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Three Years

Haikasoru celebrated our two-year anniversary last month, but there’s another anniversary to celebrate…and it’s today! There years ago, on August 4th 2008, I reported for work here at VIZ for the first time. I had no idea what to expect; indeed, I didn’t even know that the imprint I’d been hired to edit had a name yet. Masumi Washington, my supervisor, revealed it—”Haikasoru!”—to me only after lunch.

I’d moved to California from Boston just three days before, and was little prepared. The only piece of furniture I had was a small two-seat couch I had ordered. My dog and I slept on that for a week until my bed arrived. I also had no pants, as I’d had to pack very quickly and had just shoved everything in my dresser into shipping boxes, rather than in my luggage for the flight over. I had no local bank, and with the expense of moving and shipping, just enough money to get to work and back. (Friends fed me for the first two weeks.) I’d also never had a full-time office job before—I was a full-time freelance writer and editor with some small reputation in science fiction, and I had experience in translation, albeit from the Korean and German. Occasionally though, things break out in favor of the “weird” candidate. It actually helped that I wasn’t steeped in anime and manga; the higher-ups wanted someone primarily interested in SF as opposed to Japanese popular culture specifically. So what if I couldn’t use a multi-line phone! (As it turns out, nobody ever calls me anyway.)

The greatest challenge was that in late July 2008, just as I was making my plan to take this job, the global economy shuddered and nearly collapsed utterly. I remember being in the airport, waiting for my ride to my new apartment which I’d rented sight unseen, and watching CNN. I wondered if I’d be stranded in California without a job or means to head back East if the banking crisis took down the already weak publishing sector. I still joke that, as far as I know, I’m the only person in publishing who actually got a job rather than lost one that summer.

Launching a new imprint is difficult in the best of times. Launching one into the teeth of a global economic crisis, and without any popular writers already known to Anglophone audiences, was an immense challenge. It continues to be one, of course. Kindle and other ebook formats have changed all the rules, and in the last eight months over 600 bookstores in the US have just melted into air. We also had to shake the early impression that Haikasoru was another “light novel” imprint—we publish some light novels, but also more mainstream SF—and we had to win the Anglophone SF audience over to a different mode of genre. It’s easy enough to get a lifelong fan to read a single example of Japanese science fiction. Our true task was to convince SF fans that reading that one title wasn’t sufficient for them to say, “Ah, so now I know what Japanese SF is like. I never need look at any such books again.” And we had to do this while competing for shelf space, differentiating our books from manga, creating an ebook strategy, and making sure that we represented Japanese culture and our Japanese authors appropriately. That meant resisting pressure to “whitewash” the covers of our books by keeping Japanese faces off of them, among other things.

And it’s been working. Some of our books have captured a dual SF and Japanese pop culture audience. We’ve had award nominations, like the Shirley Jackson award nomination for ZOO, and victories, like the Special Citation for the Philip K. Dick award for Harmony. I’ve been nominated for the Hugo award for Best Editor, Long Form. I’ll find out how badly I’ve lost the vote in just two weeks! SF readers are taking to our titles, especially the hard SF that’s heavily influenced by classic science fiction. Our readers from anime and manga fandom are endlessly supportive; we couldn’t do it without you guys!

Just how far have we pushed into the mainstream in just three years? Today, MTV Geek News is running an exclusive excerpt of our latest title, Good Luck, Yukikaze! From zero to MTV in three years? I’ll take it!

It’s been a great three years. I hope we’ll have many more together! If you like our books, tell your friends. If you’re eager for a little more leisure reading, check out our books. We’ll continue to experiment and explore every permutation of Japanese SF we can find, and we have a great new slate of titles for 2012 that we can’t wait to show you. Keep in touch, and happy reading. Remember, the future is Japanese!

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Backlist Buying Guide!

I wasn’t going to do a holiday buying guide for our 2009 titles as they might be a bit more difficult to find on bookstore shelves, but because YOU demanded it (well, because a couple of people demanded it), here we are!

All You Need Is Kill
Who I Thought Would Like It: Fans of action-packed SF.
Who Actually Liked it the Most: Fans of action-packed SF…eventually. The common publishing wisdom in the United States is that 50,000-word novels don’t sell. Personally I think they do sell just fine, but are most often sold by being embedded in another 50,000-word novel that just happens to be about the same characters opening and closing doors, raising their eyebrows, discussing their hobbies (often hobbies shared by the author), sipping beverages, and having and then recounting ominous dreams. This book really picked up when the movie news hit. Of course, movie news doesn’t last forever, but it was in April of this year when a critical mass of readers finally found the book and then word-of-mouth took over. Even after the bump of the movie announcement, and a subsequent spike following the announcement that Doug Liman would be helming the picture, sales have remained strong. So, good!

The Lord of the Sands of Time
Who I Thought Would Like It: The manga crowd.
Who Actually Liked it the Most: Old-school SF fans. The folks who came of age reading the SF of the 1950s really dug this one. Perhaps it’s because many paperback novels from that era, and really, into the 1970s, were fairly short, but this audience didn’t mind another 50,000-word novel. Some actually explicitly declared missing exciting and plot-filled novels that could be read in a single sitting. They didn’t find Messenger O goofy, liked the time-travel and Many Worlds conceits, and found the whole thing rather rollicking!

Who I Thought Would Like It: I was afraid nobody would like it!
Who Actually Liked it the Most: Horror fans, thankfully. Two things need to be understood: a) generally speaking, horror doesn’t sell in the United States anymore unless “disguised” as thriller, or paranormal romance, or some other genre; and b) short story collections don’t sell in the US either. So putting out a horror short story collection was very risky—one can imagine the intersecting area of two small audiences as our total potential audience. Well, as it turns out, that intersection was big enough to buy some copies and hungry enough to snap up Otsuichi rather greedily. And ZOO was nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award. His follow-up, Summer, Fireworks, And My Corpse was also nominated for a prize—the Black Quill award. So if you want to see a third horror short story collection, you know what you need to do, right?

Usurper of the Sun
Who I Thought Would Like It: Hard SF fans.
Who Actually Liked it the Most: Correct! I was pleased to see Nojiri’s first contact novel reviewed in Locus, given a shout-out on National Geographic planetary science blog, and other places beloved of the nerd hardcore. Hard SF is always a little tricky—in recent years in the US it has become dominated by a sort of libertarian politics that one isn’t going to find in Japanese fiction—but it all worked out.

We did reissues of Battle Royale and Brave Story and those continued to sell extremely well to their young audiences. And then there was…

The Book of Heroes
Who I Thought Would Like It: Brave Story fans and creepy weirdos who like nineteenth century decadent fiction.
Who Actually Liked it the Most: Many but not all Brave Story fans. Many of Brave Story’s young readers were impressed with that book’s heft. It’s a real achievement for a kid to read an 820-page book. The Book of Heroes isn’t quite the epic Miyuki Miyabe’s other novel with us was, though those who discovered Miyabe through Brave Story and picked up her follow-up quite liked it and many of her new fans are still discovering it—it’s a good backlist seller. My little daydream of Robert W. Chambers fans discovering book—the “King in Yellow” was originally his idea—didn’t quite come true either, but we can’t have all our books for young girls read by middle-aged men, can we?

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Harmony AND Happy Anniversary

Harmony by Project Itoh releases today! As I mentioned last month when editorial copies arrived, I am especially excited about this book, which presses all my buttons—it’s a satire, near-future SF with a darkly comic tinge to it.

It’s also Haikasoru’s anniversary—our first two titles released a year ago tomorrow. So far we’ve put out eleven books, and I think we’ve done pretty well. All You Need Is KILL is on the production fast-track at Warner Bros, ZOO was nominated for the Shirley Jackson award, and we’ve found plenty of enthusiastic readers for science fiction in translation—something many observers said simply couldn’t be done. Here’s hoping there’ll be many more years, and many more readers, to come.

It’s my anniversary, but buy yourselves a present: I recommend Harmony.

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The Shirley Jackson Awards or, I Got A Rock

The winners of the 2009 Shirley Jackson Awards have been announced, and sadly for us, nominee ZOO by Otsuichi didn’t win in its category of Best Collection. Congrats to the winners Tunneling to the Center of the Earth by Kevin Wilson (Harper Perennial) and Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical by Robert Shearman (Big Finish Productions). I suppose a three-way tie out of a field of five finalists would have been too much to ask for.

Luckily, the Jacksons offer a little lagniappe for all the nominees, so soon we’ll be shipping Otsuichi his very own “The Lottery”—style throwing stone:

And now, just for kicks, here’s the brief speech that would have been read out at today’s ceremony, had Otsuichi won:

Hello, everybody. My name is Otsuichi, and I write novels in Japan. I
feel very honored to be receiving this award. Thank you so much for this
acknowledgment of my work. I’m going to tell my wife and parents about
this right away. I know they’ll all be happy for me. When I write, I
never have confidence in my stories. I write in fear of my anxiety, and
every time I think, “I’m going to quit being a writer after I finish
this novel.” However, receiving recognition like this gives me courage.
I feel I can continue writing a bit longer, and I’ll be so happy if more
people read my work as a result of this award. Thank you so much.

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