Malaysia’s Rich Publishing Culture is Waiting to Be Discovered

In Frankfurt 2011 by Amanda DeMarco

The country offers a diverse range of publications, from gorgeous cookbooks and cutting-edge education titles to literary and Islamic texts.

By Amanda DeMarco

This article is brought to you by the National Book Council of Malaysia.

Malaysian publishing is flourishing, and it’s poised to expand its presence internationally. The industry receives broad support from the Malaysian government, particularly the Ministry of Education. For example, under its supervision, the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) or the Institute of Language and Literature acts as the nation’s language and literary development agency. Publishing official dictionaries along with both fiction and non-fiction, DBP is highlighting the works of Sasterawan Negara or National Laureates—writers honored for their contributions to Malaysian literature—and winners of the Southeast Asian Writers Award at Frankfurt.

The Malaysian National Institute of Translation, which provides translation services in a number of languages, has recently seen a large increase in demand. Its publications surged from under 10 titles annually prior to 2006 to 82 titles in 2007, with continuous growth ever since. It has translated the works of National Laureates such as A Samad Said, Keris Mas and Usman Awang, to name but a few, into other languages including English, Chinese, French, German and Korean. At Frankfurt, it continues its work toward internationalizing Malaysian literature and improving its sustainability.

Educational books for children are a great strength of Malaysian publishing, with organizations like Al Ameen Serve Holdings providing innovative children’s books, such as the popular I Can Read series. Sheikh Faisal Sheikh Mansor’s company Shakespot also has its greatest success with educational materials: the Learning Mathematics with the Abacus series (of which he’s also the author) has been translated into Turkish, with publishing rights sold to India, the US, Canada, and South Africa. Shakespot thinks outside the book for their products: “The content we produce may not necessarily end up as a book, it may be web-based, or multimedia content as an app.”

Innovation in Malaysia isn’t just technological; literary agents are another new feature. A leader in the agenting community in Malaysia, the Yusof Gajah Lingard Literary Agency has been appointed to represent the “50 Best Malaysian Titles for International Rights 2011” catalog. They also represent foreign publishers Kogan Page (UK) and Glénat (France), and work with foreign sub-agents.

Director Linda Lingard says Malaysian publishers are not only “keen to expand overseas, they are also looking to expand their list by buying rights, especially with the government’s call to increase the number of titles published annually from 16,000 to 26,000. Children’s educational titles and self-help titles are popular.”

Arief Hakim Sani Rahmat, Managing Director of PTS Publications, emphasizes translations can “cater to the demand of the growing middle class in Malaysia.” PTS is interested in rights to a broad range of titles, from business to parenting to fiction.  

Malaysia’s multi-racial population has resulted in a varied and rich culinary tradition. PTS’s Malaysian cookbooks series, which has sold over 50,000 copies, is a real highlight. Another publisher, Karangkraf, is also confident its traditional Malaysian cookbooks will interest European and American publishers.

Malaysia’s Islamic publishing tradition is also not to be overlooked. Karangkraf provides a large amount of Islamic content for the Arabic-speaking market, with popular titles focusing on, among other things, fashion for hijab styles. SABA Islamic Media offers a broad range of materials, especially in English, under the motto “Your Spiritual Wellbeing . . . our business.” PTS, too, says one of its key titles for the fair is by doctor and Islamic scholar Danial Zainal Abidin, who discusses Islam from a scientific perspective.

A diverse culture with dynamic literary, culinary and theological traditions, Malaysia’s rich publishing heritage is just waiting to be discovered.

About the Author

Amanda DeMarco

Amanda DeMarco is a freelance writer and translator living in Berlin. Originally from Chicago, her work for Publishing Perspectives focuses on German-language publishing news.