When asked how Chicagoland’s Sourcebooks acquired the world English-language rights to The Uncharted Path by Lee Myung-Bak, the president of South Korea, publisher Dominique Raccah responded, only partially in jest, “It’s about Chicago.” In talking with Eric Yang, President Lee’s literary agent, however, it’s clear that while it may have been a mutual contact in the Windy City connecting President Lee and Sourcebooks, the press’s enthusiasm for the project is what persuaded him to sign with them.
The English-language edition of President Lee’s memoirs, which was created and translated by President Lee’s official interpreter, is a combination of materials from his 1995 biography and a subsequent book, Mother, about his mother’s impact on his life, as well as other writings and updates. The Uncharted Path will be published in November, less than a year after the deal with Sourcebooks was finalized in January.
Speaking by phone from his offices in Seoul, Yang, the founder of the Eric Yang Agency, and currently the CEO and publisher of Random House Korea, explained that he’d approached several major U.S. publishers about the rights to The Uncharted Path. Random House Korea, which has been wholly independent of Random House USA for almost two years, has published six books by President Lee, including the 1995 autobiography and Mother. Random House Korea sold a half-million copies of President Lee’s autobiography in Asia, and a 180,000 copies of Mother.
“Some turned it down, others needed more time,” Yang explained of The Uncharted Path, in which President Lee recalls his life, beginning with his impoverished childhood in the 1940s, and concluding with his being elected president on December 19, 2007. The second volume of President Lee’s memoirs, dealing with his presidency, cannot be released until after he leaves office in 2013; Sourcebooks has an option on the title.
Richard Flower, international v-p for World Book, which is headquartered in Chicago, initially suggested to Yang – whose company distributes World Book in Asia -- that Sourcebooks might be the right publisher for The Uncharted Path. “They needed someone who was innovative, and that’s what Sourcebooks is,” he said. “[Sourcebooks] had marketing ideas, a fantastic marketing strategy; we loved it,” Yang said, insisting that it didn’t matter that the press typically publishes only one autobiography or memoir out of 300 releases each year. “They understand the Korean side. And [Raccah] fell in love with the book.”
Raccah recalls that Yang was “really impressed” that company executives had already read the book when he and an associate first met with them in Naperville in December 2010. “It was also very important to them that we were really excited about it,” Raccah added.
According to Heather Moore, Sourcebooks’s senior publicity manager, Sourcebooks intends to market to national media, as well as to local media in areas with large Korean populations. Sourcebook expects support from the Korean U.S. delegation in reaching out to Korean communities stateside, and has been informed that President Lee will make himself available for select media interviews during the book’s launch.
“There is a large audience of Americans who will want to learn more about a man who was born into poverty, put himself through school by working long days, including hauling trash at 4 a.m., became the CEO of Hyundai, the mayor of Seoul, and is now the president of South Korea,” Moore said. “There is also a large contingent of Koreans in the U.S. who will be equally interested in his story.”
Since much of the material in The Uncharted Path had already been published and subsequently translated into English, the edits were a straight-forward process, explained Peter Lynch, Sourcebooks’ trade editorial manager. “We ended up adding a few chapters at the end of the book to bring it up to speed, and a little more Korean history for American readers who might not be so familiar with Korea,” Lynch said.