Bankers and lawyers are typically seen as suit and tie puppeteers who sit above the fray, as the blue collar entrepreneurs of the world battle it out to see who can make their visions come true, but not TaeHun Kim.
Kim, a lawyer and a banker at one of the world’s largest financial institutions, is diving right in and getting his hands dirty in an industry having one of the toughest times in the new economy – publishing. February’s announcement of the bankruptcy of book retailing giant Borders, and its subsequent closing of 200 stores, has the publishing world reeling. But to Kim, it’s just another day at the office.
“A major impetus for my foray into writing and publishing was the financial crisis of 2008,” Kim said. “There was so much negative news regarding bankers’ role in creating the financial mess. Writing and publishing offered a much needed distraction and the opportunity to pursue a personal dream.”
Wanting to experience publishing from the ground up, Kim wrote a very un-lawyer-like and un-banker-like novel, War With Pigeons (www.astorytelling.com), a love story with elements of suspense and mystery. The story is told from the perspective of the Korean American community and undoubtedly draws from the author’s own personal experiences.
“The last thing I wanted was to write about finance, or to become the next Michael Lewis or Aaron Sorkin,” said Kim. “I’m surrounded by financial news all day, whether it’s on my Bloomberg screens or the overhead television which broadcasts CNBC 24/7. Writing was meant, in some ways, to be a retreat for me — a retreat from Wall Street to Main Street.”
The retreat was perhaps more than just symbolic, as Kim said he wrote the bulk of his novel during his commute home at night on the bus.
“I can fully commiserate with the financial hardships faced by millions of Americans as a result of the collapse of the mortgage and financial markets,” he added. “I suppose what confused me a bit, was why the country was so focused on delineating between Wall Street and Main Street – I may have worked on Wall Street but as far as I could tell, I lived very much on Main Street. My own personal financial hardships during the crisis were no doubt much more benign than some others’, but my family and I have had our share of very painful adjustments.”
With the recent improvement in the financial markets, Kim now finds himself facing a new challenge – Borders’ bankruptcy.
“I’m delighted with the success we’ve had in bringing our first title to market,” Kim said. “We’ve been able to deliver a high quality product and have received glowing reviews from the likes of Kirkus Reviews, Midwest Book Review, Reader Views and the Korean Quarterly. We’ve made the book available on every major distribution channel and have had a wonderful time with promotional activities.
The largest challenge has been in terms of sales which, in light of Borders’ bankruptcy filing, appears to be a challenge we’re not facing alone.”
Borders, the second-largest US bookstore chain, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February, citing curtailed customer spending and lack of liquidity. It’s estimated that Borders currently owes tens of millions of dollars to various publishers including Penguin Putnam, Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster and Random House.
“I suppose we have a rightful place at the restructuring table alongside these publishing giants,” said Kim facetiously. “More than half of our sales have been to Borders, so we’re also an unsecured creditor. Ironically, I’ve spent quite some time dealing with enormous bankruptcy restructurings on behalf of the bank, and do know that taking your rightful seat can be very expensive. Based on the amount we are owed, I’d say the legal fees for simply filing a notice of claim would be prohibitive.”
Tae Kim is a lawyer and a banker at one of the world’s largest financial institutions. He is also the owner of a newly established publishing company, aStoryTelling, Inc. and author of the independent publisher’s debut title “War With Pigeons.”