Nur ‘Afifah Hussain, mum, educator and author
What’s your background?
I am a mother to 5 children and a book lover. After I left my job as a preschool teacher in 2015, I pursued my passion for books and working with young children by publishing children’s picture books and curating learning resources.
How did you get started publishing your very first book? What’s the title of your first book and why you wrote or had to write it? How many books have you written thus far? Are any future books on the horizon?
My first book is titled ‘The Huruf Parade’ (2017). At that point in time, I just had my first child and I was looking for books for my child and our home library. I wanted to make reading and learning fun and interactive. Driven by that intention, I wrote my first book, which is an introductory book to the Arabic alphabet with rhyming and action words to accompany the story.
Since then, I have published two more picture books; ‘Growing Kitchen Scraps’ (2020), a book on sustainability and reducing food waste as well as ‘Lukisan Batik Nawrah’ (2023), a Malay picture book that introduces children to the art of batik and the value of adaptability and finding creative solutions to problems. I have also translated ‘Ummi’s Hijab’ (2019) from English to Malay.
I have plans for more books, specifically in Malay, and am currently working on the manuscript, so pray that it will all come to fruition soon.
Did you go through the self-publishing route or with a trade publisher?
I went through the self-publishing route and it was a steep learning curve. I started with zero knowledge and zero network. I depended a lot on Google to help me through my first book. However, that did not dampen me, and I began networking with fellow authors and signed myself up for masterclasses to learn the art of publishing from UK-based authors such as Nai’ma B Roberts, Hend Hegazi, and Lise Cartwright. I also attended workshops organised by the Singapore Book Council during the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) to widen my knowledge.
What were some of the challenges?
Some challenges that I faced as a self-published author were that everything had to be done by me, from the search for illustrator, editor, printer, and marketing.
Having the funds to publish a book is another challenge. Funding is needed to pay the illustrator, book designer, printer, and delivery. For my first two books, I had a shared fund with my author friends which we used to publish our books.
However, my biggest challenge was getting my books distributed to libraries, schools, and major bookstores as oftentimes, these companies take in books from distributors and do not take in books from individuals.
Thankfully, I managed to secure funding for my latest book, ‘Lukisan Batik Nawrah’, which was fully funded by the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism and it covered all the expenses needed for the book publishing. Best of all, it also helps to distribute my book to preschools around Singapore.
What are some of the highs?
The satisfaction of seeing the fruit of your labour has got to be the biggest high of being a self-published author. After all the long nights and tedious work, it is very heartening to see the book physically. Furthermore, getting reviews from readers and pictures of young children enjoying my books fuel my drive to keep writing.
What are some things you had to do to ensure your books get noticed, sold, and distributed?
I approached online bookstores to get my book sold on their platforms. Sharing social media posts not only taps into my followers, but I also get to reach out to their network to get the word on the book out.
I also conducted author visits to outreach to schools. These author visits may come in a basic package of read-aloud activities or may be curated to be more elaborate according to the needs of the school. Through these author visits, students in the school also get the chance to purchase my book.
To reach out to the public, I also conduct activities based on the books through events such as the AFCC and Pesta Buku Melayu Singapura (PBMS).
Would you do it again? Why?
Most definitely! Growing up, books have always been my escape to travel into the world of others. It widens my perspective towards the diversity of the world, and this is what I hope for young readers. I want to continue to make a difference and inspire a world of good for young children through my books.
Some advice for aspiring authors? What pitfalls to look out for? What tips do you have to ensure some things work out better?
Manage your expectations and don’t be too hard on yourself.
The reality is that sometimes some of your stories may not be as successful as you had wanted. Perhaps, they may not be as enticing to readers as you have hoped.
Also, when you publish a book, you wish it would sell out very fast. However, sometimes it takes longer than you expected.
It made me disheartened and I have had my fair share of tears and disappointment.
But do not let that dampen your spirit. Reflect on what you have done and what else can be improved. Perhaps the marketing technique was not right, or you did not target the right audience. Maybe you could have more collaborations with others to expand the outreach. The options are limitless so don’t stop at the first hurdle.
Never give up, remember your intention, and try again.
Keep learning, stay humble, and be open-minded to criticism. I always believe that in everything that you know, there will always be things that you don’t know. So be open to learning from the experience of others so that you can grow as an author.
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