Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Karin Muller (page 3)
 Talking with
Karin Muller
page 1
page 2
page 3

Then how did you publish the book itself?

Just before the documentary aired, PBS online called me up and asked me if I wanted to do a website for them. The manuscript still wasn’t sold, so I said yes and spent the next 12 days (all we had until our airdate) putting together an enormous website in which I buried about a third of the book.
The documentary was a success. The website won lots of awards and got over half a million hits a week. The manuscript remained unsold.
Then shortly after the documentary came out I went to the Outdoor Retailers Expo to see if I could pick up some corporate sponsorship. While there I was introduced to a member of the Outside Magazine staff by a friend, who introduced me (briefly) to the (then) CEO of Backpacker magazine. He put in a good word with Globe-Pequot Press (who had already turned me down four times) and someone from their marketing department called me up and asked me to submit again. They took it, published it, and sent me on a huge book tour.
Which is all just a long way of explaining how fickle the publishing industry is. Luck is definitely a factor, but the more tenacity you have, the less luck you need. And if you are not Martha Stewart (or someone equally famous), and you want to be a travel writer, you had better pick a country that is extremely interesting, make sure you finish (and polish!) your entire manuscript before submitting, and have a superb proposal (which will hopefully get you a superb agent) with a rock-solid marketing plan. I wish it were as easy as writing a great book, but nowadays that is only a small part of the process. Lots of great books out there never get published. You have to be able to sell it (and yourself) or your book will never see the light of day.

Why the Japan book?


Karin in Japan

Some photos
by Karin from Japan

I wanted to improve my judo, and also to get a fresh perspective on the meaning of my life. I wanted to understand Eastern ideals as ritual and tradition. I wanted more than an understanding of the tea-serving etiquette or the historical importance of the shogun. I was in search of wa: a transcendent state of harmony, of flow, of being in the zone.
So, I spent twelve months traveling from one end of the country to the other, living at the host country level, speaking the language and trying to open the door to the secret side of Japanese life. I speak Japanese, and have studied judo for nine years, so I had some understanding, but very little really when it came to actually being in the country. I joined a samurai mounted archery team, for example, and learned how to handle a longbow on a galloping horse. I made a 900-mile pilgrimage, and helped to light ten thousand floating lanterns during Obon, The Festival of the Dead. I did what any good PCV would do, I immersed myself as best I could in the local culture.

What’s next for Karin Muller?

Oh, I don’t know. Nothing solid yet, since I have to sell the film idea before I can commit to the journey. My publisher really wants me to go to Cuba, and that’s at the top of the list if a broadcaster buys into it. We’ll see in 2006!

Thanks, Karin, and good luck on this book and whatever comes next. Keep in touch.

Thank you, John. And I will try not to disappear for too long.
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