At the age of 30, Dara Ly has already penned 16 books. His latest work, “Life at 30 Years Old”, is about life at 30 years old, containing relevant life experiences and inspiring teenagers to lead their lives positively.
Ly’s mission is to encourage every Cambodian to read one book a week, so within a year, they will have read more than 50 books.
“I want and hope Cambodian people will read one book in one week, so in a year they will read 50 books,” Ly told Kiripost in an interview.
Ly said that his books are admired by many young students, not only in Cambodia. He has built up a fanbase across Asia, including in the Philippines, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam.
“I got really similar feedback, even from local and international fans,” Ly said, adding that in his latest work, he reflects on his own life so that youths can use his experiences to lead life from their early teens to their 30s like him.
In addition, he hopes the book serves as an opportunity for readers to learn to make small changes in themselves while offering advice on adapting to living in different conditions in rural and urban areas.
Dara said the book also motivates people to know the importance of education in the family for children, which is the foundation. Reading this book, he added that readers will know more about themselves and better equip them to face any challenge.
First book as a test
Ly’s first job working as an English teacher for three months began in mid-2016, a year after he graduated from university in Phnom Penh. His dream job as a child was to write a book offering tips to youth and teenagers in Cambodia about the importance of reading.
Then he started to write his first book “Dara Ly Reading Standard”, which was published in 2016. Ly, who is from Kampong Cham province and holds a Bachelor's Degree from the University of Puthisastra in English Literature, said that many teenagers learned about him through his first book.
“Many youths and teenagers started to know and read the first book that came out and within only 44 days, I sold 700 books out of a total of 1,000,” Ly said, adding he also donated 300 books.
With strong support for his book, Ly realised he should write another one, especially after discovering that readers are his motivation, even though the first publication was just a test.
Engaging the fans
Importantly for Ly, before he writes his books, he asks his fans, who are 80 percent female, about their concerns, challenges, and any thoughts they have. From this information, he decides the next topic to tackle in his works, and how to motivate and educate people.
Up to now, his 16 books fall into three categories: education, inspiration and entertainment.
As people face challenges in life, Ly writes inspirational books to help them, especially teenagers, learn more about medical issues, depression and diet problems.
Among them, Ly said another book is called “3-minute Motivation”, which is special for him. He said, “I also get depressed while I’m writing books; it’s a reminder and this can be used to build self-development.”
He added that about 30 people contact him daily to buy books, with nearly 100 people commenting and chatting via his Facebook page. Yet, some requested free copies. In response, he is creating a website as an easy way to offer them a free read.
My heart will not go away
As an author, he said it is sometimes stressful as he has to borrow money to pay for the publications and his family does not always support him in his career.
He said his family often asks how much income he earns each month or per book, which affects his motivation to continue writing.
He added, “That’s a bad thing when I don't know how to balance time management and financial issues at the same time.”
Sometimes Ly feels pressure to separate time and money. He has also borrowed some money from family members previously to publish books.
“I can't stop this career, I will continue it forever,” he said, adding that even though with many challenges and mistakes, he’s sure that “my heart will not move away from this career”.
Commenting about readership in Cambodia today, Ly said that as there are more new writers and good works, the number of readers has hit another level.
Book fairs have been good as part of reading encouragement and he has already attended several in Phnom Penh and other provinces, he said, adding that engagement momentum is higher every time.
Oum Chhaily Dalen, a Year 4 student at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia, is a fan of Ly’s books. She said that she first came across one of his books, “3 AM” ( how to sleep peacefully) in 2019. She said, “It’s very helpful to me, especially to really hit my point.”
Dalen said she has become a better person in doing things, such as homework and schoolwork. The book has also made her more responsible. “Everything should be done today, don’t wait for tomorrow,” she added.
Ser Meyly is a junior student at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia and has been reading Ly’s books since 2019. She said she felt more confident after reading a few books.
“I could say that even though he has educated me directly, I can learn from him, his experiences and the ways that are more important with daily life in school, home, and society as well,” Meyly said.
She added that she feels happy to see many youths in Cambodia getting involved in community work and that the number of readers has increased compared to the last few years.
Kongmy Seiv Thean is a Year 1 student at University of Health Sciences and said she is interested in Ly’s book about pronunciation after receiving recommendations from friends.
She then bought two books and plans to buy another, "University Life Sucks”, saying it is interesting and motivating for her being in the first year of university.