Marketing an English Book from Italy, and Other Challenges

By Catherine McNamara

One of the best things about being a writer in Italy is that the English language becomes a private zone, a special written thing that makes each word sing out louder, speaking to you as you walk, go to the supermarket, collect your kids from school. But then the worst thing about being an English-speaking writer in Italy is that once your book is written, edited and published, your readers and your book market will always be at an arm’s length. You will be walking around on an island, knowing that you are far away from your readership, that only if your publisher sells your novel to an Italian press, will the people around you ever have true, linguistic access to your words.
When my first novel was accepted by an independent English publisher I immediately set up a blog and realised I would have to work hard to build up a readership. I haven’t discounted Italy as a market base, as the country is full of tourists, international bookshops and people craving to learn the English language, but I know that the bulk of my target market live in the UK, or North America, or Australia where I am from. For a long while I have been worrying, will the internet – which is such a personalised warren – be enough to place my novel in my readers’ hands?
After a year, my blog has a small but loyal following. I read and comment on sites regarding women’s fiction, small publishers, book promotion, book reviews. I read one blogger attributes her Amazon success to writing seventy comments a day. I just can’t do that time-wise, plus blogging tends to do my head in after a while. But I try. Over the year I began to propose guest posts or interviews on sites where I thought my contribution would be appreciated. This process proved useful in helping me learn how to write briefly about my novel and extract events from my own life which might interest a reader. When I was younger I travelled widely, so I realise there are keen English readers the world over – I’ve had interviews in Australia, the Caribbean, the US on topics such as editing, working with a small press, being a woman writer. In this way I’ve learnt to brand my thoughts and rattle off, gaining new blog visitors and potential readers, and learning to develop an ‘ear’ for the publishing game.
A couple of months ago I began to organise my 15-strong blog tour around my UK release date, April 16th. My book is women’s commercial, aimed at the neglected over-40 niche, a sort of Bridget Jones with teenagers after the divorce. I wrote to all the major chicklit sites, both UK and US, some women’s fiction sites, some book reviewers, some writers. Given the book has various elements – travel, language, mothers’ issues, a little erotica – I ‘repackaged’ the book each time I made a proposal, aiming to tease out features of the story and maximise its various facets. For one erotic blogger, we have planned a post about the steamy incidents in the book; another blogger is interviewing me about the expat life; another literary writer is questioning me about finding writing success as a forty-plus year old, and the issues of a creative life while attending to a family. In this way I have tried to expand the appeal of the book, introducing it to as many readers as possible over the broad internet spectrum.
Over a month ago our ARC copies were printed and I ordered extra books to offer to certain blogger contacts for reviews or giveaways. They are all faraway people who have treated me with kindness and interest. But I continue to worry – will this be enough? What if I sell twenty copies? Fifty at best? There is some astounding generosity out there but is my online network too personal, not sweeping enough to allow a book to lift into the air and fly?
I read on Betsy Lerner’s blog that most book publication ends in disappointment. Hundreds of books are released every day in the UK, and though my publisher has sent review copies to newspapers, no debut independent author is assured of an inch of column space while there are books from major publishing houses to shoulder you away. In this sense I am in the same boat as all small press authors, whether based in Italy not. Lately I have been harping on at English friends for contacts. I read the newspapers online, and have appealed to several writer/journalists who cover the same material, or whose writing tone I like. Some have replied to my emails, even asked for a copy of my book. I haven’t had the same luck with women’s magazines, where I think that author-empathy doesn’t feature in the same way, though I haven’t given up trying. And yet I was lucky enough – after hours of scouring London independent bookshop sites – to find a store that is keen to promote debut novelists. A phone call. A book launch. Thankfully I have a small stash of London friends who will turn up and help me through my bottles of prosecco.
Right now, in the lead-up to publication, I feel less of a writer than the marketing manager of a new, calibrated product I think the English-speaking ladies of the world should have on their bedside tables, with husbands or boyfriends or daughters sneaking a look. However I do wish I were spending this stretch before UK publication in England, where I could at least flip through magazines or leave bookmarks on bus seats, or reach out to local newspaper editors or source book clubs and listen to local radio shows. It’s hard not to feel anxious about not doing enough. But this will have to do. Guest posts and interviews on as many sites as possible, and an invitation to my London mates and local bloggers to my book launch. Virginia Woolf said that publishing a book was like sending a child into traffic. And so it shall be. My poor innocent book out there in the madness.


  1. I have a couple of female relatives who are in Italy right now. I'll be sending them your link. You never know!

  2. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.