Selling and failing: an attempt to get my novel into a Japanese bookstore

Taking a chance in Japan (日本語でも)

(The following is from my personal journal)

Made an attempt to sell the Japanese version of Cereus & Limnic directly to a Japanese bookstore today. It was an old bookstore called Books Jinon in Ginowan City.

The drive was in the heat of the afternoon. Hot. Sun cooked my arm as I dangled it out the window for a baking breeze.

Thirty minutes or so later I made it. Before I entered, I rehearsed a sample dialogue in Japanese for selling my book to a store with Claude AI. Even though I didn’t use the exact script, it was helpful to have a reference for how the conversation might play out. (First time for such a use.)

Then it was time to enter. I’ve mentioned that I wrote and published a book to a major Japanese bookstore in the past. The Japanese attendant laughed at me.

That taught me I needed proof when talking about my book over here.

Turns out slamming down a box of books with your name on it is pretty convincing.

As soon as the older store clerk saw me, I could tell she wanted to wave me out. I persisted.

In fluent Japanese, I told her I was a local author and wanted to sell the books I wrote.

Something happens when you speak a language well to an unsuspecting recipient. It’s a controlled bewilderment bordering on shock. I’ve seen it many times and I never get tired of it. Just by sequencing the language reasonably well, suddenly it’s them who are somehow made uncomfortable by this scenario that seems so odd, you’d think they saw a unicorn prancing down the street.

The woman had this reaction initially. It was a good sign when I told her the books were in Japanese and she asked to see them.

Step one complete.

She thumbed through it then said 厳しい which was a bad signal.

Kibishii, means “strict” or “harsh.” But in colloquial Japanese, it carries the nuance of a something that is difficult to do and probably won’t happen. The next question was why?

The thumbing through lasted for at least 30 seconds (I think she read something she thought was interesting). Then she asked another good sign question:


Ah, now we’re getting somewhere, I thought. This translates to “Where’s country?” (technically).

But in casual Japanese it means: “What country are you from?”

Makes sense to ask. After all a non-Japanese face with the skill and patience to self-translate an entire novel into Japanese, then have the confidence to converse with you to sell it is a very rare thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the first time she encountered it in all her years. I’d be curious about the person too.

I told I was from America. Then she gave me the final verdict. They only accept old Japanese books.

And not just any Japanese books. These were mostly ancient Japanese records and novels. The smell of mold mashed pages was replete. The shelves were shades of dust wrapped times. In other words it was a living archive. Probably one of the few remaining on island. My book would be a splash of color to bright among those stories stacks. Books often age like wine and mine wasn’t ripe enough.

As a novelist, rejection is routine. But this one was different. The way she caressed the cover upon providing the “no” was telling.

There was a longing there. It was a gesture of care from a person who’s likely spent a great portion of her life with word-filled pages in front of her. Her gaze at the glossy sheen of the cover had a mother’s gleam. There was desire there. What had this foreigner written? Was it any good? If only it were more crinkled with that smell that comes from the attacks of age, humidity, and human hands…

But that wasn’t the case. After a blink, the spell was broken. She handed my book back, then I lifted the box and left.


Understood. I'll translate the entry in segments, starting from the beginning. Here's the first segment:

今日、日本の書店に直接『ケレウスとリムニック』の日本語版を売り込もうとした。宜野湾市にある『Books Jinon』という古い書店だった。















ああ、これで話が進んできたな、と思った。これは文字通りには「Which country?」と訳される。











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