Saturday, October 22, 2011


Tom and Jerry in Naples
Epiphanies. Not always flashes of divine light, but nonetheless inspiring. I woke up the other morning after a restless night and, with no apparent trigger, with each sip of my tea it gradually dawned on me that I needed to change my attitude if I was going to ever get my manuscript published.

In particular, I realized that I had been proposing my Neapolitan memoir to potential literary agents as a work of art and proposing myself as a writer, when in actual fact a literary agent is just a business person. A business person who pitches your book to a publishing house, which is a business. And the primary objective of a business is to make money. If I had to sum up my sluggish and overdue epiphany in a “Eureka!” type of phrase, it would be: “A book proposal is a business proposal!”

The awareness that the publishing world is just a business was, like my extra strong Lapsang Souchong, surprisingly invigorating. By taking the personal out, it removed the sting from all the previous rejection letters and armed me against the future ones. It made me want to publish my bestseller that very instant and show all those fools right. It made me want to dart off all over the world on a book tour with my three-year-old and start writing my second book at the same time. It made me want to clean in behind the stove and reorganize the coat rack.

But the reality was that, despite my epiphany, I was still just an unpublished mom in her pyjamas. So I decided to put my newfound energy and enthusiasm to good use, because it might not last the morning. Immediately I did some further online research into memoir query letters and grasped that I could no longer avoid doing market research into my target audience. This is when my adolescent “Eureka” moment turned into a much older and wiser “I finally give in” moment.

I can’t wait to show you the brand-new twenty-third version of my query letter, once I’ve perfected it. In the meantime, I’ll share with you some of the interesting statistics, mostly from ENIT (the national Italian tourism agency) and Wikipedia, that I came across on my subsequent quest to discover who my market audience might be. Of course, some of the facts were useful to my research, while others weren’t. But all of them were surprising, if not a little bit inspiring:

Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world.

The first is France.

More Swiss tour Italy than any other nationality.

Eight million native English speakers travel to Italy every year.

Very few foreign nationals immigrate to Naples, making it one of Italy’s most “Italian” cities with 98.5% of its inhabitants Italian nationals.

Naples is Italy’s fourth-richest city.

Tom and Jerry visited Naples in a 1953 short called Neapolitan Mouse.

Carlo Collodi’s Le avventure di Pinocchio is one of the bestselling books of all time.

The leading bestselling (non-religious) book is A Tale of Two Cities, at an estimated 200 million copies sold.

Marlena de Blasi’s Italian memoirs (the first of which is A Thousand Days in Venice) have sold over a million copies.

The Hindu term for epiphany is bodhodaya, meaning ‘wisdom rising’.


  1. Fantastic! Never underestimate the value of an epiphany! There is something about that moment of realiztion...when you go from darkness to light, so to speak...that "wisdom rising". I hope that this query letter change will make a world of difference for you. Is your book written in both languages? Because I would think that that would be attractive - I mean, it saves translation fees later on for the publisher! There's got to be a published/agent out there who needs a book like yours!

  2. I hope it will change things for me too - it's a completely different approach! My book is only in English but I have made a wonderful new blogger friend who has already translated bits of it and has offered to translate there's a chance of using some contacts in Italy to publish it in Italian from the beginning. Who knows? Lateral thinking usually leads to something...Thanks for the encouragement!

  3. Can't wait to read your new query letter. This doesn't really help much, but I think your book is WAY more interesting than A Thousand Days in Venice.

  4. Thanks, Christina, I will take the compliment and quietly agree with you :)