KUALA LUMPUR, May 15 — Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ll know that chick lit is a hot seller in most bookshops. Writers such as Sophie Kinsella and Helen Fielding are superstars in this world.
In Malaysia, one publishing house — KarnaDya Solutions Sdn Bhd — has decided to ride the wave of the genre’s popularity by coming out with Bahasa Malaysia-translated versions, and has already sold 11,000 copies last year since its launch in April 21, 2009.
What’s more, KarnaDya Solutions trainer and programme co-ordinator Faiz Al-Shahab estimates that as many as 17,000 copies have already been sold till March this year, spread across 12 titles. Sales figures from the others in the 24-title collection are still unknown as they were only released this year.
“The Malay chick-lit market is a market we need to develop,” said Faiz.
KarnaDya Solutions works with international romance publisher, Harlequin Enterprises, to translate the latter’s chick-lit books categorised under its Red Dress Ink banner.
Faiz added that an average of 2,500 copies per Red Dress Ink title were sold since the launch in April last year. By industry standards, however, those numbers could still fare better.
According to MPH advertising and promotion manager Susana Lee, a Malay novel title needs to sell at least 4,800 copies a year before it can be termed a bestseller.
Another important measure is how the local versions perform against the originals. In comparison to foreign chick-lit sales, Malay chick-lit still has a long way to go.
“We sold about 150 to 200 copies per (Red Dress Ink) title,” said MPH senior operations manager Zaffri Hassan. Meanwhile, foreign chick lit writers like Sophie Kinsella, author of the famous Shopaholic series, netted about 1,100 copies per title.
Although Malay chick lit sales may appear to be poor in MPH, others such as Kinokuniya, the largest bookstore in Malaysia, have fared better.
Kinokuniya retail executive Amiliza Jusoh said that many of the Red Dress Ink titles have sold out. Some titles sold about 15 out of the 20 copies that KarnaDya Solutions supplied for each title.
To help spur sales, the Red Dress Ink books are placed prominently close to the entrance of the Kinokuniya bookstore, near the magazine section. Amiliza said this is because the typical readers of the quirkily-designed Red Dress Ink books are mostly secondary school and college students who also love to browse magazines.
For now, KarnaDya Solutions is the only publisher in Malaysia to have released Malay chick-lit. Calls to local publishers MPH Group Publishing and Karangkraf Group revealed that neither currently publishes Malay language chick-lit.
Although Karangkraf general manager Sharah Ibrahim said they did not specifically have a chick-lit category, she pointed out that its subsidiary publishing companies like Buku Prima Sdn Bhd and Alaf 21 Sdn Bhd have about 20 titles in their teen category that could be considered chick-lit.
It appears, then, that KarnaDya Solutions are sailing alone in uncharted waters. The brave foray into Malay chick-lit, according to Faiz, was because there was a pressing gap in the Bahasa Malaysia book market for secondary school and college students.
“We saw that our range is limited… people who are still in school only read textbooks, literature, and romance. So, those who didn’t want to read romance had nothing to read,” explained Faiz.
He added that romance novels which dominate the Malay book market are mostly read by women above 35 years of age.
Furthermore, said Faiz (left), the Malay chick-lit he carries was worlds apart from the typically soppy Malay romance novels. The Red Dress Ink titles are a form of escapism, he added.
“They are completely different from your real life. Something too good to be true. People live happily ever after. The heroine is gorgeous and the hero handsome,” said Faiz, smiling. “That kind of stuff sells.”
He explained that as Red Dress Ink books are translations of books written by American and Australian authors, the main characters are foreign women in their 20s and 30s who are mostly working professionals. The settings of the stories are usually located in the United States, although some books venture further to locales in Italy, Greece and France. In addition, the stories chronicle women’s dilemmas in life, instead of centring on love as in most Malay romance novels.
In contrast, Amiliza said the chick-lit books in Karangkraf’s teen category are written by local authors and revolve around secondary and college students in Malaysia who face typical dilemmas like secret admirers and more.
The only difference between the Bahasa Malaysia-translated Red Dress Ink books and their original English versions is the absence of explicit sex scenes and alcoholic consumption commonly found in foreign chick lit, said Faiz. Specific alcoholic beverages are not mentioned while the sex bits are just hinted at in the stories.
“In Malay society, lots of things are taboo,” Faiz explained. “When we produce products, we have to be sensitive.”
Sharifah Laila Hana, a 23-year-old IT student and avid fan of Red Dress Ink books, said, “I love reading those books… it’s so much fun reading them! It is like watching a western movie but in Malay.”
Another, 21-year-old Afiqah Abdul Rashid, said she loves reading Red Dress Ink books like Bukan Cinta Glamour because the ideas in the book are different from those written by local writers, which makes it interesting to read.
“The plot is interesting. Since the author is from overseas, the way she thinks is quite different,” said Afiqah, who she purchased Bukan Cinta Glamour right after a talk by its American author, Laura Caldwell, at the recent Kuala Lumpur International Bookfair 2010.
Sharifah summed up the difference between Malay chick lit and Malay romance novels thus, “The (Malay chick-lit) writer’s delivery is more direct, compared to the usual Malay novels. The stories I read differ from each other and are full of suspense. Although some are like love stories, we still want to know what is going to happen next.”