Rebecca Kite, Biographer, The Marimbist Keiko Abe
Keiko Abe: A Virtuosic Life //
Her Musical Career and the Evolution of the Concert Marimba
Why Rebecca Kite Worked with Blue Horizon:
I like to have big, long-term projects to work on, aside from my teaching and performing schedule, and when I found myself with a lull in that area, I looked around for a new project. The idea I’d had for years, a book about Keiko Abe, seemed the best choice. She was getting older, and the people I needed to interview were ten years older than Abe, so I knew it was pretty much now or never.
I wanted to document what Abe had accomplished during her fifty-year career, to reveal her importance to percussion, and especially to the marimba. She had almost single-handedly changed the marimba’s role, making it into the concert instrument we know today.
And she was someone I’d gotten to know personally over the course of two decades, someone I greatly admired — for her talent, creativity, her tireless work on behalf of the instrument and music in general, and for her willingness to nurture new generations of marimbists. The fact that nothing really definitive had been published about Abe and her contributions made this project even more important to me.
I spent six and a half years conducting interviews in Japan, doing research on the history of the marimba and its cousin, the xylophone, and writing my working manuscript. I knew I’d need an editor, so I wasn’t surprised when the book had structural problems, and the biographical part needed refashioning into a compelling story.
In fact, when I first started my book research, I had friends who asked whether I’d written a book before. “Not this kind of book,” I’d tell them. Invariably, they’d say something like, “Are you out of your mind?” But I figured if I got stuck, I’d hire somebody — because I’d already created a business to design and build a better kettle drum, so I knew how to research suppliers, get bids, do all kinds of things that have nothing to do with being a musician.
When I was ready to locate an editor to fix my book’s problems, I spent a week doing online research, looking for an editor who could write, a creative editor, not someone who would just correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
I interviewed several, but I liked Laurel’s no-nonsense approach. She said, “Here’s how it works. Here’s what it may cost. Here’s how we’ll begin.” I also needed someone who could do this work in just a few months, since my book designer’s deadline was fast approaching. Laurel agreed to devote her time to my book in order to make the deadline.
What Rebecca Kite’s Editorial Needs Actually Were:
This was a very complex project. There were vast amounts of scholarly material detailing the history of the marimba and the xylophone, in addition to the biographical and factual material about Keiko Abe.
Rebecca had accomplished a truly heroic job of assembling hundreds of pages of extensively sourced content, bibliographic references, audio and sheet music examples, and rare photographs. What she needed, as she had realized, was a better way to organize all that content.
We agreed that the book should be restructured into two main parts. And that the biographical material, the story of Keiko Abe’s life, should be made into a story that would capture a reader’s interest.
To do that, the existing material needed a dramatic storyline. It was presented somewhat the way an assortment of archaeological artifacts recently unearthed might be presented: only a specialist would know what was there. The biographical information needed to be something both a musician and general reader could follow and enjoy — it needed to be “story-ized.”
I worked out a new framework for the biographical part, dividing Abe’s life into ten-year segments, and positioning the focus squarely on Abe and her development as a musician: telling the story from her perspective as the central “character,” rather than switching back and forth between Abe’s life and the musical-historical-technical material. The non-biographical content would be moved to the book’s second part.
We began with a rewritten first chapter that story-ized Keiko Abe’s early childhood. Pleased with the result, Rebecca agreed to continue working through the rest of her manuscript in this way, refocusing and rewriting one chapter at a time.
The Editorial End Result:
After the manuscript was rewritten, it had a structure that made sense. The book had two clear parts which worked together to tell the overall story I wanted to tell, with Keiko Abe’s life and the marimba’s evolution being separate but integrated parts. Readers would have no difficulty understanding their relationship, now. And Laurel’s skilled and inspired work with the biographical part was so great for the book — what she did was fabulous.
In addition to all that, the redundancy was gone. I had repeated important information, sometimes as much as three times, to make sure the reader “got it.” Laurel explained that this not only risked fatiguing my readers, it wasn’t at all necessary. She found ways to make the content so clear that the need to repeat material disappeared.
Rebecca Kite’s Book in the World:
Partially because of her prior small business experience (designing and producing timpani), Rebecca knew about the importance of reaching her target audience early and repeatedly. She knew her book would appeal to a small niche readership of percussionists and marimbists; and, secondarily, to libraries. After those markets were reached, she would expand her marketing to include a more general audience, as well as readers in Japan (once the book was translated).
Rebecca’s first marketing decision was timing the book’s appearance to coincide with the 2006 annual Percussive Arts Society International Convention in Austin, Texas. Since Keiko Abe would attend that convention to perform, it would be a perfect opportunity to sell books autographed by both Abe and herself. Rebecca started advertising her book in the journal of the Percussive Arts Society four months prior to the big event, and had mentioned the upcoming biography in articles she’d written for the journal a full two years before it would be available for sale.
Rebecca’s marketing plans have worked perfectly. During the PASIC gathering, she sold over a hundred and twenty books from a rented booth on the convention floor, each one an autographed “Collector’s Edition.” As Rebecca explained, “The book generated a lot of interest. It’s a big event in my part of the field to have a book like this come out, and it was announced from the stage several times as a ‘must read.’ I know Abe was so pleased with it, and that is terrifically gratifying for me.”
Rebecca estimates that it will take another year or so for enough people in her field to read the book and comment publicly, thus spreading the word of its existence internationally. In the interim, she’s been sending out press releases and review copies to Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly, and others who may have an interest in reviewing the book. She has not overlooked the Internet, either. With notices on her two websites, she has begun selling the book online. Meanwhile, her two dogs and two cats have grown accustomed to the small mountain of slowly dwindling books that currently fills her indoor garage.