But Survival Doesn’t Work Like That: On Self-Publishing and Wan Sik Press

Michael Leung shares a note on experiments in self-publishing.  


“What are you working on, exactly? I have no idea.”
“Reification,” he answered.
“It’s an important job,” I added.
“Yes, it is,” he said.
“I see,” Carole observed with admiration.
“Serious work, at a huge desk cluttered with thick books and papers.”
“No,” said Gilles. “I walk. Mainly I walk.”

—Michéle Bernstein, All the King’s Horses (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2008)



Image: Illustration by wongmeiyin for the fictional story <i>The Rats & Worms Know You Well</i> written by the author, 2021.
Image: Illustration by wongmeiyin for the fictional story The Rats & Worms Know You Well written by the author, 2021.


This is my 14th year teaching part-time. Some of you may already know “I only teach in semester one,” which means I don’t have a job for most of the year. Luckily, things have worked out so far—guest speaker invitations, savings from my PhD studentship (HK$17,510 per month between 2018–21, now all spent), the odd artist fee, and more recently borrowing money from a friend to help pay for my home rent and two studio rents (the two collectives I’m a part of).

It’s worth noting that teaching part-time brings other issues—e.g., prep work and days of grading without being paid, losing email and library access after each semester, lack of an office space, and more. My current salary is HK$1,200–1,600 per hour (156 hours this semester—the most I’ve ever instructed). My combined rents total HK$7,717 per month.

The other day, a friend reminded me of all those emails and meetings that come with full-time teaching. I had a taste of the latter one year at HK Baptist University, and even recall a colleague asking me, “Why are you attending this meeting?” At the time, I thought their question seemed quite hostile, but after seeing them again recently, and outside of the institution, I think they were simply looking out for me—preventing a friend from drifting into an “increasingly rationalised and bureaucratic society.”1

The above extract from All the King’s Horses by Michéle Bernstein resonates because it reminds us that people may seem like they’re seamlessly going through life—walking from A to B, B to C—but behind their everyday appearance, they may be working on something urgent, heterogeneous, and terribly challenging—perhaps they’re working on environmental justice or practicing prefigurative politics…What are you working on, exactly?


Image: <i>Hong Kong Dérive</i> poster by the author, October 2018.
Image: Hong Kong Dérive poster by the author, October 2018.


The Situationist International created a method of critically navigating around the city called the dérive (“drifting” in English). During the dérive, you’re pulled and guided by the city and encounters you may have, whilst welcoming new conditions and possibilities. Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing writes, “We are contaminated by our encounters; they change who we are as we make way for others. As contamination changes world-making projects, mutual worlds—and new directions—may emerge.” The dérive is a contaminating and convivial activity, but it requires us to be mobile, receptive, and open to different walks of life. Do the conditions of survival and the distraction of spectacle permit such encounters to (still) happen?

I started writing fiction in 2014 and have since developed a (pipe) dream of surviving from my writing. Before the start of this semester, a time when I’m the most broke and using coins to pay for groceries and travel, I attempted an experiment at a collective I’ve been part of since January 2022: I committed one week to self-publishing as a way of survival.

In our collective’s common space, we have:

  • two A3-colour laser printers (one gifted for thirty weeks from a friend, and one gifted by a designer in Sheung Wan),
  • a five-colour risograph printer (purchased with my PhD studentship 2018–21),
  • a manual paper creaser and a perfect binding machine (purchased with a collective member’s funded projects),
  • and an electric paper cutter (gifted from an office in Kwun Tong).2


Image: First prints of <i>Elms as Method</i> made in IASPIS, May 2023.
Image: First prints of Elms as Method made in IASPIS, May 2023.


I opened the design file for a book I self-published in 2020 called Collective Notes, renamed the file, and then pasted five fictional stories into it: “Take the National Express,” “We the Pollards,” “Elms as Method,” “Planet Earth: Mumbai’s Leopards,” and “Kai Shan.” I changed the typeface from Garamound to Asul, a typeface by Mariela Monsalve.3 I printed onto leftover paper and card offered by a friend, and used the aforementioned equipment to bind ten 64-page books. The title Elms as Method was chosen as it was the most recent story and probably my favourite of the six. It was written after I submitted my PhD thesis novel and included two recognisable characters—a sequel if you will—who amplify struggles I learnt with4 in Sweden. I wrote it in May 2023, during my three-month art residency at IASPIS in Stockholm, a beautiful city with absorbing bookshops and infoshops that collectively destroyed my bank account.


Image: HK Reader Instagram post, 26 July 2023.
Image: HK Reader Instagram post, 26 July 2023.


I wrapped ten books and walked with a spring in my step to HK Reader, a bookshop in Mong Kok, to deliver the books for sale. I recall a conversation I had with two of the staff after I shared my idea to self-publish my PhD thesis. They said it was “unordinary” to publish a thesis in that way, and that perhaps I should contact a Taiwanese publisher, or even Tang Siu Wa (鄧小樺), who might be interested. I don’t know Tang, and could already imagine the many emails that would need to be read/written to eventually get my book published—if at all. Similar to my previous books, HK Reader kindly accepted Elms as Method, and to my surprise even made an Instagram post to promote it.

In June, my mum gave me her “old” iPhone 12 mini that allowed me to reopen my Big Cartel online shop, which was dormant due to my aged electronic devices, browsers, and OS. With Big Cartel’s free price plan (limited to only five items), I added Elms as Method, some zines, and a poster with an adrienne maree brown quote:

The stories we tell can either reflect the society we are a part of or transform it. If we want to bring new worlds into existence, then we need to challenge the narratives that uphold current power dynamics and patterns.5

I shared my Big Cartel shop on social media and commented on old Facebook posts.

The next day, I returned to our common space to repeat the previous day, but this time with my thesis novel. My mum told me to contact international publishers like Penguin that do distribution, but survival doesn’t work like that. It is urgent, immediate, and sometimes desperate—which I was. I opened the Elms as Method design file, and pasted my 220-page thesis novel, without the contents page, introduction, conclusion, bibliography, appendix, and 548 footnotes!


Image: 《橫洲喵喵貓故事相册》(“Wang Chau <i>Meow Meow</i> Cat Story Album”) designed by villager Ms Cheng and the author, published June 2022.
Image: 《橫洲喵喵貓故事相册》(“Wang Chau Meow Meow Cat Story Album”) designed by villager Ms Cheng and the author, published June 2022.


The title, Three Villages—A Wang Chau Story, came from an event we planned called Wang Chau Fruity Solidarity, where one of the speakers spoke about her cat, “Three Villages,” and how the cat’s name came from the three villages evicted in April 2021 by the Hong Kong government. Those villages are/were called Wing Ning Tsuen, Fung Chi Tsuen, and Yeung Uk San Tsuen. The “A” in the book’s title recognises this as just one of many stories about Wang Chau—the most moving and important being those told by the villagers themselves. Did you ever go to Wang Chau? If so, do you have a story to tell?

I made twenty books this time. Occasionally holding the ten wrapped books like a pizza box with one hand, I fast-walked to HK Reader again and repeated what I had done the day before yesterday. The HK Reader team was surprised by my speed in self-publishing, but reminded me it’s “impossible” to make a living like this. Without many options in such a short space of time—except being a food delivery person, cafe worker, or English teacher—I persevered and, on the walk home, added Three Villages—A Wang Chau Story to my online shop and posted an update on social media. That night, a friend told me HK Reader posted my thesis novel on their Instagram. I felt lucky to have their support.


Image: Shek Lei Hang Tsuen (@shekleicommunities), February 2023. Photo by the author.


Good things come in threes, and the next day I worked on a third book, using the Elms as Method file again, and made twenty copies of Before the Typhoon. The book has the same number of pages but instead has twelve stories: “Typhoon No. 8,” “Before the Typhoon,” “Plastic Beach,” “Our 3.7-month Journey,” “(F)unfair World,” “Odysseys, Rolled to Be Unrolled Again,” “A Purslane Morning,” “The Rats and Worms Know You Well,” “Lion Rock Face,” “lslands of Lost Souls,” “LOL,” and “Almost Spring.” The front cover was a photo taken in Shek Lei Hang Tsuen on 11 February 2023, when I joined a village tour with Wang Chau and Ma On Shan villagers.

In my thesis, I wrote about the Hong Kong inter-village alliances during the 1950s. That day reminded me of those alliances—if one village was facing eviction from the government, other villages would join forces in solidarity and organise together. This happened in 1957 when ten villages banded together to support Chuk Yuen, which the colonial government was planning to evict using the Land Resumption Ordinance.6 Today, the same village is facing similar issues following the 2020 Policy Address.7

I made twenty books and was much quicker this time. On the sixth day of this self-publishing spree, I delivered ten books to HK Reader. Before the Typhoon was my third book released in a week, published by a new press called Wan Sik Press—“Wan Sik” meaning “survival” in Cantonese (搵食). HK Reader made another Instagram post which I appreciated again. I walked home chuffed with my three achievements—and exhausted—but the work didn’t stop there.


Image: Three self-published books with risograph printed covers, photo by the author, August 2023.
Image: Three self-published books with risograph printed covers, photo by the author, August 2023.


During that week, I organised, packaged, and posted online orders that friends and strangers made on my online shop, totalling HK$2,934. I also sold a few in person, giving a 10% student discount to a friend. On the three visits to the post office, I posted to Hong Kong, the UK, America, Australia, Japan, and Taiwan, and sometimes operated at a slight loss without calculating the delivery costs beforehand. I couldn’t have done this accurately with the different combinations of the five items—one of which needed a cardboard tube and a larger envelope. Each package included a bookmark with a handwritten message expressing my gratitude for their purchase.


Image: Screen capture from (Japan), February 2024.
Image: Screen capture from (Japan), February 2024.


Looking back, it was an intense week! Everything was made possible with the collective space, friends, Hoi Fat stationery shop, HK Reader, and Hongkong Post. The week was an experiment in survival and—despite not earning enough to even cover my home rent and needing to borrow money from a friend—it gave me confidence as a writer to continue along this “impossible” path.

If I expanded my online shop to include the dozens of zines I’ve made over the years, like friends have done in Japan, would I make enough money to cover the monthly Big Cartel multiple-item subscription and pay my rents? What if I’d done a book launch and sharing at Art and Culture Outreach similar to the one in 2018? Or perhaps something more intimate like the sharing at Nam Chung in 2020? Would other writers like to replicate this approach to survival and have their work designed and published by Wan Sik Press? Could Wan Sik Press have collaborated with Debbie Blockchain in 2021, who envisaged a publishing system of “plurality and mutual aid”? Perhaps you’re already participating in something similar, independent of labourious grant applications and funding bodies. Maybe I can answer these questions after next semester and continue doing what The Invisible Committee succinctly wrote in their 2009 book:

Get organized in order to no longer have to work.8

The path to not working is paved by collective spaces and the commons—and in our lifetime, we leave traces, nestled between those loosening cobblestones.



This piece was mostly written in the thick of my Winter 2023 teaching semester, along with a few more recent edits and updates.



Michael Leung is an artist, designer, and visiting lecturer. His work is situated in everyday life, affected by convivial encounters, and inspired by different autonomous spaces—some of which he shares in his writing, zines, and fictional stories. Michael received his PhD at the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong, where he researched colonial and “post-colonial” entanglements that have led to the dispossession of villagers’ homes and significant biodiversity loss in Wang Chau, Hong Kong.




1. Andrew Edgar and Peter Sedgwick, Cultural Theory: The Key Concepts (Oxfordshire: Routledge, 1999), 290.

2. See also my previous essay on the significance of collective zine-making and alternative publishing,

3. See also Yulia Popova, How many female type designers do you know? (Eindhoven: Onomatopee, 2021).

4. “Learning with” instead of “learning from,” the latter feeling extractive without being in dialogue and giving something back. See, Léopold Lambert, “Learning With Palestine: Introduction and Map.” The Funambulist, December 16, 2019,

5. adrienne maree brown, “Outro.” In Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, edited by adrienne maree brown, and Walidah Imarisha (Oakland: AK Press, 2015), 279.

6. Ng Fat Chuen, “Planning of Wong Tai Sin District in 1957. Compensation policy for the demolition of Chuk Yuen Vi…,” Hong Kong Memory, February 20, 2012,

7. Rachel Wong, “Policy Address 2020: Controversial HK$624 billion Lantau Tomorrow housing project to go ahead.” Hong Kong Free Press, November 25, 2020,

8. The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection (Cambridge; The MIT Press, 2009), 103.



Michael LEUNG, 梁志剛

Wed, 6 Mar 2024

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