Brennan: My hard lesson in China
By Tom Brennan |
Gov. Bill Walker hit the jackpot when he took a group of Alaska businesspeople to China recently.
He didn’t get the big prize he was hoping for, getting China to build and pay for a gas pipeline, but the other business deals along the way made the trip a worthwhile venture.
Among the goodies the group brought back were a flood of inquiries from companies interested in bringing Chinese tourists to Alaska, especially to Alyeska Resort, a potential tie with a Chinese financier for an Anchorage-based baby food startup company, increased markets for Alaska seafood, a deal to bring Chinese officials here to look into winter Olympics training opportunities, and probably more.
Walker took 25 Alaska business people with him on the week-long tour and many of them seem to have come back encouraged by the potential for increased Alaska-China business. China is already Alaska’s largest trading partner and experience on both sides has encouraged opening an even wider range of opportunities.
Doing business with China makes some people nervous as the government in Beijing isn’t always known for following the customary way of doing things and abiding by American business rules. But folks on the far side of the Pacific have enough experience with the American way of doing business that they tend to follow the rules in order to keep the good stuff coming.
Though those of us who grew up during the Cold War don’t usually think that way, China is Alaska’s neighbor and many of its key cities are about as far from Anchorage as Anchorage is from major U.S. cities. Only Russia is closer. (As Tina Fey puckishly pointed out, you can see Russia from Sarah Palin’s house. That was an exaggeration — Sarah lives in Wasilla — but you can see Russia’s Big Diomede Island across Bering Strait from Alaska’s Little Diomede Island.)
I actually took advantage of the Alaska-China link when I published my novel, The Snowflake Rebellion, 10 years ago. It was my one and only self-published book; my other four have all been published by Epicenter Press and I’m under contract for another true-crime book, my third in that category. Epicenter didn’t want to publish fiction because its market is vastly different from non-fiction.
I figured, what can be so hard about it? When Epicenter turned me down I went to old friend Flip Todd of Todd Communications. Flip had been to China several times, worked with publishers there and found the quality of their work to be comparable to that available in the United States — and the price considerably lower.
We got quotes from two publishers in the Lower 48, one in Canada and one in China. The guy in China offered a much lower price than the others. (I can’t remember the details or I would include them.) The only difference was that it would take an extra month to get the books to Alaska and the Lower 48 markets. When you’ve been working on a book for years a month can become a small matter.
The Snowflake Rebellion was my best book — I still firmly believe that — but it was a commercial flop. Epicenter’s policy against fiction was a wise one. You have to know a lot about the fiction trade to market a novel successfully, and I was way over my head.
I lost a bundle on the deal. Another lesson learned the hard way. But the problem had nothing to do with the Chinese or the quality of their work. I was just over my head.