For literary agent Neil Gudovitz of Waterside Productions, licensing a Japanese self-help book to English-speaking markets, which is extremely rare, requires “not only the right book but also the right sort of U.S. and U.K. editors, and the right partners in Japan.” The time he spent with the Tokyo-based Sunmark Publishing team in New York convinced him that they had the patience and determination to make The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple Effective Way to Banish Clutter Forever, Marie Kondo’s bestselling self-help book on decluttering and the organization of personal space, work in those markets.
And worked it has: in Japan (where tight living spaces tend to be tidy and orderly), The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying is now in its 55th printing and has racked up sales exceeding 1.5 million copies. Translations are now available in Chinese, German, and Korean, and rights have been licensed to a dozen more countries, including Brazil, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Turkey.
Gudovitz has handled thousands of titles during his 20 years in the industry, and he’s amazed at the book’s impact: “I have never before had editors—even founders and presidents of publishing houses—write to me saying that they used a particular book to change the way they live.”
Lisa Westmoreland, senior editor at Ten Speed Press, for instance, found herself identifying deeply with the trials and tribulations that the author’s clients went through trying to downsize their possessions. “Most importantly, having just gone through a massive decluttering exercise myself, I realized that I had been doing it all wrong. It was an ‘aha’ moment,” she said, adding that “America is a nation of hoarders, and we are probably all doing it wrong. This book [holds] the key to a new way of going through our belongings: ikki ni, which means ‘to tidy them all in one go.’ ”
Westmoreland reports that the book’s design was also guided by ikki ni: “Rather than giving it a utilitarian paperback treatment, we have a tidy and pleasing little hardcover, and instead of printing a ‘copies sold’ burst directly on the cover for its September launch, we went for a sticker so that readers can peel off that extra clutter.”
In the U.K., publishing director Susanna Abbott of Vermillion’s colleagues have been sending her photos of their transformed living spaces, and a typesetter confessed that he was finally able to let go of his mother’s possessions and come to terms with her death. “Marie Kondo will motivate you to declutter your home and make it surprisingly easy to get rid of all the things you don’t really like or need,” noted Abbot.
Gudovitz says that, in addition to the books’s ability to grab editors’ attention from the get-go, the English translation has been the key to its success. “The Sunmark team realized, that in order for their title to succeed internationally, they need a professional translator with native English—and that is the primary and crucial element,” he said, “The translation must be pristine when it is first presented to the American and British editors. Fair or not, these editors have little to no patience with an imperfect translation since substantially editing or rewriting a translation is not a part of their program.”
Gudovitz says the book’s triumph in English markets is particularly impressive because there is “virtually nothing in the self-help category from international authors, especially from Asia-Pacific authors.” Gudovitz is currently working on Kondo’s follow-up titles and other Sunmark bestsellers such as Yoshinori Nagumo’s Being Hungry Makes You Healthy, and Kyocera founder and chairman Kazuo Inamori’s The Kyocera Philosophy.
“The success of Marie Kondo’s book,” Gudovitz said, “hopefully will help to correct the imbalance and do for international self-help and nonfiction what Stieg Larsson has done for international commercial fiction.”