To start from the beginning, there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and … many years after there was The Republic of Estonia. And God saw that it was good.
The story of Estonia is not so well known as Genesis, but we have our moments. Some of these moments have been collected to the book called “Did you know that there are over 100 exciting, quirky, unique and important reasons to visit Estonia?”
I’ve never described or even thought about the creation process of any of my literary fiction, but this time I was not the author, I was more like a producer, an editor and a publisher in one person. It made the process much more mixed, interesting and difficult – and worth to describe.
From the hotel into the book
Solo Sokos Hotel Estoria is a hotel in the heart of Tallinn. Its sleeping experience is something that has been praised in TripAdvisor, but it is “normal” for the business. Its uniqueness lies in the stories you will find in each and every hotel room. These unprecedented and incredible stories, provided by many different Estonian organisations, are about the cultural, the scientific and the business life in Estonia.
A year ago, when we opened the hotel, we made a promise to publish a book with these stories. Well, to be frank, it was me who made this promise. I thought it would be easy since we already had all the facts to tell.
I was wrong!
At first, I turned to the distinguished publishing company with long experience. I assumed that it would be easy for them, since they are dealing with it on daily basis and they are very good at it. Yes, they are good, but the timing was just not appropriate and after months of thinking they had to decline.
It was important to have a point of view outside of Estonia – items that interest Estonians tend to differ from those that interest foreigners. My old friend and colleague Tapio Mäkeläinen from The Tuglas Society had time to compile the book in the summer. Tapio has written several books about Estonia and his knowledge is definitely the best possible not only in Finland, but also in Estonia. Tapio, I’m sorry to call you a foreigner – you are more Estonian than many of us, but you have something we don’t – it’s the distance to see ourselves.
The right time passed, Tapio had already other tasks to deal with and I was back on the start-line. I also understood that my vision to have a book is not a vision, it was more like a bee in my head. The period of not dealing with the book, made the vision more clear. The book had to be something between the Guinness World Records and the tourist guide – it would gather together all those issues that make Estonians proud of; it would be a place to say it loud and clear that Estonia is a huge small country, the centre of the world. Normally, Estonians are very modest to show our emotions or to say something positive about ourselves, so this book had to be different.
Friends I can always count on
It was September and I had no writer. I had to trust him/her, to know the professional level, and the writer had to have certain distance to the subject. I tried to do it myself, but found it impossible – I was too closely related with these issues, that I couldn’t handle it. There are 12 pages with story in every hotel room and I was unable to make a 300-500 letter essay out of it. At least I knew what kind of book it must be, but without people who would realize the vision, it is as same as nothing. My colleagues asked me from time to time, whether the book will be published by Christmas? In October, I had to say that there won’t be any book by Christmas.
My old friend and colleague Rein Ustaal is a graphic designer with long experience. The range of works he has done over the years is very wide – books, ads, animations, brochures, etc. So I turned to him asking for his assistance – maybe it would be easier for me to write into already existing layout. He made a layout and a cover of the book. With small corrections, the cover remained as we can see it today, but the layout has changes a lot.
Another old friend and colleague of mine, Andres Varustin, game into my mind, as I didn’t want to keep the book in some ivory tower. Andres is a graphic artist, who has illustrated my children books and made caricatures. In addition, his way of thinking is merrily unconventional. I was happy to know that I had two professionals making the best out of the text.
Unfortunately – there was still no text and no writer.
But what if …?
It is strange, how we cannot see things that are directly under our noses. Well, at least I couldn’t. My Finnish friend Jussi-Pekka Aukia has long experience of forming everything into texts. He has published books, written scripts to Finnish TV-series (also composed music) and his daily-work is to create content for very different customer magazines from Savonlinna Opera Festival to chemical or medical companies. But he is my friend and for 25 years I have had no thoughts of him as a business partner.
At first it was just a play with a thought, what if he would do the writing? His Estonian language is not so good, but all the needed material was already in English and some even in Finnish. To me, there was no difference whether the original language of the book would be English, Finnish, Russian, or Estonian. Fortunately for me, Jussi had recently quitted his job in publishing house and had time for the book.
Jussi has described the process of writing and in short – to my relief it was fun and educating for him. In our roundtrips in Estonia, we have discussed a lot about our countries, of the past and the present, and these conversations were kind of bases for his text. After the first version of texts, I was amazed how the two-page story can be transformed into 400-letters resume or how one story can be spread into many little ones pointing out only the most interesting parts. But there it was! He also managed to divide all the stories into 9 sections. All I had to do was to adapt everything into Estonian and write the intro and the afterword.
The period of sending and editing the texts took more than two months. During the process of editing I also had to show the material and the layout to our partner-organisations, in order to get their feedback and approval. This stage of book creation – constant editing, busy opinion changing with Jussi, trying to figure out whether this text or correction is relevant or not, etc. – is extremely exhausting, but necessary.
Here are some examples of problems we had to face during the creation of the book. We Estonians are proud of our folklore collections in Estonian Folklore Archives which are one of biggest in the world. It is great and it even sounds great – “one of the biggest in the world!” Except that the world’s biggest collection is in Finland … So from the Finnish perspective it is not such a big issue. However, we kept the claim, because in other languages it is effective and it is very important for Estonians.
Saaremaa had many stories, but Jussi, as a fan of the island, added also the story of Saaremaa railway to original story, which is a really strange episode in the island’s history.
One more friend
After having two languages – one from Jussi and the second from me – we needed English and Russian versions. Again the same expression – an old friend and colleague of mine, Vitali Belobrovtsev promised to do the job. He teaches at Tallinn University, but has also done a lot of translation work, publishing and editing. But at the time we needed the translations, he was abroad and couldn’t help me with the Russian translation. Since, I don’t have a friend who is native in English language, I was forced to turn to the translation agency with both the Russian and English versions.
The English and Russian translations were ok and thanks for that goes to Liisa Mets from Unicom Translation Agency. She was very fast, effective and precise mediator between me and translators. Vitali returned from his trip and saw the Russian texts I sent him for editing. His comment was friendly and ironical, typical Vitali-style: the translations are not bad translations, but obviously the translator is very young and lacks the self-irony the text requires. Vitali changed the texts into the Russian as it is today, with good touch of empathy and irony.
The devil is in details
Now I had all the texts, and the next step was to choose the photos, the one and only photo out of 12 – not the job of my dreams. Fortunately, I had a chance to pick up many and Rein made the final judgement. Then adding names of photographers, the right page to cross-index and all other technical details I really learned to hate.
If there were no people from our partner-organisations, it would be impossible. But our partners are smart, intelligent and wonderful with details. One example – all Estonians know that Kristian Palusalu is the only wrestler who has won the Olympic gold in both freestyle wrestling and Greco-Roman wrestling at the same Olympics games. But, it’s not completely true. There is a Swedish wrestler who has done the same. However, Palusalu is the only heavyweight wrestler with this accomplishment and this information is confirmed by Daimar Lell from Estonian Sports Museum.
There were lots of detail improvements of the same kind and hopefully the book contains no mistakes. Or just this one, that we all have misread.
Print and out
The book is high-quality edition with hard cover and full colour, so it took 3 weeks to print them (Greif). I even had a nightmare that the book was totally in a wrong format, that some of the text was missing and that covers flapped without clue. But despite my horrible dreams, the book came out brilliant and now it is on the shoulders of our sales department to worry about.
Finally, a few words of gratitude. First to my friends who are highly professional, with great marketing experiences, good sense of humour, easy access to any kind of collaboration and they are calm as ninja-warriors. I haven’t mentioned yet Krista Leppikson, who has made sure my part of the text is also good Estonian.
And last but not least – thanks to my colleagues in Sokos Hotels Tallinn, Estoria and Viru hotels, who have made the creation of this book possible. On the one hand, the financial part of the book, but on the other hand, their belief that the book is good for the readers, for the business and for Estonia in common.
Obviously, the process I described here is the most normal job for a normal editor. Unfortunately I’m not the one and I’m still wondering how the result can be so good. Therefore I am deeply grateful to all of them who helped to deliver this valuable gift for Estonia and Estoria.
To use the words of our classical movie The Last Relic: “This is not the end, everything continues.” And I hope there are more editions of Estonian stories to come.