Kissa by Kissa by Kissa by Kissa
Hello Ridgeliners —
This is a bit of a meta post. The fourth edition of Kissa by Kissa just came off the printing blocks about two weeks ago, and it’s now shipping all around the world. That this book has made it to four editions is wild to me beyond all initial expectations. We’ve updated the cover with a gorgeous wrap-around illustration by Luis Mendo of one of my photographs (he also has a great limited edition, colored, signed poster print of the cover). Otherwise, same great book as third edition. Same papers, printer, bindery. It’s fantastic.
When I “embarked” on this Kissa by Kissa adventure, I didn’t have a game plan or map. But I did document the process, here, on Ridgeline. So I thought it would be fun to look back. Dig through the archives and see what was going on as I pushed through production on this pandemic-born book.
My first announcement was in May, 2020, in a post titled, “A Book from Pizza Toast — Part 1.” In it I lamented the fact that it had been four years since I put out a book (Koya Bound (2016; sold out)). And my original plan was to do a print on demand book, like my one-off SMS project (book page) I knocked out in 2019. But the more I poked the more I realized it should be a “proper” proper book.
So what started as: I’ll hit print on a print on demand book, and then morphed into: Well, I’ll do offset with this company in Europe, has now shifted to: OK, I’m going to find a logistics company and printer in Japan that I’ll be able to work with going forward indefinitely. Set up a template, a system, and then off we go to the book-making races.
And it was unnamed:
Current status: The pizza toast book (currently still unnamed) will be about 112 pages. I’ve got materials, papers, size, fonts, general layout all defined. The fact that this project has taken longer than expected has been good — I’ve been able to accrue a mass of other books, some opulent, some very simple, that have all, in parts small and large, become archetypes, contributed to the design language and look and feel off which I’m working.
The reference to the offset company in Europe was that I was looking into using the same facility that Offscreen Magazine used to produce and sell their magazines. I’ve sold enough books in my life to know that you don’t want to think about or deal with logistics on your own. But the more I “committed” to doing the book well, the more I realized I needed a local partner.
The next post was a few weeks later. It talked about the neurosis of pandemic train travel. I was commuting up to Tokyo to interview printers. Sort of interesting to see how “present” the pandemic felt. Still no vaccines, and we still didn’t know how this was going to play out.
So them’s the vibes here: Cautiously neurotic. Numbers in Japan are generally way down, 35 new cases (out of 2600 tests) in the entire country yesterday. Most everyone is staying home. Everyone out wears a mask.
Because — book making kinda necessitates in-person meetings. Materiality is tough to describe in text, and even Zoom can only get you so far. So I’m heading up, making my rounds with a backpack stuffed with 12kg of books I love, books that inspire, books to show what I’m going for in terms of bindings and papers.
This is also a trust building exercise — if we do a book together I’m trusting them to execute well and with care and they’re trusting I will pay a non-trivial chunk of money for their services.
And then, in the next missive, going into the creative process and the process of “living inside” the manuscript for the book (which was far from finished):
So I’m trying to (even more deliberately) embrace this mindset of osmosis in Pizza Toast land. If you’ve ever worked on a novel — like, really lived it in a dense, manic, fellowship sort of way — you realize everything begins to inform the novel. Anything you see or hear in the world can be slotted into the mirror world of your mind, has relevance for some character or backstory. It does feel mildly insane, numerological in a way, but it speaks to our built in modes of and proclivities towards pattern recognition. (Where is this so-called novel of mine?, you may ask — well, it’s in a drawer in a chest at the bottom of a lake in a dark forest, but the spirit is also all over my newsletters in drips and drabs.)
I had finally picked a printer (but would go on to soon swap them out for the third edition). And was doing rounds of edits with an editor I had hired for the project. I also started doing SPECIAL PROJECTS members-only production livestreams. Which proved to be a lot of fun and very generative.
The goal on Tuesday is to layout the whole book in broad strokes. And then meet up with the printer once again the second week of June with a nearly print-ready document to do some final materials analysis. They want to see the kinds of photos I’m using and the balance between image and text before we place our paper order (the most expensive part of the book, natch).
By June, I was commuting four-and-a-half hours to the printer several times a week.
We set a schedule. Paper tests begin next week. I have to bang some 900mm x 600mm data into CMYK shape. We will test four paper types. Make a decision. Then the following week, head into silk-screen tests and dummy books. If all goes well we can start thinking about print-printing the whole dang thing.
Looking back on this, the velocity was impressive. Truly a pandemic-born and enabled project.
I was also trying to figure out pricing, and it was around this time I had the insight to tie SPECIAL PROJECTS membership together with big book discounts. This ended up being a stoke of completely unintentional genius. It suddenly charged the membership program with “tangible” value return, and further inspired me to do more members-only talks and livestreams related to production. Which in turn made me better at production. So just a beautiful little virtuous cycle where everyone was benefiting.
And I was feeling emboldened:
A long walk, in part, bookified. Already I can see so many other variations on a theme for this series. More to come.
By end of June we had a title:
I believe the book now has a “real” name — Kissa by Kissa. For as much as it’s about pizza toast, the binding agents and stars of the book are the kissaten that dot the 1,000 km walk. Maybe there will be a subtitle with “toast” in it (or maybe not), but for the last ten days I’ve been operating under Kissa by Kissa and it feels pretty good. It’s certainly Google Unique, and it’s weird, which I think is helpful. Who knows, though. You’d be surprised by the number of changes made twelve seconds before going to print.
I tried to find my list of potential titles. I think I may have written them up in a paper notebook somewhere. I’m pretty sure Kissa by Kissa was inspired by Anne Lamott’s great Bird by Bird. Two and a half years later, I’m very glad I went with Kissa by Kissa. It’s a great title and one I still adore. Good work, young me.
The floor of my studio is covered in honshikousei tests — “body paper rectification” — 900mm x 600mm prints of collections of photographs and some text from the book. You make a file full of as many varied images as you can slam in there. The goal is to compare ink saturation levels — we’re looking at blacks and whites, contrast, shadow definition — paper texture, feel in hand, smell, and general vibe the papers give to the images. It’s crazy how different they look. They’re all marvelous papers in their own rights, but not all of them make sense for this book.
I was also doing the thing I always do: Set audacious internal deadlines, and then keep pushing them slightly:
I had hoped to launch by end of June but that’s impossible. I mean, I could. I could setup some pre-sale thing and invite you all in. But I want to have the dummy in hand, to feel its heft. The content has expanded from 96 to 128 pages — a little bit of additional text but more just an opening up of the content; letting it breathe. I am so excited about this book. So I want to feel the dummy in hand and see with my eyes the cover silk screened on the very cloth we’re going to use. Once I’ve seen that and am sure it works, then we can launch.
And by this point I had started building out my Shopify-based Kickstarter clone:
We’ll launch with a 10 day pre-sale period with some goodies. Sort of like Kickstarter but not. I’m building my own pseudo Kickstarter over on Shopify — Craigstarter, Dorkstarter, Bookstarter. Something like that.
I then stopped with “formal” book-production updates, instead sneaking in little asides during other posts in July (I was getting worried that readers here were getting annoyed):
Oooooohhhhh boy, am I cross-eyed-tired right now. Keep me away from heavy machinery and InDesign files. The last few days have been a whirlwind of late-night book-launch prep spanning a whole slew of disciplines. I’ve had my marketing, engineering, design, and literary hats on. I’ve had my typography hat on for the last six hours. Zooming with talented friends galore to check last minutes changes. The long and short: Kissa by Kissa will launch for SP members on Sunday evening JST (9pm-ish), during which I’ll do a kind of “launch livestream.” (We’ll figure out what that means while doing it!) Become a member of SPECIAL PROJECTS if you want to join the livestream / early access (Yearly Members will also get a $50 coupon off the book). And then on Monday, August 3 I’ll do a wider general launch (including — obviously! — a blast to this newsletter).
Anyway, last week was wild — emotionally and physically; I basically didn’t sleep for four days — and so I scheduled some post-campaign big-time alone time. Much needed. And for a brief moment, I celebrated.
I’m still processing how quickly Kissa by Kissa went. I’m evoking no false modesty when I say I had never considered it would have sold so well, so quickly. It’s a nice surprise, but a surprise nonetheless. I’ve gotten many congratulatory messages, imploring I somehow celebrate. I don’t feel an impulse to celebrate. These sales are a welcome sign for a guy often working alone, a lighthouse on the horizon. A blip of light. And so I went to do my night ride and think about all the next steps and books to be made. And for a few moments along that path: Yep.
Because, the books still hadn’t been made. I was terrified there would be some issue in production and fulfillment. Fulfillment was also not precisely finalized (we had a general idea of how to do it). Boxes were still being made, DHL accounts setup, et cetera. It was all ad-hoc. There was a lot of tight-rope walking looking back at this. Mainly because I thought we’d have way more slack in terms of time. I thought it would take, like, two years to sell out, not two days. Anyway, it was a nice set of problems to have.
My printer was pushing me to up the edition but that felt duplicitous. But also, I think I could have sold … 5,000? copies that first week or two if I had offered them up. Which was a complicated feeling. That’s an insane sales number for a book of this “size” (small scale publishing) at this price-point. But my concerns were not with “maximizing cash-in” but rather creating the best possible book I was capable of given the resources at hand. I wanted to be certain I could fulfill that goal first and foremost. So I didn’t announce a second (unsigned, unnumbered) edition until almost three months later (and in the process lost a few thousand sales; that launch inertia was bonkers, I really hadn’t felt anything like it before; and it really is is a lightening in a bottle sort of thing that’s tough to drum up twice for the same book).
In the end it was good we waited. There was a pretty major (!!) production problem with the first edition (fixed in the end but not without considerable stress which I’m certain has shaved a few weeks off the end of my life). Anyway, the books got made, made well, and delivered well, too. I committed to the simplicity of using DHL from the start, and though it was a bit expensive, we’ve now delivered some 4,000+ books and prints with few hitches.
For the third edition, I was able to get an introduction to a larger, more skilled printer (this is sort of what happens; you need to “earn” upgrades within these worlds). I hired a studio manager. She helped me setup a proper fulfillment and storage center in Osaka. We moved all remaining second edition stock there. I took the opportunity of this third edition to put together a proper production “documentary.” The result was: The Craft of “Kissa by Kissa:” Bookmaking in Japan. This edition (along with the fourth edition) are printed by Fujiwara in Matsumoto, and bound by hand by Mochizuki bindery in Kagurazaka.
This year, I’m working on completing the third edition / printing of Kissa by Kissa. Each printing I make a few tiny changes to production; hence a bit of fuzziness to calling them “editions” vs printings. This latest edition, I hope, will be the “best” yet. We’re switching to “Swiss-style” binding. Swiss biding is a bit weird, because the front cover isn’t attached to the body block, so I’ll have to photograph and explain to buyers that this isn’t a flaw. The benefit is: Allowing for the spine to open up a bit more, and more of the pages to lay flat without resorting to other tricks. The results of our tests have been fantastic. The “dummies” (test books) feel amazing and there’s almost no durability hit as far as I can tell (since only the rear of the body-block is glued to the cover).
We’ve also switched printing companies and upgraded our printing machines. This edition is being printed on some hulking Heidelberg Speedmasters, and (as far as I can tell; I’m far from an expert on this stuff), we’re using an FM or stochastic screening halftone process, at a higher lines-per-inch, resulting in images with significantly more detail. It’s kind of shocking, placing the new pages side-by-side with the old. The difference is especially visible on images with thin lines or textures. Same paper, more detail. This kind of printing is only possible with the tight tolerances of higher-quality machinery. And we’re achieving all this without switching to, say, a glossier paper, which is normally what you reach for when wanting to increase “punch” or perception of resolution. I’ve never been a fan of glossy paper, and I don’t think it aligns with the “tone” of my photographs. So this feels like a best-of-all-worlds solution.
Working with Fujiwara and Mochizuki was a dream. They were so profoundly professional and treated their employees well and cared so much and produced outstanding work.
Alongside these various KxK iterations, these past two years I continued to go on many, many long walks. Run many, long, pop-up newsletters. Write hundreds-of-thousands of words about these things, and take ten-thousand+ photographs. All powered by book sales and SPECIAL PROJECTS memberships.
This fourth edition of Kiss by Kissa came about mainly because our third edition unexpectedly sold out during my TOKIO TŌKYŌ TOKYO walk this summer. I see each edition as an opportunity for improvements / iterations (new printer, new binding, new cover). This time: a new cover, going back to a more classic binding, but keeping the beautiful layflat opening quality of our third edition’s Swiss binding.
It’s funny, I didn’t intend these little posts over the years to provide utility, but I’m glad I have them as an archive and account of process. This line in particular sticks out:
A long walk, in part, bookified. Already I can see so many other variations on a theme for this series. More to come.
I’ve been thinking about this line constantly for the last two years. Trying to figure out what the KxK followup looks like. I have no fewer than four other books I can “see” and for which I’ve done most of the preparatory work on. I have my next book “done” (or at least a version of it done), and have been documenting the writing / production / thinking process over on a members-only newsletter called Nightingalingale. I just sent out issue 121 the other day. 121! I’ve written some 25,000+ words there (most updates are short and sweet). Glad to have done so. The big question with this next book has to do with form / publisher. Yes, I have my system in place for doing high-end fine art editions, but would also like to expand audience and reach via the tools of a more “traditional” publisher (while keeping the ability to produce a high-quality edition on my own). So I’m engaging with / poking that world once again for the first time in years.
I have an idea for another book that I’d like to do rapidly — research and produce in Jan / Feb. Edit in March. Go to press by May.
The point being: I am not for want of ideas, and am excited to get these ideas hammered into proper shape and out in the world in forms the ideas demand.
Anyway, thanks for all the support these past two years, and for all the kind words about Kissa by Kissa. If you want to help — the best thing to do is say something nice on Twitter or Instagram, or leave a review on Goodreads. Post a photo of the book, tag me, link to the shop. All of those things help spread the word.
I’ll be running a SPECIAL PROJECTS members-only year-end Board Meeting sometime just after Christmas, going back over what we did this year, reflecting on process, and laying out a plan for next year.
Hope you’re all wrapping the year well. Books books books. We love them.