Self Publishing & the Young Adult Market: An Interview with Joyce Chng

by Liang Ai Ting Aileen, Victoria Junior College

When talking about SingLit, one would most likely recall Alfian Bin Sa’at’s ‘‘The Merlion’, or Edwin Thumboo’s ‘Ulysses by Merlion’; local poetry is often the most highlighted genre of literature to most Singaporeans. Yet, few are aware of the hidden YA gems that are already making waves on an international platform, but have yet to truly appeal to the local audience. What then are the unarticulated struggles of a YA fiction writer?

Joyce Chng features most predominantly in the science-fiction category, with works included in The Apex Book of World SF II, We See A Different Frontier, and has even written a trilogy about a desert planet and a fantasy duology set in Qing China. She co-edited a Southeast Asian steampunk anthology, THE SEA IS OURS: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia. Beyond breaking common stereotypes within and across book genres, she is a hybrid author, who both self-publishes and submits her work to publishing houses. Having had 10 years of experience, she has gradually branched out to overseas markets, and now spreads her own fantasy-like wings against the restraints of being a struggling writer hailing from the Little Red Dot.

The greatest accomplishments are set off from humble beginnings, and she was no exception. Citing her formative years as the prime time for the ignition of her passion, she was most intrigued by the prospect of creating new worlds, and this innate curiosity is still what drives her love for writing.

Though writing and producing content is one challenge, another lies in the publishing process. Joyce shared about the harsh realities of the book industry, most notably the emphasis on constant rejection and changes -- and urged writers to mentally prepare themselves for the battlefield. Though SingLit has indeed come a long way, the competition against the rich history of Western literary markets is enough to drive the impostor syndrome. With her works reaching out to an increasingly expanding audience, the ‘tiny fleas’ have to pit themselves against richer Western literary scenes, and insecurities can often strike. In spite of the setbacks she has faced, her echoed mantra is still a positive one --  “Have friends around you, be brave, have faith in yourself, work hard. “

Beyond painting fantasies through words, writing involves the deconstruction of social convention in reality too. Finding pleasure in ‘dinosaurs’ from a young age, Joyce makes her foray into a traditionally male-dominant arena -- science-fiction. Beyond the call for writers, there is a beckoning for more equal representation of the different voices of society, in the various forms literature has to offer.

Writers in Singapore have not declined in numbers; the translation of thoughts to printed words is a more common phenomenon than expected. Yet, the buzz around SingLit is still barely audible, and the struggles still largely unheard. As Singaporeans flourish and sound their voices in distant corners of the earth, they must also remember the struggles and beginnings shared, and ultmately -- to ‘be happy in whatever you do’.