Always be unprepared

Had I canceled my gig at the Sidekick Books and Wine Bar, I probably wouldn’t have returned.

I never know what to expect. Last night I was at the Sidekicks Books and Wine Bar in downtown Rock Springs, Wyoming, giving a Beyond Heart Mountain book talk.

The opening event was a solo guitarist and singer named Wayne. He’s an indie musician and his own roadie. He started his set at 4:30 and ended at 6:30 pm. After he packed up, he was on his way for another gig in Ogden, Utah.

Four people sat and listened to his music. That’s the life of an indie artist. We move from place to place, not knowing if anyone will show up.

“Do you want to cancel?” The bookstore owner named Lisa had called me the day before. She didn’t know if anyone would show up because of other activities happening in town.

“No, I’m pretty sure there will be people,” I reassured her. “Even if it’s two people, that’ll be worth the drive.”

Rock Springs is 350 miles from Boulder. At a minimum, I’d sell some books to the store. I also planned a stop at the Centennial, Wyoming library in a small town 25 miles from Laramie.

On my way to Rock Springs, I made a cold call at The Second Story bookstore in Laramie and closed a book sale there.

After leaving Laramie, I stopped in Rawlins to stretch, went to my bank, and deposited some money. On my way to Centennial this afternoon, I’ll deposit the check from Sidekicks.

What I have learned over the years is that I can’t plan for everything and go into everything unprepared. I set things up to be around 75 or 85 percent complete. The remaining 15 to 25 percent are unknown challenges. Resolving them can be routine or a mad scramble.

The four people who sat down for Wayne stuck around for my book talk, along with six others. It was a small but appreciative crowd who all bought books, beer and wine. A good time was had by all!

What I’ve learned about literary agents

How many times have you assumed someone was going to complete a task but didn’t? The more middle people involved in a project, the more time it takes, and in the case of creative industries like books, that means more money out of my pocket for no guarantee of results.

Self-produced “Beyond Heart Mountain” media kit

“I thought …” are the first two words that come out when I asked a beta reader if they’ve made any progress reading my manuscript draft. “It was the other guy’s fault.”

I don’t need to pay someone to be incompetent. I can procrastinate as well as the next person.

People shouldn’t think so much. I wrote yesterday about what I’ve learned about traditional publishers. They aren’t in a hurry because they are beholden to first-time memoirists like me who need quite a bit of editing and editors who have multiple projects to read.

Over the past year, I’ve attended a couple of writing conferences and signed up to talk to literary agents, mainly to find out what criteria they use to pick books and authors to represent.

Agents are in business and need to make money. Agents aren’t interested in your first book. They want to know about your second and third books.

“I don’t want to take on a one-trick pony,” one LA-based agent told me after I handed him a copy of “Beyond Heart Mountain.” “I don’t make any money from authors who have one book.”

“Here’s the synopsis for a novel,” I responded and handed him my one-sheet.

“Well, it’s a novel. How many novels have you written?” he asked, continuing to dissuade me.

“The manuscript is finished. This is the first, but I have a sequel, too,” I said.

“Here’s my process. I like that you have one book published and doing pretty well. Send a query letter and the completed manuscript for your novel,” he said.

I can join the crowd.

He hears from many first-time writers and to the point that he can be picky about who he represents. He nurtures the clients he has to create stories that are likely to sell.

“Even if you have a publisher or agent, you still have to promote yourself,” another agent advised. “I can only open doors if we have a good product. I can hire people to improve your cover or come up with marketing materials, or you can do it. If I do it, that is in addition to my management fee.”

In exchange for 10 percent, an agent can only move as quickly as their subcontractors perform and as fast as a publisher answers or returns phone calls.

“When you’re starting out, it’s better to self-promote,” she said. “Build your social media audience. You need to show your books sell.”

When I started the market development process for “Beyond Heart Mountain,” I contacted public relations consultants and event planners about hiring them to schedule a book tour.

That would be an additional cost, considering the publisher charges me 60 percent of the $15 cover price for my copies and pays 20 percent royalty for books they sell.

I didn’t find anyone to help, which was a good thing because I learned what it takes to set up events. The process is very time-consuming and costly to print up professional-looking promotional materials.

My success was mixed. Out of the 200 first-class mailings and 400 emails, I ended up with six museums and stores that carried the books and 15 speaking gigs.

I don’t think I’ll make any money from “Beyond Heart Mountain.” I see the project as one of “customer acquisition” and hope I have the capacity to finish my novel, the sequel, and a second in a series of three “Beyond …” memoirs.

Maybe I’ll make enough money to trust an agent. Maybe I’ll become an agent or publisher.

What I’ve learned about traditional publishing

My Beyond Heart Mountain memoir project was 30 years in the making. The process has been incremental, and I didn’t dream a newspaper column in a twice-weekly newspaper would result in a traditionally-published book and a PBS documentary. You can get a signed copy here as well as the PBS documentary and the coffee table book by donating to Boulder Community Media.

After a 390-mile drive to Rock Springs, Wyoming, 10 people attended my book gig.

Signing a book deal after my first pitch was very lucky. In all my writing groups, I hear stories about the art of writing query letters and the laments about the hundreds of rejection letters.

What I’ve learned about this traditional publishing experience is that unless you get picked up by one of the big New York houses, you’re on your own. Although saying I’ve been traditionally published is a badge of honor.

Selling the book was more challenging than writing it. I surmised from my various writing groups that many of my colleagues almost finish writing their book, maybe getting through the first draft, and viewed as good enough, before starting a new project that would also almost be completed.

I wrote a self-help book about my unorthodox journey to Beyond Heart Mountain entitled The Zen of Writing with Confidence and Imperfection.

I was in the journalism workflow, and writing short form newspaper stories was satisfying since my work would be finished, edited, and published. Lots of immediate gratification.

The Beyond Heart Mountain project saw the light of day when I was contracted to survey the once-vibrant Japanese neighborhood on the 400 and 500 blocks of West 17th Street in my hometown, Cheyenne, Wyoming. I was familiar with the area since my dad’s family once lived near there and where my grandfather owned a pool hall, and my grandmother was a cook at a Japanese restaurant next door.

In 2019, I attended the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference in Laramie, Wyoming. It was my first entry into the commercial writing world. I didn’t know anything about the business of writing.

If I wanted to be a writer, I needed to meet and hang around with writers. The same holds true for any creative discipline — artists, moviemakers, dancers, etc.

I didn’t know what to expect. Pitching to publishers and agents was included with the registration fee. Before the conference started, I signed up at the front desk by randomly selecting a publisher who was available at a convenient time.

My mission was mainly to learn about how a publishing company works. The night before, I typed up a one-sheet about the Beyond Heart Mountain idea that had evolved into a short-run picture book based on the survey of the Japanese neighborhood I finished.

I had five copies made on Shutterfly. The editing templates were easy to follow and versatile enough to write some content to explain photos from my box and archival images. Each copy was pricey, like $50 each. The Shutterfly market is high-quality wedding albums with pictures and not much editorial copy. It was fun and self-satisfying to see the book in print. I republished the coffee table book on Ingramspark.

After dropping my bag at the Air B&B, I grabbed my book and waited in the lobby area in the Rochelle Center at the University of Wyoming. Some others were dressed up in neckties, sportcoats, and skirts. They rehearsed their pitches with flip charts and three-ring binders.

Here I was in jeans and a T-shirt. A woman named Jessica Kristie waved me into her cubby, where she heard presentations. After a few pleasantries, she explained how Winter Goose Publishing (WGP) worked. It’s a “books-on-demand” service. Authors are contracted. WGP does the cover design, edits the manuscript, and publishes the book on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and sells it on Amazon.

I showed her my picture book and a typed-up one-sheet about the memoir. She flipped through and glanced at my synopsis. Amazingly, she asked if I could send a full manuscript.

After returning home, I wrote 80,000 words, sent the manuscript to WGP, and then signed a book contract in November 2019.

After three years, WGP released Beyond Heart Mountain on February 27, 2022. That was a good time because it was the 80th anniversary of the month President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 establishing the War Relocation Authority that sent 120,000 Japanese, mainly from the West Coast, to 10 internment camps.

WGP did some market development through its newsletter contacts, but that was about it.

I was responsible for the bulk of the sales. I did extensive outreach on social media. Then I researched mailing lists for bookstores, museums, and libraries. I spent too much money on a marketing booklet and snail-mailed those to those lists. After it was all said and done, 80 books and ebooks were sold on Amazon. I purchased 120 books at wholesale price.

Between May and August, I organized 11 speaking events attended by between six and 60 people.

On July 22, Michelle Obama tweeted that she had a new book. That day, she sold 877,000 copies.

Next time I do this, I’ll get at least almost famous and then write a book.

The featured image is of the promotional flyer for my book signing at the Storyteller Book Store in Thermopolis, Wyoming. I sold 12 books in two hours.

Beyond Heart Mountain

Beyond Heart Mountain is a three-part multimedia project. It consists of a memoir by Alan O’Hashi about his life in Wyoming as a Baby Boomer growing up after World War II. Donate to Boulder Community Media and receive an autographed copy of the book. The book evolved from a coffee table book entitled Nishigawa Neighborhood. A documentary also aired on PBS and is available on DVD.

On the cover is author Alan O’Hashi and his sister, Lorinda, in their grandparent’s backyard circa 1956.

The Beyond Heart Mountain memoir was released by Winter Goose Publishing. It is available as a printed book and ebook available on Amazon.com. The book was released by Winter Goose Publishing on February 27th.

That week coincided with the 80th anniversary of President Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066 that sent 120,000 Japanese to 10 war relocation camps, that included Heart Mountain in northwest Wyoming.

As a Baby Boomer, Alan documents the overt and quiet racism pervasive in Wyoming and throughout the United States during and following World War II. He relates his experiences to current violence towards Asians and the issue of civility within society. The backdrop to Alan’s account is the history of the once vibrant Japanese community in the 400 and 500 blocks of West 17th Street in the downtown area of my hometown, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

“My grandmother and grandfather Ohashi and their large family lived in worked in that neighborhood where I spent quite a bit of time between elementary and high school. Having been away from Cheyenne for many years, I stashed those two blocks in the back of my mind until I learned that two classmates of mine were planning to build a housing development at 509 W. 17th St. The biggest obstacle was obtaining permission to tear down an old building. It was the last structure in the Japanese neighborhood. It was the site of a rooming house operated by Mrs. Yoshio Shuto.”

Nishigawa Neighborhood hardcover coffee table book

Get the Nishigawa Neighborhood coffee table book from Amazon.com, which is a self-published 11 x 8.5-inch hard-cover coffee table book with over 100 color, black and white images of the neighborhood. Donate to BCM and get an autographed edition from the author.

There are two Nonfungible Tokens (NFT) versions of Nishigawa Neighborhood. One is a one-of-a-kind unlinkable digital version of the book. The second is a one-of-a-kind MP4 version of the 84 pages tracked by original music by the Author.

Mrs. Shuto’s tenants were mainly Japanese residents who made their way to Cheyenne. She later opened the City Cafe across the street which became a gathering place for the Japanese in town.

My grandmother was a cook at the City Cafe. Next door, my grandfather was the third owner of a pool hall.

Whenever we went out to eat, the restaurant of choice was the City Cafe. It was a gathering place for the Japanese in Cheyenne.

My friends enlisted me to do a cultural and historical survey of the Japanese residents who lived and worked there from the 1920s through the 1970s.’

Beyond Heart Mountain aired on PBS in December 2021

Donate to BCM and get the Beyond Heart Mountain DVD that was produced by Boulder Community Media (BCM) and aired on PBS. It is mainly about the West 17th Street Japanese community history and a general overview of Executive Order 9066 that President Franklin Roosevelt signed that relocated 120,000 Japanese into 10 internment camps, including Heart Mountain in northwest Wyoming.

I interviewed four childhood friends for the documentary. Robert Walters formerly worked at the City Cafe. He still lives in Cheyenne, where he practices law.

Terie Miyamoto and her family-owned Baker’s Bar. It was the only racially-integrated bar in Cheyenne at the time. She now lives in the Denver Metro area.

Brian Matsuyama now lives in Seattle, Washington. He resided in Cheyenne during his childhood. His family owned the California Fish Market.

Carol Lou Kishiyama-Hough is in Cheyenne. She and her family purchased the Fish Market from the Matsuyamas.

Donate to BCM and get a Beyond Heart Mountain cap are also available. They are low-profile baseball-style hats. Select Beyond Heart Mountain from the dropdown menu. The logo is an adapted version of the Wyoming state flag. One size fits most.