East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Selling the unknown

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I have just mailed a four-page preliminary pitch to my Italian publisher, a proposal for a novel that might be fun to write, and might become the first in a series (one hopes) and might even have a chance on the international marketplace (ditto).

Now, a short pitch should include the working title, the general plot, and the major selling points of the book. The author, in other words, should tell the publisher why this book is the coolest book ever written, why it will sell in cartloads, and who is going to buy it (possibly multiple copies of it).

And here is the rub – one of the strong points of my story, I am sure, is that nothing like this was done before, at least in my country, at least within my genre of choice. I can point out TV series and movies, comics and books, that work on the same premises – or something really similar – but in Italian, as horror/thriller? No, never.

And the reaction, in my experience, to such a thing is – and how the hell do we sell it to the punters? How do we explain it to the potential buyers, how can they know this is the right thing for them if they have never seen something like this before?

The short answer should be, there are reviewers whose job is to present the work of writers to the readers, but for the publisher that only means adding another middleman, and another unknown factor – they are already uncertain when it comes to trusting the writer, why should they really trust a reviewer they do not know to push a writer they do not trust that much anyway?

It is for this reason, I think, that the Italian market favors those that come seconds – not the guy that had the great original, unheard of idea, but the one that comes after him, and picks his idea and reworks it and presents it on the market as “Just like that other one, but a lot better.”

Another useful trick is to use keywords that are basically meaningless, but tick the right box in the potential reader’s expectations – things like “noir” for any mystery story (I’ve seen Agatha Christie marketed as “the grandmother of noir” – one imagines Ray Chandler spinning in his grave), “pulp” for anything featuring swearwords and psaeudo-hip violence, “pop” for anything referencing the right bits and pieces of the ’80s, and so on.

So I spent part of the afternoon turning my pitch around, trying to find a way in which the guys at the booth, at the next book fair, will be able to sell my novel.

“It’s like Penny Dreadful but in fin-de-siecle Italy.”

“It’s a tongue-in-cheek horror thriller, like a 19th century Army of Darkness.”

“There’s mummies and a flaming baloon.”

It just doesn’t cut it.
So I mailed the publisher the pitch, and the first page.
Let the text speak for itself.
And,as that lady said, courage, and shuffle the cards.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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