This Thanksgiving I want to send a shout out to the one guy in a city of 13 million who was willing to give me a shot.
If writing a book is like climbing a mountain, then marketing one is like taking on Everest. Marketing one in a country where hardly anyone speaks or reads your language is like taking on Everest with no oxygen. And no clothes. Hungover.
The goal was to convince one of the bigger booksellers in Tokyo to let me hold a book signing in one of their stores. So I started calling around.
“Sorry, we don’t do that kind of thing,” said the first person I spoke to once they’d deciphered my Japanese. “We don’t have many foreign customers,” said another. Someone from one of Japan’s largest and best-known chains told me to call back once I was famous – assuring that I wouldn’t.
I put down the phone. This shit was going nowhere.
I stuffed two dozen copies of my book in a bag and hopped a bus for the world’s most populous city.
At one bookstore the man asked me what my book was about. Christ, I had a hard enough time doing that in English. At a place across town the woman took one look at the ISBN on the back of my book and shook her head. I didn’t know you could tell a book was self-published just by that.
It was late afternoon when I walked into the Junkudo in Ikebukuro. The guy in the foreign language section spoke not a lick of English, but he was friendly and willing to listen. For a while. I ignored the exasperation in his face and kept talking.
He was starting to sweat when up walked Kohashi-san, manager of Junkudo’s Foreign Books Division.
I don’t know what he saw in me. I don’t think he understood the one paragraph he read. But with outstretched hand he asked me to meet him the next day in Shinjuku, to talk about putting on a book signing.
“That’s where I usually work,” he told me. “I’m not even sure why I came here today.”
Kohashi-san got nothing for helping me out. Got nothing for spending his time on some no-name author. Nothing except my gratitude, which I could never adequately express, not in Japanese, not then and not now.
Ten years and a few more books later I’m still a no-name author. I’ve yet to summit that Everest. But thanks in part to Kohashi-san I’m still climbing.
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