From book hater to best-seller: How Charissa Ong kicked off her writing career

Charissa Ong, the youngest self-made publisher of Penwings Publication at NU Sentral, Kuala Lumpur July 3, 2018. — Pictures by Zuraneeza Zulkifli
Charissa Ong, the youngest self-made publisher of Penwings Publication at NU Sentral, Kuala Lumpur July 3, 2018. — Pictures by Zuraneeza Zulkifli

PETALING JAYA, July 3 — Charissa Ong was 24 when she decided to take matters into her own hands after her first book was repeatedly rejected by publishers.

Instead of dwelling on the negative, she opened her own publishing company Penwings Publishing and self-published her first book of poems and short stories in 2016.

Her debut work, Midnight Monologues, later won MPH’s Best Book of 2016 and went on to become the number one best-selling fiction book, even topping writers like as Lang Leav, Jojo Moyes and Mitch Albom for a few weeks.

Her second book, Daylight Dialogues, is expected to be released next month.

“I’m known for my diminishing poetry in my first book where I shave down one full sentence into a single word but for this book, I challenged myself with more, experimenting with different types of poetry.

 

“There are anagrams, poetry that you can read top to bottom and bottom to top, and short stories which are more themed while the first one was to test waters,” Ong, now 26, told Malay Mail in a recent interview.

She chose to go with short poetry after a market survey found Malaysians have short attention spans.

But Ong said she was able to relate to the survey finding.

“The short poems I write, some are just two lines, is to grasp people’s attention, making it an easy entry point for Malaysians to read other books out there.

“As someone who didn’t like to read, sometimes it’s a matter of finding the right book,” she said.

Her Taylor Swift phase

Ong started writing poetry four years ago on Instagram to help her cope with a difficult breakup.

“I did the whole Taylor Swift thing.”

She knew she was on to something when people started telling her to turn her works into a book.

Ong is the author of two books, 'Midnight Monologues' and 'Daylight Dialogues,' which she self-published.
Ong is the author of two books, 'Midnight Monologues' and 'Daylight Dialogues,' which she self-published.

“The second book is more light-hearted and focuses more on self-actualisation, how I perceive myself really.

“It has themes of love and heartbreak because people like that and you can’t break away from those themes,” she said.

The book hater’s first book love

The writer from Subang Jaya told Malay Mail she never used to read until she found the right book.

“I didn’t read at all, my first book was Twilight — it got a book hater like me to sit with a dictionary and read,” she revealed.

These days, she reads a book a week, anything and everything from autobiography to children’s book and history.

Under her publishing house, Ong has published one other author so far, Singaporean teacher Timothy Joshua’s book of poems titled Questions to our Answers.

The One Academy interactive media design graduate said she receives one manuscript per week and hopes to publish more books to turn her passion project into a self-sustaining business.

In the meantime, Ong’s day job as a user experience and user interface designer for a financial tech company in Kuala Lumpur helps her sustain her three-year-old publishing house.

“I know, it sounds ironic, doesn’t it?” she exclaimed.

Asked what younger readers love reading these days, Ong said dystopian novels (think Hunger Games and Maze Runner) and romance.

“I think young people are starting to pick up the habit. My dream is to see at least 50 per cent of people reading on the train,” said Ong who is working on her third book, a sci-fi novel.

“Reading opens a lot of perspective in life and makes us more tolerant of each other because it teaches us empathy — that’s important for the development of the mind especially in this country.”