Observations after the Buchmesse, part #6. Selling your translated self-published book in the Italian market

Almost two months have passed since my being a guest at the Frankfurter Buchmesse (I’ve talked, together with Matthias Matting, German self-publisher, and Camille Mofidi, European Manager at Kobo Writing Life, about “Think Local,Act Global: How to Reach a Global and Successful Audience through Self-Publishing” at Kobo stand), and there are still many things to report about this experience.

In this sixth article I will give some information and suggestions to self-published authors interested in the Italian market.

The omnibus of “Deserto rosso” (my science fiction series) among the books exposed in the stand of
Kobo during the Frankfurter Buchmesse 2014.
The first and more important suggestion I can give, which actually applies for every market, is to publish the best possible book.
It must have a nice cover and synopsis, and be perfectly formatted. And of course it must be well translated into Italian. That’s the most difficult part.
You need a good translator, but that’s not enough. You also need a good reviser for your translation. One person working on it is not enough.
It often happens to me to come across books by foreign self-publishers, including very popular ones, with an Italian translation lacking a revision. The story is great, the translator was evidently good, but there were many little details, typical translation mistakes (I professionally translate into Italian, so I easily spot them), revealing that it lacked the work of a reviser. Those little details would make a normal reader think that the translator or even the book is not good at all.
Moreover you must be sure that both translator and reviser are expert of your genre, because you don’t want that some technical words are wrongly translated thus making some sentences a bit ridiculous. Unfortunately this problem happens all the time.

Once you have the perfect product for the Italian market, you have to give it the right price.
Italian readers don’t like to spend a lot of money on e-books in general, actually it’s more correct to say they want to spend as little as possible for e-books, and surely they are hard to persuade to buy one by an author they don’t know. So a new author in the market must start with the lowest possible price, 99 eurocents.
The readers consider the length of the book, too. So your first book should be a novella or a novel. If you try to sell a short story, they would hardly buy it. If you have more short stories, you’d rather put then in collection with at least 15-20k words. On the other hand, you wouldn’t like to sell an epic novel (over 100k words) at only 99 cents, because you’ve spent a lot of money to have it translated.
The best choice for starting in the market is a novella or a 50k-word novel. The latter is the most appreciated length for tasting a new author.
Anyway you can consider raising the price after a while, for instance once the e-book has reached a steady position in the charts, you have a lot of good reviews or you have more books selling well, but do it gradually or sales will drop to zero.
If you decide to give your e-book for free for a while, then don’t put the price to 2.99 euros after the free period. It just won’t sell.

An important thing you need to know about the price concerns VAT, which is currently 22% for e-books in Italy, because they are considered a digital content and not a book in Europe. The current reduced VAT for books in Italy is 4%. There’s a proposal to bring the VAT for the e-books to this figure, but the EU is against it, so we still don’t know if it’ll be approved.
Moreover starting from January this VAT will apply also for the Kindle Store, which used Luxembourg’s VAT (3%) until now.

Strategies on prices also depends on the genres (see my article on popular genres in Italy) and the retailers.
Of course Amazon is the biggest one. Kindle Unlimited started in Italy in November and it can be a useful tool for an unknown author to get some readers. But if you go exclusive with Amazon, you lose the chance to try other retailers.
Kobo is quite strong in Italy. It made an agreement with inMondadori and laFeltrinelli e-book stores (Mondadori and Feltrinelli are the biggest publishers in Italy), which bring a lot of sales, especially inMondadori. According to the charts, readers purchasing at Kobo in Italy seem less afraid to spend a little more for an e-book. Moreover there is a lower number of titles and therefore more chance to get to the top of the charts, which are far more articulated that those on Amazon.it. Actually there aren’t subcategories on the Italian Kindle Store, but just the big ones, e.g. thrillers and mysteries, romance, science fiction, fantasy, etc. Instead, there are plenty of subcategories on Kobo Books.
Other big retailers include iTunes and Google Play. Nook is just starting up in Italy as an app, but you shouldn’t neglect it, too.

For what concerns promotion, for sure you need an Internet presence in Italian, a website, because most Italians don’t speak English well or don’t speak it at all. You need someone translating the text of your website into Italian. You can ask the same person who translated your book.
The best thing would be you to speak some Italian, of course. If you don’t, try to be present in the Italian web anyway. Ask to be interviewed or guest post in Italian blogs. The blogger would translate your interview or post. Get to be interviewed in a podcast related to the genre of your book, where someone can translate your words.
Cooperation with other authors in your genre is essential, too. You can’t expect them to promote your books, because they have to promote theirs, and to tell the truth it isn’t so easy to push your readers to read a book by another author, even if you liked it. Some will follow your suggestion, if it’s cheap. Most won’t.
You have to be involved with another author in a different way, and concerning this matter, I suggest you to have a look at another article of mine showing some example of creative involvement with other authors in different countries that can be profitable for both parts.

Finally, I must say that there aren’t paid promotions tools that are worth to be used in Italy. There’s nothing like Bookbub, really nothing.
I’ve tried to contact some direct e-mail marketing companies here in Italy, but they don’t have lists of people reading e-books, just general readers (and e-book readers in Italy are a small percentage of them), and they ask you really huge prices to advertise your product. They aren’t suitable to self-publishers.
You can use advertising campaigns on Facebook and AdWords by Google, but you must target them very well to be effective and spend a lot of money. I wouldn’t suggest them for a new author in the market selling a book at a low price.

In the end what you need is to trigger the word of mouth, starting from social media, blogs, and podcasts (like in the examples I showed above). The Italian market isn’t so big, and that also means it isn’t so difficult to get to be known by readers. Once the word of mouth is triggered it works on its own.
You can’t expect to raise a lot of money, but if you do the right moves and have the right book, you may be surprised by the results.

If you need more specific information about the Italian market, don’t hesitate and contact me.

The next article in this series will also be the last one and it’ll be dedicated to the German market. During the event at the Buchmesse I’ve carefully listened to the information given by Matthias Matting and I’m going to report them to you next time.