this objective to inform more on Asian culture, I have this focus. Any publisher needs to have an objective because a publisher is more than an occupation – you must have your own objective and your own characteristic.” Most of Asiapac’s books are in comic format, as Ms Lim found out that due to its graphic format, comics can make information easier to understand and thus more accessible to the public, especially to young readers.

Ms Lim’s criteria for a book to be published under Asiapac were honed from globetrotting and exploring the works of others. “After my bookselling, I traveled and collected a lot of catalogues, which I still keep here. I studied those catalogues and see what other people publish and how they put the books in different categories.” Her learning experience helped her to understand more about how a publisher thinks and what sort of books publishing houses deal with. “When you are a publisher, you need to have your own publishing programme,” she shared. “You have to define yourself and find the right writers for yourself. You set certain criteria for what you want to publish.”

She emphasizes that the difference between publishing and printing is that while printers own the necessary hardware, such as a printer, ink and software, to print out materials, publishers have the responsibility to see which writing is eligible to go into print, how to package a writer’s work and how to sell it to the public.

The Veteran of Life
Ms Lim firmly believes in publishing what one reads or should read, which is why she aspires to publish books that educate and inspire readers. She herself enjoys reading philosophical books, such as Nick Vuljic’s works and I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, and has learned many life lessons from them. During her publishing journey, she has picked up a few things about life. What she enjoys about publishing is the sense of fulfillment and achievement. “The greatest satisfaction is the day you conceptualize the idea, go through the process of writing, illustration and layout and then the book finally comes out. Then later, if the book sells and you make money from it, it is a great bonus.” However, she also warned about challenges such as negative remarks, mistakes in the content and the text, and the inability to check for mistakes.

During her publishing journey, Ms Lim also learnt about how important publishing is for people and how it can impact lives. “Being a publisher, I get to know other publishers in the world and make friends. I now know why publishing is such an important job, because what we publish influences people’s minds, so we carry a social responsibility. And I live long, so that I will know what is going on in the world. Everyday, I read the newspaper and keep the editorial pages. I read and I make sure I have the right perspective. As a publisher, I need to learn more.”

Ms Lim also pointed out that a challenge publishers face is dealing with the rise of electronic books (e-books) and how to keep up with a changing market. “As electronic books are becoming popular and with the iPad and Kindle, more people are reading online. It gives new opportunity but its also causes problems, especially for traditional books. If your market for traditional books is in Singapore, you can only sell your book locally. Then you find out that your sales will drop because people are reading online in a cheaper and faster way. People can just press a button and they have the book already, so they don’t have to wait for the book to come out in print. But at the same time, it is easier for us to globalize as one can buy your book from anywhere in the world. Of course, we need to make our books accessible and work harder to be heard of in the global market.”

Ms Lim advises those who aspire to be publishers to be different, discerning, dynamic, creative and mindful of what people want and need to read. “Once you want to be a publisher, you have to define what kind of publisher you want to be. You cannot be just ordinary; you have to be very good at what you do. As publishers, we have to build ideas and be practical with them. You have to calculate and see if it will justify the publishing.”

While her path had taken some detours throughout her life, Ms Lim is happy with what she is doing and relieved that she could still bring happiness and education to the public no matter her vocation.

Thursday,13 March 2014 by | Blog |