Back in 2011, my book 'There's Soup on My Fly!" was shortlisted for the first Hedwig Anuar Children's Book Award. I was thrilled!
Up until that point, I hadn't been nominated for anything, and the authors only found out who was shortlisted on the awards night itself. The winning author and illustrator would each receive a cash award of $5, 000.
The book that ultimately ended up winning was The Book that was Handed Down by YiXian Quek.
At that point, the award was so new that there wasn't even a design for it. So I decided to help and came with a concept design using an 'HA' monogram. Using my initial design, the Council came up with the final logo you see below.
Now, why is that? Because it has not been given any significant branding. It would have been preferable if this was considered when the award was first conceived. An award should not just be about recognizing the author's abilities but about branding the award itself and the prestige such a branded award bestows upon the winning author.
What does it matter who wins the award if no one outside the industry knows of the award's existence? By giving the authors an award with no proper follow-up plan to brand both the award or the authors makes the award pointless. It's like having an amazing story with memorable characters and a thrilling plot that lacks an ending, an ending that will never be developed.
Some might say, oh the onus is on the winning book's publisher to promote the book. No, it's not the publisher's award, it's the Book Council's. It was created by the Book Council and it was awarded by the Book Council. So by right, the Book Council should take charge of branding the award.
What the winning authors would rather have is wide recognition for their work. They want to develop their careers. And that's why authors turn to the National Book Development Council for help and support. To develop books you've got develop the writers. Let's remember that without authors, the content providers, books would just be filled with blank pages and the only thing to develop would be notebooks.
So how can the Book Council promote their Hedwig Anuar Award winners and brand the award itself? They need to be creative and open to ideas and suggestions, even if those ideas may be somewhat out of the box.
The Book Council could arrange for school visits: The authors could talk about their books etc. As some schools do not have budgets, they could disburse the award money over the course of the year, as payment for the school visits.
For example, they could arrange for five school visits during the year and each visit the author/illustrator makes, they would be paid $1000 each.
So for five school visits they would get the total of $5,000. It's the same prize money but they would be getting additional exposure and the Book Council would be branding the award as well.
Some may think this is similar to NAC's Words Go Round program. But who's to say you can't have the HABA Winners school visits as well. Look it's a small country and this is a small industry but there is room for everyone.
The authors could also make visits to children's homes, hospitals and other charities for story-telling or illustration sessions/workshops. They can even start an 'Award-Winning Authors' School Visit' series starting with the previous Hedwig Anuar Award winners. If this has not been done before, it would be nice if we start this now.
The real award should not be the award itself, but dividends that winning it brings. Pretty much like how winning an Oscar enhances the career of an actor or actress.
Now, in addition to winning cash awards, the Scholastic and Samsung winners also had their books published or developed into apps. Now that's what I mean by dividends!
When I first started writing, I did so with no help or support from anyone in the publishing industry and certainly not the Book Council. I didn't even know that there was such a thing as a Book Council and I had to learn everything the hard way, by trial and error.
Since I became aware of its existence, I thought that as an author it would be good to support the Council. I know that to their credit each and every member of staff is extremely dedicated and works very, very, very hard under the guidance of the indefatigable Mr Rama.
So over the years, I've tried to support NBDCS to the best of my ability. I attended events regularly. I believed in the Council, and I still do, and volunteered to help in different ways. I spent hours packing goodie bags for AFCC attendees, helping set up the illustrators gallery, picking up visiting authors and speakers from the airport and escorting them their hotel and running last minute-errands e.g buying disposable wine flutes for a reception, photocopying, printing items, not to mention taking loads of photos and blogging about the Council's events. I felt that if I could do my bit to help maybe it would make a difference in even the smallest things, like paying for my ticket when I was a speaker at Asian Festival of Children's Content in 2012 because I wanted to show my support.
Now AFCC is a step in the right direction. It aims to emulate the Bologna Children's Book Fair which is noble; however, Bologna is a trade fair, AFCC is not. Sure there are courses and masterclasses and retreats. All fantastic programs to develop aspiring writers, but excluding the award winners of the scholastic competitions, how many deals have actually been signed? And some publishers who have been invited to the festival repeatedly have stated that they won't consider local manuscripts! And the point of inviting them repeatedly is?
Unlike literary fiction and poetry, children's literature is still in its infancy here. And until something more is done to significantly promote growth it's likely to remain in its infancy for many, many years to come.
Going back to the Hedwig Anuar Children's Book Award, I am passionate about seeing this local award named after a local legendary librarian make a huge difference on the children's literary scene and to the careers of the authors who have actually or will win it.
And if I may suggest, perhaps the Book Council could consider looking at how Epigram Books promotes the Epigram Fiction Prize. Epigram is just one publisher with limited resources, but look at the amount of publicity they've generated for a two-year-old prize. It's their award and they know it's up to them to promote the life out of it. If they can do it, just imagine what the Book Council could do if they decided to brand their original award and the award winners in the same very way. That's just something to think about.