Thursday, November 30, 2017

Another Gift Suggestion

Here is another suggestion for a book for holiday giving. Take a virtual trip to Japan. Find out what it was like to live there. Learn how we managed to do business with the Japanese. Discover the wonderful experiences we enjoyed during our stay there as well as some of the frustrations. 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park is part memoir, part business book, part travel, part theme park construction, and a lot of fun.

While we were in Japan, every two weeks or so, I wrote an essay on something we had seen or done or observed. (Today, they would probably be a blog.) By the end of our stay, I sent my pieces to over 150 people via email. I discovered some of them passed them on to other people.

When we got back, several friends said I should put them into a book. This seemed like an easy task—until I actually started to do it. I discovered the original stories didn’t translate well into a cohesive narrative. They became my source material, but with only a couple of exceptions, I ended up rewriting everything.

I finished the first couple of chapters, but then I realized I needed Larry’s input. I told him what I wanted. Then I waited. And waited. A couple of months later, he came back with something. Only his was very different from the book I had started. I couldn’t figure out any way to incorporate it into a cohesive narrative. I gave up on the project.

Fortunately, a good friend asked about the book. I told her our issue. She invited us to attend her critique group. “Bring what you have to a meeting. Maybe someone can help you figure out how to make it work.”

One of the other writers suggested we look at the material we wanted to include and see if we could identify each chapter by who wrote it. This made sense. So, we began again.

As we worked on the manuscript, we shared information. We also did two complete rewrites. During these, some of Larry made its way into my chapters, and some of me made its way into his. Yet, our unique points of view remained.

We finished the first draft after two years. We did a great deal of fact-checking with our colleagues to be sure we accurately conveyed the events.

We began to look for an agent. The one we found loved the book, but he couldn’t figure out how to market it. It was about Japan, but it wasn’t a travel guide. It was about doing business with the Japanese, but it wasn’t specifically a business book. (Although, it was on the Forbes 500 list of recommended books for several years. It might still be, as far as I know.) It was about the expat experience, but it wasn’t exclusively about it. And it was about building the theme park (Universal Studios Japan), but it wasn’t limited to the construction, either. After several months, the agent returned our manuscript to us.

By this time, the park had been completed nearly four years earlier, and public interest was waning. We decided to subsidy publish the book ourselves. I researched all the available companies and chose the one with the best reputation. They also were running a special. (This was right after the holidays, a slow period for them.)

We submitted the manuscript. The editorial review gave us several items to address—including the need to reduce the size of the book by at least 100 pages. We also faced a deadline. If the book was submitted for publication by April 1, we would receive an additional thirty copies of the paperback. We had only one weekend to complete the edit.

I stayed up for seventy-two hours straight cutting the manuscript. Larry worked for several hours, too. In the end, we made the required publication size, and the book was even better with the cuts.

We had originally intended to use a photo showing us in the park for the cover, but the publisher said it didn’t have good enough resolution. Again, we were up against a deadline. Larry made a couple of pencil sketches of the five-story pagoda in Kyoto and the entrance arch for Universal. He faxed them to me. He said he would draft them when we got home that evening.

However, I loved them just the way they were. I am a fan of Japanese sumei painting. I like its lack of precision. I showed the sketches to several of my colleagues, and they agreed with me.

When we got home, I mocked up the cover design, with the text and blue-green ombre background. We sent it to the publisher, and they approved it.

We met our deadline.

The book is still sold around the world on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Surprisingly, the hardbound version sold well on the Amazon UK website. We know it has been recommended by word-of-mouth to expats teaching English in Japan.

We returned to Japan in 2011 for the tenth anniversary of park opening. We remain very proud of the world-class park we helped create.

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