Publishing in Indonesia: Tips from Sarita Newson

I had a chat with Sarita Newson last year about the latest children’s book she is publishing. With more than 30 years of experience in publishing in Indonesia through her company Saritaksu Editions, Sarita Newson is a wealth of interesting stories and useful information. This is part of our conversation.

How did you begin publishing children’s books?Sarita Newson

We did one way back with an Australian friend of mine Adrian Clynes who is a linguist – his thesis was on the language of Bali. He put together some of the stories that the old people used to tell. We were concerned they were getting lost as the oral tradition petered out with the arrival of TV. That book was called Grandfather’s TalesKakek Bali Bercerita. We sort of self-published it. There wasn’t any proper distribution in those days but Bali is small enough you can spread them about. It was very popular.

At that time, the early eighties, there were very few books for children in bookstores. You could only get Majala Bobo. There weren’t any of the lovely colourful picture books in Indonesian in those days. Now there are some wonderful comic books and picture books.

Tell us about your latest book Rajawali and the Children: Making the lake clean

It is the third book in the Clean Bali series of books written by Maggie Dunkle and illustrated by Margiyono. [Maggie Dunkle was a librarian and author who moved from Australia to Bali late in life and passed away in 2012.]

The book is trying to point out the wisdom of nature. How the birds know how to survive and how we should listen and observe. If the birds leave, it’s for a very good reason. There is a reason they are dying.

Rajawali cover

How long does it take to publish a children’s book?

One book can take six months to a year from taking a manuscript through translation, illustration and printing. This one has taken longer. We ran out of steam. The illustrator got busy, but I wanted to keep the same artist the same way through as I wanted them to look the same. He spent a lot of time learning about the different birds in Bali and trying to depict them accurately.

Another thing that slowed us down was that the author Maggie got very ill and passed away. She was a great force for pushing things along. She was a very grumpy old lady. I was very fond of her and we never had an argument, but she had arguments with everyone else.

Clean Bali booksHow did you find the illustrator?

The illustrator, Margiyono, was working as a stonemason. A friend saw some paintings he was doing and asked, ‘have you ever tried to illustrate anything?’ She encouraged him to do some illustrations and when they had some, they came to me. I told them there is a lot more work to do but I’d love to publish it.

All three books in the Clean Bali Series are printed in Balinese, Indonesian and English. I did the Indonesian translation with the help of my son. And Balinese author Made Taro translated the Bahasa Bali.


What are some of the practicalities of publishing in Indonesia?

It is most important to have a good printer who will be responsible for quality. Not all printers have the equipment or know-how to print books, or the ethics that are necessary, when printing mistakes happen. It is important to be clear on responsibility, and to have a good quality control. Just as with any other production, rushing orders is not a good idea, as it doesn’t allow enough time for checking and control. Storage is also important – it must be airconditioned and/or dehumidified in the tropics.

What are the steps involved in setting up a publishing company in Indonesia?

First one has to be Indonesian, and have a legal, registered, tax-paying company. Second, one needs to have a reliable and trustworthy printer. Third, a team who are willing and able to distribute and follow up with book shops and other places that sell the books.

Is it possible to self-publish?

It is possible to self-publish, but it is important to have a good editor, as few writers are capable of editing their own work. Self-publishers need to be savvy in promoting their own books, both digital and printed, as they are on their own. Preferably they should have their own network or access to buyers for selling the books, as book shops are not always keen to accept books unless recommended by established publishers. It has taken us many years to build our relationship with the bookshops.

How does the price of printing here compare to printing overseas, say in China?

We print the books in Jakarta. The printing is much cheaper and better quality than in Bali. Then we have them trucked here. It used to cost about $200 to ship a truckload of books to Bali but that has increased too.

When it comes to printing in China, importing the books is going to be a problem. In Australia you don’t have to pay duty to bring them back in but here you do. And they’ll never let on how much you’ll have to pay. They can be quite coy about it.

Clean Bali

How do you manage distribution?

We have a great relationship with the local bookshops. They’re really supportive. It may be because the industry is so unregulated. I’m sure it would have been a lot harder for me to do this in New Zealand. Book distributors charge a lot there too. But, you see, people can afford to pay more for books in Australia and New Zealand. But here, for local people, even to buy a book is a luxury. Which is why we give them away – to schools. When it comes to children’s books we give about half away and sell half. The intention is really to teach children about the environment. The first book in the Clean Bali Series has been reprinted once and 10,000 copies have been distributed. We printed 5000 copies of the second book and they have almost run out. Now I am seeking funding for the third book in the series. 

How about getting your books into the larger stores such as Gramedia and Kinokuniya? Are they open to that?

Yes we have an agent who delivers to Gramedia. Kinokuniya is more difficult, as they don’t have so many stores and their purchasing seems to be more centralized. Periplus order direct from us and we keep them informed of the release of new titles.  Rajawali spread

What are the some of the challenges you’ve faced in publishing picture books?

Picture books particularly are very challenging because it’s very unusual to find an artist here who is used to depicting stories. And the fact that the landscape behind the story should not be something completely different every time. And also being constant in depicting the characters is not always easy for the artist – they should even keep the same clothes on if the story is just continuing. All these kinds of details.

It’s a long process to understand how to create a sequence without the child’s face changing into three different children. A lot of artists are not able to reproduce the same face every time. Most of 50our artists here are autodidacts so it is a completely new idea. We had terrible trouble with the monkeys, even, looking the same [for Monkey Tales of Bali].

Sarita Newson

The Clean Bali Series of books all have a song included with the lyrics and music at the back of the book. Why did you decide to include a song with the books?

Song is how I used to love to learn things. My husband learnt his English through singing. Music resonates with children. It gives so much more. Music is very special. My son has written the songs for the first two books and is working on another for the third book now.

 

Sarita Newson first visited Bali in 1973 from New Zealand and moved here permanently in 1975. She had three children with her Balinese husband. Sarita started publishing books under the company name Saritaksu Editions in the early eighties as a sideline to her main business, a graphic design studio. Gradually the publishing took over and, as she wound back the graphics, publishing became Sarita’s fulltime job though she is now considering retiring from publishing to concentrate on writing. She has published more than 50 books including novels, pictorial art and coffee-table books, non-fiction and children’s books.

For more information contact Sarita at saritaksu.editions@gmail.com

Kids inspired to write by bugs and rocks

Artwork inspired by my story The Bug and the Rock

Artwork inspired by my story The Bug and the Rock

Last week I visited my eldest son’s class to read a story I’d recently written, The Bug and the Rock. I wasn’t sure how they would like it as it is a simple story and isn’t yet illustrated (apart from my terrible pencil sketches).

I needn’t have been concerned. The class of five and six-year-olds sat very quietly listening to the whole story, which uses repetition and rhythm to carry the narrative, and then showed they had followed it by asking some questions.

‘How did you write the story?’

‘How did you make the book?’ (I took in a dummy that I’d folded into a book shape)

‘Why did the rock float?’ – this was a good question and one we came back to later

After a short time talking about it, all the kids without exception drew a picture of something to do with the story. Lots drew bugs and rocks and trees but others took a different approach and drew their own story.

'I like the story of the bug and the rock. I like the story with bug. The bug fell in the ocean'

‘I like the story of the bug and the rock. I like the story with bug. The bug fell in the ocean’

My son had a go at drawing, and writing the label for, the barnacle in his picture. It's the blue thing in the middle.

My son attempted to draw, and write the a label for, the barnacle in his picture. It’s the blue thing in the middle.

I was curious to see that the bug, crab, rock and tree all seemed pretty easy to draw but not many attempted the featherstar and the barnacle. Without pictures they were forced to remember what these things were, or imagine what they could look like.

I liked the bit when the bug sat in the .. ocean and the bug fell asleep. I love the story

‘I liked the bit when the bug sat in the .. ocean and the bug fell asleep. I love the story’

The teacher was particularly pleased that most of the kids wrote something as well, without being asked to do any writing. Some even wrote their own stories in the short time they had.

'I want to go home to my tree' (said the bug to the crab)

‘I want to go home to my tree’
(said the bug to the crab)

I liked this boy’s alternative explanation for the BOOM at the beginning of the story. In his version, the noise is made by bricks falling on a house.

I liked this boy’s alternative explanation for the BOOM at the beginning of the story. In his version, the noise is made by bricks falling on a house.

After about 10 minutes, they regrouped and shared their pictures in small groups. We then moved onto the experiment part of the session.

Because the rock in the story was pumice that floated on the sea, I brought in some pumice that I had bought in a spa shop for $1 from which I managed to remove the plastic nail brush. I also collected three different stones from my garden and showed them all to the group.

With a tank of water in the middle of the circle, everyone made a prediction about what rocks would and wouldn’t float. Of course, only one did and then I explained how pumice comes from volcanos and that the BOOM in the start of the story was from a volcano erupting. I also talked about Krakatau which was very active while we lived in Jakarta and spread quite a lot of pumice in the sea in 2009.

I love bringing a practical element into my writing and I was so pleased the kids were so engaged in the experiment. Not to mention, quite relieved that they liked the story!

Best and worst of Indonesian picture books (continued)

In contrast to the books in the previous post, the following books were published first in Indonesia though not all were written in Indonesian. Petualangan Anak Indonesia coverDespite its publisher having an English name (Great! Publisher) Petualangan Anak Indonesia is currently published only in Indonesian, though (just to confuse you) the author is Australian. Its English title is Indoventurers and there is an English version that the author Nicholas Mark has offered to email upon request. He has also developed a Teacher’s Guide and worksheets.

This book is much longer and is for more advanced readers of Indonesian. Along with plenty of action in the three separate stories and the vivid illustrations, the book has plenty of local content. The Monkey Forest in Ubud is featured in the Bali story and Borobodur is featured in the Yogyakarta story where the race is on to save the city from an eruption from Mount Merapi. There is also a story set in Sumatra. Indoventurers page

All three are fantasy stories set somewhere in the realm, or fringe, of Indonesian myth, making them an interesting read. Apart from the fantasy elements, the stories are set in contemporary Indonesia and portray familiar characters and scenes. Another interesting note is that the author wrote it while on a university exchange in Yogyakarta when his story written for an assignment caught the interest of a local publisher.

Publishers website: galangpress.com Or contact Nicholas Mark on nicholaspetermark@gmail.com

Sea garden covers

The Sea Garden Series of books by Papa Ine is in two languages with the stated aim of helping Indonesian children learn English. Unfortunately, the translation from Indonesian has not been very successful and the poor English badly lets down the books.

The books have very bright and engaging illustrations and all the characters are animals that can be found in Indonesian waters. I was interested to see a sun fish character, not often seen in children’s stories. Some of the names are based on Indonesian words, such as Kepit being the name for the crab character (kepiting).

Sea Garden pagesPublished by PT Bumi Aksara Group bumiaksara.co.id

Murti Bunanta books

Murti Bunanta is an institution in the world of children’s books in Indonesia. She has written more than 30 books and has received many awards. Many of her books are Indonesian folk tales such as Princess Kemang (Putri Kemang), a folktale from Bengkulu. This is a lovely example of a bilingual book. It features beautiful illustrations from Hardiyono and a story of the adventures of a princess set in some mythical time in Indonesian history. Putri Kemang pagesIt is quite long but I do like this story for several reasons, one of which is that the main character is a princess who is independent and very physically capable and ends up choosing her own husband. The English translation is also very good, thanks to Margaret Mead MacDonald, herself a well-known author and storyteller, who was the English language consultant on the book. Plus the illustrations make it a delight to read.

Published by Grasindo, part of PT Gramedia. www.grasindo.org

The Tiny Boy and other tales from Indonesia is not a bilingual book but I included it as another example of Murti Bunanta’s work. This has been published by Groundwood in the US and is a beautiful book, also with illustrations by Hardiyono.

Bunanta dictionary  page

Another book she published locally is My first dictionary – colour, published by the Murti Bunanta Foundation and illustrated by Aldriana A. Amir. With only nine colours, it’s not quite long enough to be a stand-alone book and may have been better sold with the others in the First Dictionary series. Another 21 titles by Murti Bunanta are listed in the back.

Maggie Dunkle books Penyu dan Lumba LumbaCerita Monyet dari Bali – Monkey Tales from Bali is by Maggie Dunkle, an Australian children’s author who lived several years in Bali until she passed away in 2012. This is set in the Ubud Monkey Forest and I really like the story of the family of monkeys and the simple black and white illustrations by Asroel. It is aimed at beginner readers and the way the words are arranged on the page. The Indonesian translation below each phrase makes it easy to follow the translation.

Maggie Dunkle also wrote Penyu dan Lumba-Lumba, Turtle and Dolphin, a book in the Clean Bali Series (there is one other in the series). In this book the animals worry about the rubbish in their oceans and on their beaches and are then surprised when they witness a group of children cleaning up a beach. It is a book in three languages as it includes Balinese. The illustrations by Margiyono are colourful and the message is a good one, but it is not a book I read over and over.

Penyu page Both are published by Saritaksu. Saritaksu.com

Our Jakarta Series booksOur Jakarta Series is a set of 30 early readers written by Australian teacher Michelle Dudley while she was living in Jakarta. Originally only in English, they have been translated and published as bilingual books. The series consists of 10 books in each of the three levels. One of these was the very first book my five-year-old son read in Indonesian. Initially I wasn’t sure what to make of titles like My Driver and My Cook. But after thinking about it, it makes sense to have these books for expat children. Reading them with my children while we are living in Indonesia works fine. If we were reading them in Australia having never lived in Indonesia, some might feel a little out of place but the majority would be perfect for young children wherever they may live. Overall they give a good look at life in Jakarta through the eyes of a small expat child. The Car Trip is something Jakartan residents know all too well. What’s in my Lunchbook is cute and shows the variety of cultures at an international school through the contents of kids’ lunchboxes.

Available by emailing jakartaseries@gmail.com

Best and worst of bilingual Indonesian picture books

It’s wonderful to live in Indonesia and be able to pick up a new bilingual book at a bookshop whenever the mood takes me. It’s not that easy, however, to find quality books where the English is correct, the story is interesting to both the children and me, and, one of the more important points, has some Indonesian context. To start with, let’s take a look at some of the popular examples of bilingual books.

Indonesian bilingual picture booksOne series of good quality bilingual books come from Erlangga for Kids and includes Go to Sleep You Crazy Sheep, and Quiet! As they were written in English the language in English is impeccable and the Indonesian translation seems very good. Unfortunately, the rhyme of the You Crazy Sheep is not able to be carried across, making it nicer to be read in English.

Published by Erlangga for Kids and first published by Little Tiger Press in the UK.

Fairy book in IndonesianThe Fairies tell us about Empathy is part of another series which is similar but it seems the original language for the story was Spanish which possibly makes the Indonesian a translation of the English translation. The English feels a little clunky though it is nice to see a children’s book trying to tackle a difficult but important concept like empathy.

Published by Eaststar Adhi Citra (first published in Spain by Gemser Publications).

 

Dora the Explorer along with many, many other TV characters have made their way into Indonesian language and bilingual books for children. Dora in IndonesianDora is an interesting example as, while it restricts the Indonesian translation to mostly Indonesian, it still introduces a few Spanish words. So you end up with things like ‘Hola! Namaku Dora.’ The language used seems pretty spot on. If you had a Dora DVD that could play in Indonesian this could help reinforce some of the terms used, eg. Rancel for Backpack.

Dora is published by PT Citra Sastra Media in Indonesia.

So far these are nothing out of the ordinary as they are all books you could find in plenty of countries that have simply been been translated into Indonesian. Where it gets interesting is when we look at books published first in Indonesia. You’ll see a big range of subject matter and quality in my next post.

All the books reviewed here were found in Ganesha Bookshops or Gramedia.