Out on a limb

MANILA, Philippines - It used to be that self-publishing was thought of as the last resort of the writer.

Unable to find a traditional publishing house that would publish one's work, one could turn to vanity publishers to put their book out into the world. Whether bookstores or critics would take their books seriously would be another thing entirely.

But recent years have seen the stigma of self-publishing slowly being eroded, as more and more success stories are emerging from the pile.

There is J. A. Konrath, a mystery writer who achieved modest success with traditional publishing but became a best-selling writer of self-published e-books.

There is also the tremendous success story of Amanda Hocking, who started self-publishing her books in 2010 and in the space of a year sold over a million books and earned US$2 million from sales. This caught the attention of St. Martin's Press, who signed her up and is set to publish her next four books.

Hoping to emulate at least a fraction of that success is Christian Emmanuel Marbella Fontanilla, an 18-year-old incoming University of the Philippines College of Medicine student. Fontanilla is the author of "Gray", a novel that revolves around a boy who has fallen from the sky and is seen as a savior by a population suffering from chronic mental illnesses.

Fontanilla is self-publishing "Gray" through Central Books Supply's Publish On Demand (POD) service. The book can be bought in any Central Books store in the country, as well as online through www.central.com.ph.


Deciding to opt for POD may have been a non-traditional choice, but Fontanilla is certainly continuing a family tradition of writing.

On his mother's side of the family are grandfather Jose Domingo Karasig, an editor of Liwayway and a novelist who published under the pen name Rafael D'Alarcon; grandmother Cornelia Antonio Santiago, a poet who published under the name Corazon Amor-Seco; and his grand aunt Nelia Santiago Karasig, who has had her work published in Catholic journals in New Jersey.

Fontanilla's first foray into writing came through comics.

"I wasn't really a comic book reader when I was a kid - the only ones I had being those from my uncle - but I guess I enjoyed making comics because it combined my interests in literature and art," he recalls. "My first works were kind of embarrassing. I was a typical kid amazed by heroics and powers, so I wrote a series of short stories which combined these two themes."

Fontanilla continued to pursue his interest in writing even while studying at the main campus of the Philippine Science High School (PSHS), signing up for an elective in creative writing and becoming the Poetry editor of the literary school paper.

It was also in PSHS that he would first get the idea for "Gray", during a classroom discussion about allegories.

"The concept of allegories was discussed to us in class and since I was intrigued by it, I decided to try it out. At first, I intended Gray to teach about values and show a path to self-improvement like how most allegories are but as I wrote it, my interests changed and I decided to use it as an experimentation with story elements," he shares.

"I wanted to be unorthodox in my writing style. Instead of parting a moral lesson, I wanted my novel to be an experience of reality, of how it's seemingly distorted and incomplete due to the limitations of one's perspective in a world filled with multiple and varying perspectives," he continues.


While Fontanilla was able to finish "Gray" in high school, finally deciding to publish it took some time.

"What made me reluctant to have it published was how my theme interests and preferred writing style were changing as I was entering puberty, causing me to feel unsatisfied with my work each time I read through it," he explains. "It was when I had finally decided to stop constantly editing and simply remained contented with leaving some parts in my younger writing style that I then moved on to having my novel published."

Frustration at the lengthy process of getting "Gray" published through more traditional publishing houses made Fontanilla opt for self-publishing, but he says he didn't go into it without being aware of some of the disadvantages.

"It indeed was convenient and they did assist me a lot in the technical aspects of publishing such as trying out the printing styles, designing the book cover, and distributing the copies," he says. "But it can't be helped to feel a certain degree of uncertainty with your novel because you won't receive a professional assessment of your work before the publication. You are your own editor and you are completely in charge of how your novel will turn out."

Nevertheless, Fontanilla says that self-publication is something that aspiring authors should consider.

"If you're confident with your work and have a very solid plan for how your novel should turn out or even if you're simply really eager to become a published author, self-publication is practical and suitable," he says.

As for other aspiring young authors like himself, Fontanilla gives some well-worn advice.

"As cliche as it sounds, they should follow their dreams. They should not lose confidence in their talent but they must also not be too proud to listen to others' opinions. They should continually challenge themselves and not fear sharing their ideas with the world," he declares.