THE MAGIC OF COLLABORATION
Published in The Sun, 23 July 2012
Recently the book Memories Of Our Mothers was launched by HRH Raja Zarith Sofiah Sultan Idris Shah, the patron as well as one of the twenty nine daughters who contributed the linear and non-linear texts on their late mothers. The larger, coffee-table publication popular among Malaysians contains substantive writings as well as precious photographs and captions which unravel the lives of a remarkable group of women from an era gone by. Representing a cross-section of Malaysian women from diverse ethnic and socio-cultural backgrounds, the twenty one mothers unveil a kaleidoscope of lives and an array of experiences in a world quite distinct from that of their daughters.
Most of the mothers came from humble and spartan backgrounds and their stories tell of the constraints they faced and the hardships they experienced in being the perfect mothers and homemakers they were expected to be. Their narratives reveal the quiet resilience and stoicism in a world which extracted the most out of women while giving them the least in terms of social and educational opportunities. Ironically, it was these constraints and hardships that brought out their greatest strengths and wisdom. It was the constant challenges they faced domestically and socio-culturally that instilled in them the highest principles and values to sustain their daily lives.
There is great solidarity among the Malaysian mothers as they stand together to remind us of the contributions and sacrifices they made in supporting their husbands and children through some of the most difficult times. And together, the daughters remember their mothers’ lives and times in the most poignant ways. Set against their more liberated and advantaged lives in the twenty first century, the book’s contributors are able to trace their family heritage and determine when, where and how it originated. Readers are taken through the lives of these wonderful mothers through their vivid portrayal in the writings and photographs provided by the daughters.
As a book project, the collaboration among the twenty nine contributors and five editors over a period of six months was, in itself, no mean feat. Considering the diverse writing styles and formats which had to be collated, edited and brought up to scratch, as well as the photographs and captions which underwent many layers of vetting to ensure they were suitable for publication, meeting the deadlines required the most professional and meticulous editorial decisions. Only after the stringent editing process could the final draft of the manuscripts be submitted for the design process to be put in place. At this stage there were further collaborative decisions on the book’s layout, printing specs and colour choices before the tedium of checking and rechecking the proofs.
The publication of a book by a single author/ editor is a tedious process. It takes weeks of planning the contents, chapters, sections and sub-sections followed by months of writing the drafts and collating the diagrams, photographs and other images which undergo several layers of self-editing before the manuscripts are considered complete and ready for submission to the publishers and the appointed editor(s). From the writer, the buck now passes to the editor to correct, modify or improve any part of the linear texts i.e. writings, to ensure they are suitable for publication. It is also at this stage that the final selection of non-linear texts i.e. diagrams and images, is made and their layout determined.
It is therefore important to remember that in publishing, the quality and readability of a book depends not only on the academic knowledge and literary prowess of the author(s) but also on the expertise and professional skills of the editor(s) and design team(s). Together they input the book which, in its final form, represent the collaborative efforts of several parties in the publishing process.
When a book such as Memories Of Our Mothers has multiple writers and a team of editors, one can imagine the amount of coordination, cooperation and collaborative efforts needed to bring the project to fruition in record time. Thanks to emailing and editing on-line, all this is achievable but not without the greatest literary scrutiny and diligence expected from the writers and editors.
It was the tradition in the past for publishing houses to provide a team of skilled in-house editors and design teams to maintain the highest standards in their publications – a practice sustained in the most reputable, international publishing houses. Even the printing is done in-house which makes the coordination more efficient. Each team is able to check their work with the greatest care and responsibility. Errors can be quickly detected and corrected. However, modern expediency has produced an unhealthy trend where publishers outsource work to different media and printing companies whose less than expert staff do not undertake the same scrutiny and responsibility expected of people whose bread and butter lie in the publishing world.