Unless you’re Belle from Beauty and the Beast, stuck in a small provincial town with an even smaller library, it’s likely that the plethora of books available out there is more than enough to last a few lifetimes.
A happy problem of course, but free time to read a book and explore the literary world is especially limited when you’re a working adult.
Thus, we usually look for easy, time-efficient ways to get our hands on the next best read – checking out bestseller lists, or speed Google-ing book reviews.
But that’s where a gap appears – where hidden gems that have yet to be unearthed get overlooked by the more publicised authors and titles.
Sometimes, a deceptively boring cover might even deter the most adventurous of readers from picking the book up to browse.
So much for “don’t judge a book by its cover”, right?
Literature is, and always has been a means to escape reality and venture into new worlds, but the overexposure of certain titles can mean that the magic of entering unknown territories is lost.
In this fast-paced, digital space with a flood of information from all angles, it has become so rare to just sit down in a cafe alone and read a novel. Books are meant to be indulged, but now we see it almost as a chore.
– founder of The Novel Encounter, Adam Tie (27).
Founded by Adam and Charlotte Lim, his friend and the startup’s resident artist (she has since left to pursue her own artistic career), The Novel Encounter is a Singapore-based online bookstore that wants to rekindle the love for literature in all Singaporeans.
To do that, the duo are imbuing a sense of adventure into the act of getting a new book again.
As compared to giving you a detailed synopsis of the book and zoom-able shots of its cover (like other online bookstores), the startup shrouds its offerings in an air of mystery instead.
A brown envelope, to be specific.
While a nightmare for those who like predictability, this is actually perfect for readers who are jaded with the typical ‘browse and buy’ process.
However, Adam makes sure to state that the books aren’t just for literature geeks – they’re for everyone.
“Our curated collection is for the adventurer looking for a companion during their travels. The intellectual hoping to be introduced to brave new worlds. The casual reader seeking a complement to their coffee on a lazy Sunday.”
A Childhood ‘Business’ From Adam’s School Days
An unabashed dreamer, he revealed that his love for books started from childhood, when he was “bullied mercilessly”.
I always found comfort in literature. I didn’t have many friends as a kid, really, and used to always feel alone and shunted aside. Books were like writers reassuring me, “Don’t worry. You aren’t alone in your sadness.”
It was also then that young Adam stumbled into his first entrepreneurial venture – reselling books from home to other kids in class under his ‘personal recommendations’.
“[I sold them for] $2 each – this was obviously before I knew what cost margins were.”
“And for $5, if you told me a synopsis of a story you wanted to read, I would write it for you within a week. A regular customer’s mother caught wind of it when he was buying a book from me on almost a weekly basis!”
This little business eventually raised alarms with his principal, and his mother was called in to his office.
To date, she still shares the story of the young businessman at family gatherings.
But as much as he enjoys doing business, he still identifies as a writer at the end of the day.
“I’d relate as an entrepreneur, but I’d like to be recognised as a writer because that’s where my inclinations and passions will ultimately always lie.”
“A Lot Of People Were Hesitant”
A novel (pun intended) concept, take-up was slow at the start, as many were hesitant on whether they’ll actually like the book they got, or if they’ll get a book that they already had at home.
To put the worries to rest, The Novel Encounter offers a 100% money back guarantee if the buyer is unsatisfied with the recommendation.
The strict curation aspect of the business also helped in ensuring that all their customers got the best book recommendations out there, and the store wasn’t just a depository (no pun intended) for all the books – good and terrible – under the sun.
If we were churning half-baked cheap titles simply to earn higher margins from our customers, then I’ll lose sense of what this business sought out to achieve since day 1.
“I was adamant (no pun intended) of every title’s quality. So my books were a little difficult to find, and weren’t the cheapest books around, but I insisted that we maintain the curation aspect.”
“If The Novel Encounter specialises in just wrapping up books and putting question marks on them, there would be no point to this.”
Through this honesty and also “talking to customers like friends”, their fanbase started growing organically, and they have sold over a thousand of these ‘mystery’ books to date.
“We’re proud to say that gives us great hope that there still is a vibrant culture of readers in this lion city, and we have contributed to this increasing love for great novels.”
Current Challenge: Meeting Up With Demand
For the Adam and the team, their very successful run at the recent Singapore Coffee Festival was a strong testament to the growing demand for their curated books.
In fact, a current challenge they face now is actually managing demand from customers!
The Festival was also a testing ground for a new product – where Adam crafts a poem on the spot from 3 words selected by the customer in under 3 minutes.
“It’s proven to be popular! And it’s really a warm feeling seeing people’s faces light up when they read what you’ve written for them.”
“But to answer questions from other customers in the midst of composing a poem on the spot was quite a challenge.”
“We provide it on our website too, but something about seeing someone smile after you personally hand their poem to them just makes me so happy I can’t describe it.”
Spoken like a true writer.
Future Plans For The Novel Encounter
The exciting journey of The Novel Encounter has just begun, and Adam is looking to collaborate with more calligraphers and writers with the startup.
But more than that, he wishes that he can create a platform for both book lovers and casual readers alike.
Books are not meant to just be flipped through and forgotten on a shelf. It’s the simplest, most intricate form of adventure. That’s what we’re selling here. We have brave new worlds to introduce you to. We hope you fall in love.
As for his advice to aspiring entrepreneurs with passion projects like himself:
“The most important thing in business is to create something that is genuine, honest, and aligned with your personal interests. You have to feel involved, and passionate about what you’re bringing to the public. The rest of the business is meticulous execution and strategy.
“But I feel if genuineness is the foundation of your business – if you can maintain this drive, this motivation, this passion for your product, then great, amazing and wonderful things will happen.”
Get your ‘mystery’ books here!
And for those of you who want to check The Novel Encounter’s offerings out in person and perhaps get a poem written on the spot – they will be at the Boutique Fairs event from November 10-12.
“We’ve got something fun planned for that one,” teases Adam.