It turns out that the Amazon Kindle Store allows self-publication of books: just format the text, upload it and the cover image, and set a price, and (after a delay while they look over things) your book is ready for instant download to be read on a Kindle device (the large version, which is only available in the U.S., and the small version, which works internationally). If you don't own a Kindle or don't want to pony up the money for one, you can read e-books from Amazon through the free Kindle Reader for the iPhone or for the PC (no Mac version yet).
And, thanks to things like Project Gutenberg, many old books about Japan which are now in the public domain text are now available in full (more or less).
Putting two and two together, some entrepreneurial (but lazy) types have grabbed those texts and have uploaded them to the Kindle Store and put them up for sale. Unfortunately, most of these have been lazy cut-and-paste jobs, leaving in the numerous scanning errors, line breaks at the end of each line, undigested-by-ASCII characters, and even the original headers from the copied source (one particularly lazy job I noticed even left in the (now non-functional) search box from the Internet Archive page).
Well, I can do better. I've taken some of those old books about Japan that I found interesting, copy-edited (yes, actual copy-editing) and formatted them properly, added some footnotes in a few places, and uploaded them to the Amazon Kindle Store. I've done this with four so far, and they've (finally) just gone "live".
I did a fairly straightforward clean-up and republication on those, but those are really test cases for the REAL book, one which I started work on before all the others and am still working on. This one is going to be a full-blown annotated version: I've got 214 historical footnotes so far on that book, and will probably add several more, at least, not to mention the background introduction and biography which I still have to write. More later when I'm closer to completion.
So far, the titles are in two categories. The first imprint, which I'm calling "Western Narratives of Old Japan", are travel books and memoirs by Westerners responding to Japan. So far, I have:
- Jinrikisha Days in Japan by Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore (1904), a fairly detailed -- and, on traditional Japanese culture, still relevant -- travel book by an American woman who was the first female trustee for the National Geographic Society and the person who came up with the idea of planting cherry trees in Washington, D.C.
- A Diplomatist's Wife in Japan, Volume 1 and Volume 2, by Mrs. Hugh Fraser (1899). Aka Mary Crawford Fraser (yes, she published under her married name), the American wife of British diplomat Hugh Fraser, recording their four years (1889-1894) in Japan as he negotiated the end of the "unequal treaties" Japan had been chafing under since 1859.
The second imprint I'm calling "Western Tales of Old Japan", and are fictional -- usually highly romanticized -- stories based in Japan but written by Westerners. The first title is:
- The Stolen Emperor by Mary Crawford Fraser (1904), which is a historical romance set in 13th-century Japan. Think Sir Walter Scott with kimonos.