ABDVol.32 No.3

An Editor's Work in Thailand
Porn-anong Niyomka

The Background

 "Learning by Doing" is how editors in Thailand acquire their knowledge for their career. Although publishing and printing started in this country nearly 200 years ago, there has been no school nor any training course where one can learn about book editing. The Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand (PUBAT) had sponsored a study team led by Chintana Bhaigasuyee to compile a book titled Style Manual for Thai editors which took 4 years to finish. The Style Manual was first published by PUBAT in the year 2000. It was our first bible for editors.
  However, Style Manual is just a handbook for copy editors, whose work is to edit manuscripts for printing. After 7 years as an editor of children's books and translated books, I realized that editors have many more other jobs than copyediting.

The Start

 My story started in August 1993. I was then enjoying my work as a freelance interpreter and translator. A staff member of the Amarin Printing and Publishing Public Co., Ltd. called and offered me a job as the interpreter for a very important lecture on children's book publishing. The President of Amarin, Chukiat Utakapan, invited Tadashi Matsui of Fukuinkan Shoten, Publishers, Inc. to give the lecture for Amarin's staff and interested people. Chukiat Utakapan had been interested in children's book publishing since he attended Asia/Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO (ACCU)'s workshop some 20 years ago. He became acquainted with Masako Sakurada who worked as an interpreter for ACCU's workshop. She introduced him to various Japanese publishers and printers including Fukuinkan.
  I was so impressed by Tadashi Matsui's lecture that I decided to join Amarin in their children's book publishing. I thought it was very easy work translating a few sentences per page of imported children's books.
  My work as the editor of Amarin Children's Books (Preaw Puan Dek) started in January 1994. I could have been called a know-nothing editor. It was the first time in my life to see a publishing house and printing machines. What I had as an asset was just my experience as a mother who read picture books to my children when they were toddlers.
  Fortunately, I had a very good team of an experienced editor and two author-illustrators who were also storytellers. They were the true strength of our editorial department. Moreover, Fukuinkan extended its full support and advice for our children's book production.

The First Book Fair

 Every year at the end of March until the beginning of April, The National Book Fair will be organized as a big event for the Thai publishers and the public.
  In March 1994, we had not yet published a single children's book but we decided to set up a booth at the National Book Fair in order to publicize our coming works. We put on an exhibition of foreign children's books of which we planned to acquire copyrights for the Thai edition. Moreover, we published a small booklet, Parent's Handbook for Children's Reading Habit Cultivation, translated from Tadashi Matsui's lecture and distributed them free to interested people who registered their names as our members.

The First Picture Book

 We were advised by Tadashi Matsui that we should start by producing the Thai edition of world famous picture books and learn from them. He gave us the list of the top 20 children's books of the world to consider. We went to the Bologna Children's Book Fair in April and contacted those publishers for copyrights. We could get some but many foreign publishers were not interested in dealing with us, since Amarin was not known at that time.
  Our first picture book, the Thai edition of The Lion and the Rat by Brian Wildsmith (Oxford University Press) came out on 14 May 1994. It was our greatest joy that H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn visited Amarin Printing House on that very day.
  Most of our first batch of children's picture books were translated books such as The Little Bear series by Shigeo Watanabe (Fukuinkan), La Fontaine series by Brian Wildsmith (Oxford University Press), Play with Me by Marie Hall Ets (The Viking Press). We also tried to produce our original Thai picture books like Ileng Keng Kong by Cheewan Wisasa, and Mr. Porcupine Seeks Shelter from the Rain by Preeda Panyachand, our editorial colleagues.
  We encountered many difficulties due to our inexperience but we were so happy editing all those works that were filled with laughter. Cheewan Wisasa had to draw nearly 10 versions of Ileng Keng Kong before we finally decided to use the first version following Tadashi Matsui's judgement! Some of our Thai creations were strongly rejected by him. We were so discouraged not knowing which direction to go on. Nevertheless, we learned little by little through the publication of international books.

The Shock

 Amarin started its own chain of bookstores Nai-in in 1994. Our beautiful picture books were displayed nicely to attract attention with staff to encourage buyers. After a few weeks, we received a shocked report that our picture books could not be sold even in our own bookshops! The reasons were "Too expensive!", "Too few words for children to learn", "Not colourful!", "Why foreign books?", etc.
  We were so upset since we had tried our best to produce the best books for the public. Amarin's President, Chukiat Utakapan said "We are doing a very tough job because we have to educate parents and teachers before we can sell our children's books."

Reading Promotion Activities in Kindergartens and Schools

 Preeda Panyachand and Cheewan Wisasa, two of our editorial team, had very good connections with schools and kindergartens from their previous jobs. We planned to do storytelling and book-reading in schools and kindergartens twice a week. We expected that they would buy our books when they saw how children love picture books. Moreover, we could test our new stories with children to ensure that our works would be well received by the target group.
  We also arranged family camps for parents and children to convince the public how important it was to read books to young children. We invited media people to make programmes from our storytelling, book reading, and arts camp activities. Thai parents and teachers began to know our picture books through television and radio programmes, magazines and newspapers.
  Seminars for teachers such as Storytelling Techniques, Arts for Kindergartens were set up to get teachers familiar with our picture books and show them how to utilize them.
  Our editorial team had to do all these extra activities without using any budget to keep the cost of the Children's Book Department as lowest as possible because we could hardly sell our books. As the chief editor, I knew that it was the only way to keep our work going.
  At first, our editorial team packed the picture books and booklets in our own cars when we visited kindergartens for storytelling, marketing and sale activities.
  Later on, Amarin built a mobile unit by modifying pick-up trucks, fixing them up with bookshelves for book exhibition and sales. The mobile book unit would follow our editorial team when we had extra activities at kindergartens, schools or hotels, to exhibit and sell books. However, the total cost of a mobile unit's visit was usually higher than the profit we would earn from books sold each time. The maintenance cost was also too high to keep the unit. Eventually, all the modified trucks were used mainly for book transportation.

Production's Difficulties

 While we were busy with book promotion for our survival; our main work of children's book production also faced many difficulties due to our inexperience of both publishing and printing picture books, which require utmost care in every stage of production. We did not have even the knowledge of how the copyrights were dealt with. We bought too many booksユ copyrights at a time without thinking of our production capability. We were very innocent to think that our terms of contract would start from the date of publication! Thus, some of the books were left untouched until the permission expired. It was Masako Sakurada who helped negotiate with Japanese publishers to extend our contracts.
  The Account Department told us that we should produce 60 books per year to cover the cost of the Children's Book Department. I rejected the idea. The number was 6 times over our real capability. Moreover, it would be disastrous if you produced too many books when you could not sell them. The only way out was to keep the expenditure as low as possible.
  We were at the stage of "learning by doing" and planned for merely 10 to 12 titles per year. Two-thirds of the titles were of foreign origin. Because it took a very long time to create a picture book, we expected only 2-3 titles per year of Thai origin. Manuscripts from outsiders were always welcomed but all of them were turned down because they were mostly preaching stories. We would have to wait for years to get good manuscripts, until the public understood how the children's books should be, from experience through the international books we published.

The Economic Crisis

 We had published around 50 titles when Thailand was hard hit by the economic crisis in mid-1997. In 1998, Amarin sadly folded up two of the magazines to reduce costs. The Children's Book Department was the only one left running, at a deficit.
  Although the sale of children's books was picking up constantly and our editorial staff became well-known among parents and teachers due to our continuous activities, the economic situation was too serious. Finally, it was decided in 1999 that only Rapeephan Pattanavech, our youngest staff-member, would stay with Amarin. The other three would work freelance to keep the Department going on.

The Present

 At present, Amarin Children's Book Department has published more than 70 titles. Most of them have been reprinted several times. The Thai market for children's books has shown signs of a much brighter future. Parents and teachers have realized how important it is to share books happily with children.
  Preeda Panyachand, Cheewan Wisasa and myself have set up Waddaw Publisher, producing cheaper picture books for children since 1999 while working as freelance editors for Amarin.

Porn-anong Niyomka
Born 1950 in Petchburi, Thailand. After graduating from Faculty of Political Sciences, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand, and School of Economics, Hitotsubashi University, Japan, she has worked as interpreter, translator and editor at press and publishing companies and translated many books. She is now Vice-President, International Affairs, the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand (PUBAT) and Secretary General, Books for Children Foundation (ThaiBBY).

Porn-anong Niyomka
Publisher, 158/147 Baan Pathumwan, Phyathai Road, Rajthevi, Bangkok 10400, Thailand, fax: (66) 2 612 0184,
e-mail: panongs@hotmail.com