Our Man is delighted to host a Q&A with Baye McNeil, aka Loco in Yokohama. He's even more delighted to say he's written a damn good book -- it's honest and compelling. But don't listen to Our Man, listen to The Man of the moment:
1. Tell Our Man about your book. What's it about?
In a sentence, It's about how my bitter responses to the behavior of people here in Japan (whether it is due to their racism, xenophobia, or any other fear-based feeling my presence inspires) informed me in no uncertain terms that I was a racist, and that if I wanted to be rid of this dark social virus -- that I believe many of us are afflicted with whether we're aware of it or not -- then I had better locate its source and confront it head on!
2. Why did you feel compelled to write this book?
Mostly it was out of my love for a woman who just happened to be Japanese, but also because I think I had learned some very valuable lessons while uncovering the source of my own racism. Lessons I thought others might benefit from as well...
3. Why did you go the self-publishing route?
It's the "in" thing, isn't it? I try to keep up with the hot new trends... just kidding. I'd have to say it's part trauma / part impatience / part business decision.
Trauma because I've been there done that. I went the traditional route with my first book. Went out, found myself a stellar agent on the strength of a stellar manuscript (her words) and my confidence was soaring. Then, the rejection letters started rolling in via my agent. All these fancy logos and letterheads, signed by editors who'd clearly read and given my work a second thought; Harper Collins, Random House, etc, all spoke with different variations on the same message: we're not quite sure how to market this. Each letter felt like a nail on the lid of the coffin my career was being laid to rest in. I was much younger though, and at the time didn't have three years of blogging and real encouragement from intelligent and thoughtful readers behind me. But, I suspect, some of the trauma of that period lingers even til this day.
Impatience because even if the traditional publishers did dig my manuscript, we’d still be looking at a minimum of a year and possibly longer before my book saw the light of Barnes & Noble. And with the technology available now, that just doesn't make sense except to the publishing companies themselves and whatever goes into their decision-making process as it pertains to timing.
And business-wise, I believe in my product! I've written a very good book. Could it use the eyes of a top-shelf editor? Of course. But, there are traditional ways to catch the attention of editors and nontraditional ways. This is a nontraditional way, and has been done successfully so there is precedent. I've read some of the books that have crept in the back door of the publishing industry and I think my book is at least as good as those, though it may still suffer from the same issues as the first book I wrote; that of being difficult to genre-ize. Is it a memoir? Is it a social commentary? All I know is it’s good enough to build off of, and if I keep grinding good things will happen!
4. Anything great or terrible about the experience so far?
Yes. One great thing is I've made what I believe to be at least one excellent, borderline brilliant decision as far as the production of this book is concerned. I don’t know if you've ever visited the blog, "Spooning with a Schoolboy" created by a lovely young writer and model named Caroline Josephine. But, before redesigning her blog, she used to have a banner with a scene from a subway car in Japan, and the first time I saw it I knew I wanted whoever did that banner to do my book cover. From CJ, I learned his name is JJ McCullough. He is a professional cartoonist and showcases his work over at filibustercartoons.com. I got in contact with him, told him what I had in mind and you've seen the results! I couldn't be more thrilled with them! And he's great to work with as well. Big shout to CJ and JJ!!
As for the terrible, shit, aside from the writing, MOST of the rest of it is terrible. I mean, it could be worse, but I'd surely love to be in a position where I could leave the rest to people more qualified to do it. I'm talking of course about editing, proofreading, promotion, marketing, advertising, publicity, etc... In all of these areas I've had to be the front guy. The guy with a dozen hats, the man on the phone, the guy putting in 15-hour days, social networking my ass off, trying to develop a strategy to get my book some press and some of that all important word-of-mouth. Luckily for me, the book is pretty good so the word of mouth has been sweet so far, but that could have easily gone another way. And I'm pretty sure I could be making more of this ongoing buzz if I had a machine behind me. I'm learning as I go, though, and I'm a quick study at times.
I have a couple of friends on the ground helping out, and the Japan blogosphere has responded tremendously, including people like yourself. So maybe it's not so terrible after all... I mean, it's only been two weeks and I have a feeling the number of people that know something about this book has to be a solid percentage of the people who could potentially know about my work at this point if I had gone the traditional route.
5. Any advice you'd give to aspiring self-publishers?
Yeah. Make sure the product is as good as you can make it and then some, because word of mouth will be the kiss of life or death. And before you even think about self-publishing anything, you had better build up some solid relationships founded on mutual respect and admiration. And preferably some that are willing to help out with those above mentioned tasks...or go out and learn about them on your own because they are realer than real. And don't count on friends to help you out of the kindness of their hearts. Some will of course but plan around that. Whatever they do ought to be gravy. They should not be part of the meal. That includes family, as well. You are the rudder. Give people a good reason to help you, like for example they stand to benefit as well, then you'll get a more robust response. And learn how to be grateful. How to stay humble and say please and thank you, and SHOW appreciation.
We writers are quite often hermits and spend a lot of our time alone with a keyboard and our thoughts and feelings. So, wearing the social hat often takes us out of our comfort zone. Try to learn to be comfortable in that discomfort zone BEFORE you publish! And never make the mistake of believing 10 bucks or 5 bucks is nothing and people will just part with it for your product like it's nothing. The onus is on you to make them feel that it's nothing. The value of the product they're getting for that price is what makes the money easier to part with. And that, my friend, returns us to the product. Make it great!
6. What are your hopes for the book?
I hope that people will read it, love it, learn something valuable from it about themselves and about how they can make their world better which in turn will make OUR world better. Then, I hope they tell everybody they know about it, and some of those people will pick up the book, read it, love it, and... Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. I also hope to earn enough money to finance its translation into Japanese in the near future so that our Japanese brethren can also feel the love.
7. How many people were involved in the project (feel free to drop names here to thank the faithful!)?
Aside from JJ McCollugh, there was also Amanda Taylor of whoaiminjapan.com who helped me out a great deal with the editing and proofreading, which I suck at. It was grammatical train wreck before she volunteered her services. There was also Jeny, from The Fast Fingers, a formatting service I worked with (for I know jack about formatting). She made a number of tasks involved in publishing this book so much easier. Her knowhow helped me tremendously. There were also a couple of friends back home that gave it reads and helpful tips.
8. What have you learnt about yourself as a result of writing and publishing the book?
I've learned that I can complete tasks that I begin, including pretty daunting ones. Sounds pretty basic, I know, but after you've left a number of tasks incomplete over the course of a lifetime, and live to regret not following through on them, then you learn that you are the type of person that can fail. Failure becomes part of your repertoire. Beginning with my blog and now my book, I can now add to that repertoire that I've learn I can be successful if I put my mind to shit and don't give up! I want to say I've learned I can do anything I put my mind to, but honestly I'm still learning that one. But I think I'm at least enrolled in the right school to learn that lesson.
9. What's your next project?
Another book is in the hopper...I plan to publish it this year, as well. This will be my last "Japan" book and will be lighter... more for the fun of it than for atonement and reparation. I think I'd like to write a Japan book that is essentially a thank-you card to the Japanese for all this wonderful land has done for me. And after that I'll probably take my leave of Kawaiiland and see what else the world has in store for Loco. Maybe, if I get rich, I'll keep a little spot here so I can return as often as I like, though. Oh, and I may go ahead and publish that first book...the ones the big boys couldn't figure out how to market. Perhaps if I had a "name" and a reputation for compelling storytelling then I won't need to genre-ize it.
10. Anything else you'd like to say?
Yes, there is. Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist is essentially a mission statement. I AM a racist. There's no doubt in my mind of that, but that's not the end of my story. And I don't think it needs to be the end of anyone's story. I think most of us deal with these types of issues at some point in our lives and I believe it's essential that we face them and not lurk in the shadows like pedophiles or some other kind of degenerate. Demonizing racism only chases it underground. Surrendering to these proclivities, like it’s human nature and thus inescapable, only perpetuates it. We can't concede victory to this social virus. I'm of the mind that it CAN be beat, and with constant vigilance and conscious abstinence it WILL eventually go into remission. We may even find a cure. That’s my personal mission and I ain't ashamed to say it out loud. Thanks for having me, Our Man!! It's people like you that make my battle all the more easier!
Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist is available from Amazon here.