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Shop at Teaspoon!

We’ve been tinkering with the site for a while now—so you’ve probably already seen this if you’ve been here recently—but our little online shop is now up and running!

Click on over to the SHOP button right on top and you can order ebooks and paperbacks directly from us!

P/S The Painted Hall Collection paperbacks are exclusively sold here! You won’t find them in MPH or at any other bookstores.

P/PS, we mentioned MPH because you can now get Coexist and Dongeng there too! Send us pictures if you see our books in the wild! ♥

Applying for an ISBN from PNM

Applying for an ISBN from PNMGetting an ISBN from Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia (PNM) is really easy—and it’s free! Whilst many ebook distributors/aggregators provide free ISBNs and/or have their own tracking system (eg: ASIN on Amazon and GGKey on Google Play), E-Sentral does not. They require you to apply for one from PNM, as we mentioned in our post on publishing on E-Sentral.

What’s an ISBN?

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and is a unique number associated with your book. An ISBN is assigned to each edition (except reprintings) of a book, which means that your e-book, paperback and hardcover would all need a different ISBN. If you want a quick reference, pick up the nearest book, turn to the back and look at the barcode. There will be a 13-digit number (or 10, if the book is super old)—that’s the ISBN!

Why do I need one?

The quick and easy answer is that it’s the simplest way to track and catalogue your books. For print, it’s how the cashier can ring up your sale quickly, by scanning the barcode. Like we mentioned earlier, some online retailers have their own tracking system and do not require an ISBN, but you can also link an ISBN to books sold on those platforms if you wish to. They (meaning Amazon and Google Play) can get away with is mainly because they’re big enough.

If you’re going through a distributor or aggregator such as Smashwords or D2D, you will need an ISBN because it’s a requirement to distribute to sales channels such as Kobo, Apple, and Overdrive.

Do I need a different ISBN for each of my different ebook formats?

According to best practices, each sellable format of your book should have a unique ISBN. Which means that your ISBN on E-Sentral should be different from the one on Smashwords (but this would be the same for all platforms that Smashwords distributes to since they only distribute the epub version).


Don’t worry. Just take it that each place you upload to BY YOURSELF probably needs a different ISBN. If you’re not the one uploading it personally, then the distributor or aggregator you use will kau tim that for you.

Okay, so how do I get an ISBN from PNM?

You need two things: a printer and a scanner. (Well, and a laptop, and internet access, and paper, but who’s counting?)

First of all, go to this page on PNM: http://www.pnm.gov.my/index.php/pages/view/18

That’s where you’ll get all the technical info we’re skipping over and the forms you need.

Download and fill Borang 1

Screenshot of Borang 1

Borang 1 is the application to be a publisher.

  • If you’re applying as an individual, you’ll need to scan your IC for them.
  • If you’ve opened a company/sole proprietorship, you’ll need to scan your Borang D plus the Pemilik printout from SSM that shows you are the owner.

The most difficult questions to answer (hah) are these:

Screenshot of Borang 1, section 2

Don’t worry. You can totally guess for #3. It’s “expectation”, after all.

Next, download and fill Borang 2

Screenshot of Borang 2Borang 2 is the actual application for the ISBN. For this one, you need to state the print shop (if you’re printing the book) or the website (if it’s an ebook).

You’ll need to send them the copyright page and the cover of the book with your form.

For first time applicants, leave the Publisher Identity section blank—the officer processing your form will fill it up for you. If you’ve applied before, you’ll need to fill this in based on the Publisher ID PNM gave you on your first application.

Screenshot of Borang 2, section B

If you’re printing your book, you’ll need to add in the printer’s name. If you’re publishing it as an ebook, you fill in the website, e.g. E-Sentral.com.my, Amazon.com, etc.

You’ll need to provide an estimated publishing date. Please do yourself a favour and don’t put it too soon—just in case anything goes wrong. You can also just fill in the month you target to publish it, instead of an exact date. Why? Because you have to submit your published book/ebook within 30 days of that date… and if something goes wrong and it’s terribly delayed, you can be fined up to RM3K!

Email everything to PNM

Once you have everything ready, email them to isbn@pnm.gov.my.

Well, you can go old-school and fax it over, but we’re guessing most of you don’t have a fax machine anymore (we don’t!). OR if you live near to the library, you can also walk/drive over and hand deliver your forms.

And you’re done!

Other things to note:

  • Only apply for a publisher ID and your ISBN when you’re almost ready to publish your book. We tried registering as a publisher without registering for any ISBNs yet (because we hadn’t yet compiled the info) but the officer asked us for the Borang 2 at the same time in order to process the Borang 1.
  • After the first application and registration as a publisher, you only need to submit Borang 2 for subsequent ISBN applications.
  • Processing usually takes about 3 – 5 working days.
  • Once you have your ISBN, you can proceed to upload to E-Sentral or print your books!
  • Remember that you’ll have to submit 5 copies of your print book or 2 CDs of your e-book to PNM within 30 days of publication. (Yes, CDs. THAT IS CORRECT.)

Let us know if you have more questions on applying for an ISBN with PNM!

Two things to consider when choosing a publishing strategy

Whilst most self-publishing companies in Malaysia focus on print services, Teaspoon Publishing focuses on the e-book and online print-on-demand (POD) market. There’s nothing inherently wrong with choosing one or the other—or deciding to do both. Here are a couple of questions to consider when choosing your publishing strategy:

1. Who is your intended market?

Where and to whom you intend to sell your book is a major factor in what your publishing strategy should look like.

Local market

The Malaysian book market is still heavily reliant on print. As much as e-book sales have started to take off amongst avid readers in Malaysia, the general market mostly prefers to buy tangible goods. Most casual readers still like browsing before buying, so if you’re trying to convert casual readers into customers, this is the best way to drive interest. Having something physical to sell also helps you get in the door at sales and meet-and-greet events such as Art for Grabs, Hin Bus Pop Up Market, and the Malaysian Writers Fest.

Pricing is also a deciding factor. Local portals such as MPH and GerakBudaya have attempted to sell e-books, but pricing an e-book at almost the same price (or even higher) than a print book defeats the purpose of offering a digital version. Look at e-book prices on e-Sentral to figure out what’s the best price for your e-book.

Reminder to readers: purchases of ebooks are also eligible for tax deductions so don’t forget to save those receipts!

Suggested publishing strategy: A mix of online and print.

International market

Obviously, if you’re trying to penetrate the international market, e-book is the way to go. However, if print is important to your readership, providing online print options via POD (through Amazon/Createspace, Lulu, or Ingramspark) would be a cheaper and hassle-free option as compared to printing the books physically in Malaysia and shipping them out to your customers.

Suggested publishing strategy: 100% online with POD options.

Other considerations: Age group/readership

The way your intended market prefers to read is also a factor in whether your book sells or not.

  • Children’s books—especially those targeted for young/beginning readers—still need to be in print.
  • MG and YA books can go either way. Whilst teen readers are digital natives, access and funds to purchase e-books are often controlled by their parents, even if they own an e-reader.
  • General fiction aimed for adult readers (whatever the genre) sells well either in print or e-book—though the market seems to prefer e-books for new/indie authors and print for established/traditionally published authors. Various genres also lend themselves to better e-book sales than print.
  • Non-fiction and textbooks still sell better in print.

Here are some examples of how genre affects e-book and online print sales, from the authorearnings.com report for Jan 2018. For more info, head over to authorearnings.com.

screenshot from authorearnings.com
screenshot from authorearnings.com

Suggested publishing strategy: Study sales trends for your genre to decide what’s best for your book.


2. How much can you afford to spend?

Honestly, traditional publishers still dominate publishing because they have funds. Printing isn’t cheap—and it’s much cheaper to print in bulk than in the small quantities that a self-publisher can afford. Let’s not even talk about where and how you can store the thousands (or hopefully only hundreds) of books you’ve just printed—or how to get it distributed.

Focusing on the e-book market first helps you to minimise upfront costs and hopefully earn back what you’ve paid for covers and editing before you splurge on a print run that may or may not succeed. And if you’re able to tell people that your book is popular online (look at all these reviews!) that might even be an additional selling point when you promote your book to live audiences.

Crowdfunding for a print run might also be a good option to explore.

Suggested publishing strategy: Plan a small print run if you have funds, then use that to direct buyers to your online store/e-book retailer of choice.

These two questions are the very basics to ask when deciding when and how to self-publish your book. What else have you considered when choosing your publishing strategy? Do you have any other important considerations that might help other new authors?

How much does it cost to self-publish?

how much does it cost to self-publish?

Now that we’ve covered how long it takes to self-publish a book, how much does it actually cost?

Let’s take a look at the costs, based on the process that we’ve covered so far:

1. Writing

Unless you’re paying someone to ghostwrite for you, you shouldn’t have any expenditure here. Well, maybe about RM100 or so for paper, pens, and printer ink. But if you want to be that nit-picky, you can count the cost of electricity, internet, food, water, etc.

Expected cost: NIL

2. Editing

Editing costs depend on the type and level of editing required. Here are the various types of editing, in suggested sequence:

Developmental editing

This looks at the overall big picture of your novel. How strong is your plot? Is there a plot hole big enough to drive a car through? Is there enough tension? Are there any slow, boring parts? Does your story make sense? Is backstory a problem (either too much or too little)? How can we improve and polish this story until it’s not just ‘good’, but ‘exceptional’? It’s pretty hard to find developmental editing here in Malaysia, but the numbers we’re seeing online estimate anything from USD1,000–USD6,000.

What we do have in place of this, are writing mentors, foremost of which is Gina Yap Lai Yoong. Hang about the Malaysian Writers Community and/or Twitter to see when some of our writers are looking to pick up new mentees! Most of these come at no cost to you, other than putting in the hard work and probably belanja-ing your mentor to dinner once in a while. An alternative is to find a critique group or beta readers that have great story sense that you can trust to give you honest feedback.

Line editing

A line editor goes into the nitty-gritty of the manuscript, focusing their red pen on everything from specific words, to sentences, to paragraphs, to chapters. They look at strengthening your work in terms of style, flow, structure, and readability, besides the usual correction for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and other basic/common language mistakes. Do your sentences flow well? Is your POV consistent? Do you flop between tenses? They may also help pick up obvious continuity issues—do you say A in Chapter 1 but then change it to B in Chapter 8?—though they won’t be going into the plot development itself. Line editing for a 50,000-word novel would range between RM3,000 to RM5,000 here at Teaspoon Publishing.


This is your final line of defence! At this stage, you’re pretty much just catching typos, concentrating on spelling, grammar, and punctuation, as well as other basic/common language mistakes. Proofreading for a 50,000-word novel ranges from RM2,000 to RM4,000 here at Teaspoon Publishing.

Some people tend to skimp on editing and jump right into just a quick proofread or do nothing at all. This isn’t really advisable, even if you’re an editor yourself, because it’s hard to find your own mistakes. It’s also really, really hard to tell if there are continuity issues or if things are confusing in your own manuscript because you know everything in your head. However, what’s in your head may not have all made it out onto the page in a way that others can understand.

If you’re really cheapskate (or you have really good friends), one way to save on this is to do a barter trade with your writer/editor friends, like I’ll edit your manuscript if you’ll edit mine. The results may not be really the best unless both of you are professional editors.

Expected cost: RM2,000 – RM5,000

3. Cover Design

A premade cover sourced online could cost about USD40 – USD80. An original cover could cost between USD100 – USD500, or more. We’ve paid between RM400 – RM750 for our covers. We recommend looking up Charis Loke Illustration and Magpie Designs!

Expected cost: RM150 – RM750

4. Formatting

Frankly, it’s not that difficult to format your own books—but it IS time-consuming, time that could be better spent writing your new book or doing marketing (ha). At Teaspoon Publishing, formatting generally costs RM60 per ebook format and RM100 for print layout (text only).

Expected cost: RM60 – RM280

5. Publishing

a) Online/ebook

The various platforms/distributors mostly take a cut of sales, generally between 30% – 50%. At the $0.99 – $2.98 price point on Amazon, they take a cut of 65% (I.e. you get 35% royalties on sales).

Expected cost: NIL.

b) Print

Printing costs depend on bulk. If you’re only printing 100 – 200 copies, you might want to check out these print-on-demand (POD) and/or book printing services:

Please note that we have not dealt with these services personally, but they have been referred to us or recommended on forums.
The higher quantity you print, the cheaper it is per copy.

OR, you can skip doing a local print run altogether and do POD with Lulu / CreateSpace / Ingram Spark. With this service, readers around the world can buy a physical copy of your book and have it shipped directly to their doorstep. You won’t have to pay anything upfront – the printing cost is taken out of the sales price & royalty paid to you. You can also print small batches of your book at their author price (cost of book + small markup for the printer)—but shipping from overseas is often the expensive bit.

Expected cost: ???

6. Distribution (for print)

This doesn’t appear in the timeline for self-publishing, but it’s a cost that you might want to consider if you want wider distribution if you decide to print your book. Most independent bookstores will ask you for a 30% – 40% “discount” on your retail price. This means that for every book you sell at RM20, they’ll pay you RM14 (30% discount) or RM12 (40% discount). This is how bookshops make their profits.

However, getting into chain bookstores (MPH, Popular, Times, Kinokuniya, Borders) normally needs you to have a distributor/agent. The only options we’ve come across so far are Inspiration Hub (30% royalty) and GerakBudaya (approx 55% discount). You’ll have to decide for yourself if this is cost you’re ready and willing to bear.

Expected cost: ???

Total costs of self-publishing

All in all, self-publishing an ebook may cost you between RM2,200 – RM6,000—and that’s not even including print! Yet 90% of this cost is from that one step you really shouldn’t skip: editing.



At Teaspoon Publishing, we believe in empowering authors to take control of their career. If you need a boost on your journey, check out our Publishing Hub to see how we can help!

How long does it take to self-publish a book?

How Long Does it take to self-publish?One common question we’ve received is how long does it take to self-publish a book? This is usually tied to another question—what’s the process of self-publishing a book?

Here’s a very rough guide to the process of self-publishing a book, including the estimated time each stage would take.

1. Writing

Some writers can finish writing a novel in a month, some take months, even years. To make a meaningful estimate of the length of time it takes to self-publish a book, we won’t include the initial writing phase of the book in this estimate, assuming that the process we’re looking at will start at the point where the manuscript is finished and ready to be sent for editing.

2. Editing

Depending on the wordcount and the editor’s schedule, a full edit can take anything from a week to a month, maybe more. A good estimate for a 50,000-word book would probably be one to two weeks for the initial edit. After that, it would be wise to budget a week for writer’s meltdown and wallowing in self-pity, another two weeks for rewrites, clarifications, arguments over what to change and whether to change them, and maybe a fourth week for finalisation of the manuscript.

Best estimate: one month.

3. Cover design

Cover design can be done concurrent with editing, assuming you’re pretty sure you aren’t going to rewrite the whole book or give up on the project altogether. It also assumes that you’ve already decided on your title.
This stage really depends on your artist so this is something you’ll need to discuss with them. You could get a premade cover online which would probably be updated in three days OR you could get an artist to conceptualise something specific for you, which could take anything from one week to three months. Remember: the more customised and the more handmade/hand-drawn it is, the more time it will take.

Best estimate: one month, possibly concurrent to editing.

4. Formatting

Layout and formatting for a text-only book should only take two to three days per format. A manuscript with pictures, graphs, or diagrams would take longer to format.

Best estimate: three days.

5. Publishing

a) Online/ebook 

Publishing online will only take a few hours of your time, assuming you have all the required materials ready (price, categories, back cover description, cover, formatted manuscript, ISBN, etc). Do also budget some time to review the converted file to make sure it’s up to standard before publishing. This is the best time to catch overlooked errors, typos, or formatting glitches, which would need a quick fix.

Best estimate: one to two days.

b) Print

Budget in at least two to three weeks for the printing process as the printer you send it to would have to review the files and get everything in order before starting the print run. If they need to send the files back to you for revisions, that would extend the time as well.
Best estimate: three days.

Total time: two-and-a-half to three months.

Do remember the time estimates noted here would vary for each writer and each contributor at every stage, and some stages may cycle back and forth several times. This estimate is also created assuming that the publishing of this novel is the sole priority of every contributor. This isn’t the case in the real world. Sending your novel to an editor doesn’t mean that they will be able to work on it right away. They may have other jobs they are currently working on that needs to be completed prior to yours, or they could be juggling multiple projects at the same time. The same goes for all the other stages, unless you’ve already booked their time in advance.

All in all, really proficient self-published writers can publish a new book every 3 months whilst traditional publishing generally takes 2 years from acceptance of the manuscript to final print. Our advice is to not rush the process as rushing may lead to sloppiness and more errors in your final book. You want a product that you can be proud of—and that takes time.

At Teaspoon Publishing, we believe in empowering authors to take control of their career. If you need a boost on your journey, check out our Publishing Hub to see how we can help!

7 questions to ask before deciding to self-publish

Every writer’s dream is to be published. Obviously, getting a publishing contract is desirable: your publisher takes care of everything for you—from editing, cover design, and layout to distribution and marketing. It’s also somewhat like a unicorn: elusive and maybe non-existent, especially if you’re not based in any of the English publishing hubs of the world (New York and London). International publishing aside, getting a local publishing contract in Malaysia is even tougher—especially if you’re writing genre fiction in English.

Fortunately, there are other options now in the form of self-publishing, or indie publishing (whichever term you like using). The book industry has changed enough that it isn’t bad form anymore to be self-published. (It wasn’t bad form back in the 1900’s either!) Whilst the main thrust of Teaspoon Publishing’s Publishing Hub focuses on the ebook market, indie publishing also includes print and print-on-demand, which we’ll look at briefly in coming weeks.

Self-publishing isn’t for everyone. By self-publishing, YOU are in control of the whole process as well as the final output. YOU are also 100% responsible for sales and marketing and how it’s going to get into the hands of your readers. Before you take this very drastic step, you should ask yourself a few questions:

7 Questions to ask before self-publishing

1. What’s my definition of success?

Everyone’s definition of success is different. For some, success is counted by sales numbers and money earned. Readership might be more important for some, even if they don’t earn much from their writing. For others, literary acclaim and book prizes might be the goal. Understanding what you want for your writing will help you decide if self-publishing is for you.

Until something drastic changes, the only way to get literary acclaim now is to chase for a traditional publishing deal so if that’s your motivation, you’ll have to keep submitting. If your primary interest is for your book out in the world for people to read, then self-publishing is a very viable option, provided you do the work.

2. What are my long-term goals for my writing and will it be helped or hindered by self-publishing?

If you’re very definite that you only want your book published via big publishing houses or your goal is literary acclaim, you might want to hold off on experimenting with self-publishing. Whilst self-publishing has gotten some authors good traditional deals (see Andy Weir, Amanda Hocking, EL James), if your self-published book does poorly, it might bias publishers against offering you a contract because the risks are higher for them. Just like a job interview, publishers will look at your publishing history (if you have one) so having a clean history might just be better for you.

Another consideration, especially for Malaysians, is how and where you want to sell your book. If you’re looking at the international market, it makes sense to indie publish your novel as an ebook with print on demand options. If you’re looking at the Malaysian market, your best bet is probably a print book, at least until more Malaysian readers catch on to the ebook reading trend.

3. Are my books suitable for self-publishing?

As strange as this sounds, the type of books you write can and do affect how well you do as an indie author. Certain genres do better than others as independently published novels, e.g. romance, sci-fi/fantasy, where readers often follow a favourite author brand rather than a publishing house.
If you need some help with market research, http://authorearnings.com publishes annual reports on the ebook market with data on genre sales by publisher type.

4. Is my craft ready?

This is a tricky question. As writers, we like to believe that everything we write is awesome and wonderful. However, we need to be both critical and objective about our work. If you work with an editor, beta readers, or a critique group, their input will help you decide when your work is ready to be released.

Self-publishing isn’t about doing away with the gatekeepers. It’s about making yourself your own gatekeeper. Releasing a book that isn’t quite ready or good enough will harm your career as you’ll put off any potential readers. Before you self-publish, please be sure that your book is the best that it can be, not according to your own standards, but in accordance with worldwide publishing standards.

5. Do I have a marketing plan?

Sometimes what makes a book (or any product) sell is not the book itself, but how it’s marketed and packaged. Once you have your novel ready, you also need a marketing plan. Putting your book up on Amazon but not doing anything to market it will not help you make any sales.

6. Do I have the resources to start this venture?

At the very least, you should have the resources to pay for a) a good cover, b) good editing, and c) printing costs (if you decide to print). If you’re not willing to spend money for at least the first two, you’re probably not ready to self-publish your book.

7. Am I ready to do the work?

Deciding to self-publish is really making the decision to do everything a publisher does with a team by yourself. It’s deciding to make your passion for writing into a business. True, you don’t have to (and can’t) do everything alone, but by committing to self-publishing, you’ll be the one hiring others to help you do the work.

If you’re not ready to commit to this level of work or do not want to make the necessary business decisions, then self-publishing is probably not for you.


At Teaspoon Publishing, we believe in Malaysian authors. We believe that you have a unique perspective that should be shared with the world. If you write fantasy, take a look at our Traditional page and consider submitting a manuscript during our reading period from 1 May – 31 July 2018.

We also believe in empowering authors to take control of their career. If you need a boost on your journey, check out our Publishing Hub to see how we can help you!

Up next: How do I avoid being scammed by publishers?