Article and pictures contributed by Jasmine Liu
Making a comeback after an extended layoff, we bring you this week’s Diary of an RI Intern, where we invite ex-Rafflesians to share their interning experiences. In this edition, Jasmine Liu shares her experience working under local children’s writer Adeline Foo.
When people ask me the standard “what’s your job?” question (after “what JC are you from”, of course), I find myself unable to give a definite answer. Am I an intern? A mentee? Or a marketing and research assistant? I’ve used various job titles at various introduction opportunities and yet none really encapsulates what I’ve been doing for the past five months. My boss, Adeline Foo of The Diary of Amos Lee fame, likes to tell people that I’m a friend helping her out day to day. I suppose that’s a pretty safe way of putting it. Here’s a little bit about the stuff I got to do, the ways I got to grow, and the things I got to witness.
All in a Day’s Work
Many of us have this idea of writers as people who sit in front of the word processor 50 weeks a year, churning out manuscript after manuscript. This is a myth perpetuated by the story of how J.K. Rowling toiled tirelessly in cafes to write her first Harry Potter book. Sure, there is the hardcore writing stage, but the amount of time spent there is dwarfed by the amount of time spent marketing, maintaining a fan base, sussing out opportunities for partnerships adaptations, doing talks at schools, running workshops, and the list goes on. Adeline may be a writer, but she’s also a skilled marketer, and she has an extensive background in public relations to prove it.
So what do I do? Pretty much everything Adeline’s involved in, I’m involved in too. A typical day involves waking up next to my laptop and responding to a few emails from Adeline, clients and Amos Lee fans. The rest of the morning and afternoon involves tackling a list of outstanding tasks. On a quiet day, this could be reading up online for people we could collaborate with, publicising Facebook contests, and writing pitches for the press. About once a week, Adeline and I meet to get updates from clients or attend cold calls with people who are interested in doing collaborations. Those meetings typically end with the two of us discussing what we’ve done over the past week over tea and cake, Adeline talking me through some ideas she’s having, and me trying to keep up with her train of thought.
On more exciting days, we could be holding workshops, attending launches, or meeting other authors! Peter Lerangis, an American author who has over 160 books under his belt (including some Hardy Boys and Babysitters Club titles), was in Singapore recently to launch his Seven Wonders series. After moderating a dialogue session where we learned of his exciting adventures in biochemistry at Harvard, singing on Broadway, and interviewing people in a toga at Comic Con, we brought our new New Yorker friend for some nice Ice Kachang and a fish spa session.
Through all my field trips and sitting in meetings, Adeline’s also brought me around to meet publishers, distributors, schools, bookstores, and the team behind the Asian Festival of Children’s Content. I am urged to think about how the promotion of Singaporean works is doing, and why we might not be doing some things that could propel Singaporean works into greater prominence.
Marketing: a Cross-Platform Feat
With marketing children’s books, our challenge is giving parents a reason to get their kids to meet the author. We had to publicise a month-long crossword puzzle contest cumulating in a game session and prize collection at one of our book launches to guarantee a good turn-out. It’s not enough to just trust the fans’ loyalty, when they aren’t the ones doing the driving!
Even then, book launches are only the first step. Marketing actually begins with a ‘B’ for Branding, and authors are the brand for their books. John Green and Maureen Johnson are among authors who display their prominent personalities on Youtube, and Russell Lee of True Singapore Ghost Stories keeps his mysterious appearance (literally!) under wraps. To keep the brand of Amos Lee/Adeline Foo alive, we stay on the lookout for fun things to engage fans in. In 2010, Amos Lee himself became an inSing blogger for fun things to do around Singapore. In the spirit of the recent launch of Whoopie Lee: The Big Spell Off, this year’s March holidays saw us holding a spelling workshop at art-themed gelato parlour Scoop Of Art, where we collaborated with Monsters Under The Bed, a creative writing school. SOA created a whoopie pie gelato for us, and MUTB was simply brilliant at entertaining children.
Aside from the obvious benefits of having specialists contribute to your brand, collaborations are also a form of cross marketing where you get the benefit of reaching out to the fan bases of your partners. Furthermore, we’ve explored developing merchandise with the National Heritage Board, theatre adaptations with The Learning Connection and The Esplanade, and soon we’re launching an iPhone game app with local-gaming house Lambdamu Games!
Are You A Dodo? is scheduled for release late June or July. This little project combines game storytelling, social media, and IQ exercises. It is also a prime example of promoting one product from various marketing angles. I’ve helped plan a kid’s workshop for the art of game storytelling, written press briefs for magazines and alumni newsletters, and hosted a public sharing session at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content. Next up, Adeline is looking to talk to schools about cyber wellness (which is a major theme of Amos Lee Book 3 and Adeline’s other job of raising 3 kids, so she’s a bit of an expert on that), and bringing what we learned about educational games into polytechnics. Truly, there is no single way to approach one project. I guess if there is one creativity motto I’ve picked up from my job, it is this: there are always many people and processes that go behind the making of every product, and there are opportunities to share these fascinating stories with the world if you keep your ears perked up.
The slightly unexpected thing is many of these activities we spend our time on don’t even involve showing Adeline’s books off. It’s just part of branding, keeping active as an educator, and for some part, fun!
Bringing Local Works Overseas
Singapore’s had a few names reach international prominence, including Catherine Lim, Wena Poon and Shamini Flint, but bringing works overseas is not easy! We could make it easier, however, by reaching out to platforms to cross-publicise local writing that will bring readers in larger droves while keeping under logistical and financial constraints. These possibly include partnerships with embassies, libraries, and even festivals, both local and overseas, where perhaps large volumes of a publication could be disseminated for educational purposes. We could even bring offer local literature to delegates heading to international events. A book on Singaporean food might have a shot at an international audience at the World Street Food Congress, and Singaporean picture books could do well as dramatised story telling at the Georgetown Festival, a series of art and creative events held in Malaysia.
At my first visit to the office of Adeline’s picture book publisher Ethos Books, affable publishing manager Chan Wai Han handed me a book fresh off the press, and told me to help myself to any books I’d like to bring to the States to share with my university classmates. That, she quipped, was a way to spread local literature. There are other means, if we dare to search for them. Adeline has called to my attention ways I can keep in touch with the country as a soon-to-be overseas Singaporean. The Overseas Singapore website (singaporeday.sg), Singapore.sg, and even the public service division magazine (challenge.gov.sg) are all online portals frequented by people moving into Singapore, or living abroad. Why not orientate new citizens with local anthologies, folk tales, or (for the kids) even local picture books? Why not make local works (that are often not easily available on Amazon) available to overseas Singaporean students or international schools with large Singaporean populations? I had studied at Suzhou Singapore International School at one point, and I’d have liked to have an idea of what my country was like, having been away from it for most of my childhood.
Of course, this is just part of my fairly limited (position-wise! Since I’m not an actual industry expert, but a witness) perspective and I’m sure there are many other ways of looking at the local publishing scene; it’s just not quite the main point of my article. The point I’m trying to demonstrate is that if people take on internships to gain insight to the workings of an industry, I think I’ve gained quite a bit of exposure in my half a year here, enough so that I actually kind of feel a compulsion to be a part of bringing it forward when I return from university. I hear some people get jaded after entering the working world, but I think I’m okay so far; not much faith lost in humanity or local publishing, and I’m still as eager a beaver as I was before I dived into this world.
One huge perk of being in a non-organisation is a lot of undivided attention from your mentor and free career advice! Adeline’s favourite piece of career advice is undoubtedly to “learn to think like your boss”, the skill of viewing situations from a more experienced person’s point of view. Throughout these 5 months, I’ve struggled to mentally keep abreast of things in my job. Being a writer, or even a writer’s little apprentice, involves having an acute sixth sense for new opportunities. Some days I wake up at 7am and already see an excited email because at 6am, Adeline was already up and had spotted a new bakery or writing club in the newspaper we could rope in to collaborate with.
I suppose I’ve had the chance to learn from a number of other people as well! Attending a meeting with a client without Adeline would have been a lot worse if I didn’t have the merchandise and cover designer for our new book, my talented friend Sean Cham (RJ’12), to nudge me every time I made a faux pas and talk/scold me through the yes and no’s of sales pitching. Emceeing at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content allowed me to meet a seasoned emcee from Malaysia, Ashvina, who was a part in curing my phobia of microphones in just a few announcements. At the AFCC, I’ve also been privileged to attend dialogues with plenty of industry experts who generously shared experiences on multi platform content creation, social media marketing, e-books, and a myriad of other topics. One thing is for sure, being a writer or any content creator goes beyond the creation stage, and it’s all about making an effort to orchestrate your works across different platforms and media if you want to make waves.
People sometimes tell me I miss out by not working for a formal establishment, but I think working for a non-organisation gives you a rare glimpse into the world you might otherwise not be exposed to within the confines of a specific department or position. How often can one say that in six short months of an internship, one has been able to work with an eclectic mix of publishers, government boards, game studios, parent bloggers, and writers? Writer’s assistant, researcher, marketer, or whatever position this is, I just know it’s a position I’ve been very lucky to end up in. Thank you for giving me this opportunity, Adeline!
For anyone who’s keen to work with Adeline, drop her an email at email@example.com. She’s on the look-out for a research and marketing intern for the period Dec 2013 to May/June 2014.