Italy/Germany/Holland

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I’m back from Europe, having spent a week shuttling from Milan to Munich to Hamburg to Amsterdam. And it was a trip. Not just because I covered so much ground, or ate so much food, or wandered through not one but two famous red light districts. It’s because I got the chance to see the kind of impact The Warehouse is having in other parts of the world and the entire process was humbling and surreal.

I also learned some fun stuff about the weird cultural differences of book publishing and promotion in other countries. Which I thought it might be fun to talk about here.

(Oh, and before I left, I went to all the Hudson News stands in Terminal 4 at JFK and signed their copies of The Warehouse… so if you’re flying through there soon and want to get one, there you go.)

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First up was Milan, which is where my publisher, DeA Planeta Libri, is based. I landed on Sunday morning, and after a quick nap to get myself adjusted I met my publisher Francesca, and spent the day wandering the city with her. Monday was press, all day—from 11 a.m. until dinnertime at 8 (people in Milan eat late!). Then on Tuesday I did stock signings at a couple of bookstores in the city center.

Press was interesting. Everyone I spoke to keyed into the book in big ways. As I kept on saying to anyone who would listen, I thought The Warehouse was too uniquely American, and was surprised at how common those anxieties about capitalism and big business are in other parts of the world.

It was also my first time working with an interpreter. Most folks in Milan didn’t have a great grasp of English. Just basic pleasantries. The woman I was teamed with, Chiara, was great. I got into the flow quickly—not saying too much at a stretch, so she wasn’t overwhelmed, and staying away from American colloquialisms and phrases I thought might not translate.

My only interview without her was with Nikki at Radio Deejay. We did a nice stretch on his afternoon radio show, where he would ask a question in Italian, then English, and I would answer in English, and he would translate. It was a blast. You can hear it here if you’re interested.

One thing that surprised me was that Planeta used a variation of the US cover. Especially since I had seen another take they’d done, which was pretty different (and also very good!). Apparently the book got such good press in the US they thought it was better for branding. And they kept the US title because the translation for warehouse, il magazzino, didn’t really translate correctly to what the warehouse in The Warehouse is.

I heard some things that sounded familiar to US publishing. We focused on press and stock signings because it’s hard to get people out to events. Also, Planeta had previously been situated in the city center but had been pushed out by the high rental costs (it was the same thing for my publishers in Germany and Holland).

I was a little surprised that the bookstores I visited for stock signings—as the book was just hitting stores that day—were so close to each other. Within minutes by foot, which is not a common thing, at least here in New York (outside, I guess, The Strand and B&N around Union Square). There seems to be less of a sense of competition. After I finished my signings, I had a few hours to kill and wandered the city, and stumbled into a few more stores, all of which had piles of the book prominently displayed at the front. That was a hell of a thing to see.

Overall it was lovely. Very warm—85 degrees during the day—but a lovely ancient city to aimlessly wander. I got into the Duomo and climbed up to the roof. I visited Chiesa di San Bernardino, because I am all about a good ossuary. I found that if you want to eat something between lunch and dinner you are out of luck—everyone goes on break. But the food. Oh the food. I eat a low-carb diet and Italy is just all carbs. But it’s all so good. And the gelato. Lord.

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From Milan I went to Munich, home of Heyne Verlag, my German publisher, which is an imprint of Penguin Random House. The city, while it sustained some damage in World War II, still had a ton of great, old architecture and cathedrals (I love cathedrals, which is funny, being a lapsed Catholic). My editor, Patrick, gave me a fantastic walking tour while giving me a lesson on the city, the German language, the German publishing industry, and lederhosen and dirndls (traditional Bavarian garb—something they take very seriously).

There, the book is Der Store. Apparently warenhaus was not a good translation, because that’s more like a department store in Germany. And der lager, German for warehouse, sounds too much like the term of concentration camp. Hard pass! So Der Store it was. Look at how nice that book looks! They really treated it like a piece of art. Again, primo placement, and I am also getting a TON of love on Instagram. There is a big bookstagram community in Germany and Heyne developed a fantastic marketing plan to reach them (for what it’s worth, when I was in London last month with my UK publisher, Transworld, I learned they don’t have a big bookstagram community—they tried to crack it and just couldn’t).

In Germany, it was all readings, no press; I had done some press before I got there. I also visited the Heyne offices, where I signed 150 copies for promotional purposes. So I did my event in Munich and then the next day it was off to Hamburg for the Harbourfront Literary Festival, and let me tell you something: they know how to do events out there.

They were both formatted the same: a moderator, who would interview me and then sum things up in German (but less specifically; English is much more common, though a few folks were a little shaky on it). Heyne also hired German actresses in each city to read parts of the book in German, while I read passages in English. We had a crowd of about 50 people in Munich and a hundred in Hamburg. And we sold a ton of books.

While Munich felt very old and more “traditionally” German, Hamburg, which is a port city in the north, felt much more modern, because most of it got destroyed during World War II. It is home to the Reeperbahn, the longest red light district in Germany. I only got to see it during the day—I was in the city less than 24 hours!—and it was both a little creepy and also weirdly safe (it’s also home to the biggest police station in the city).

Oh man. Again, the food. I had lunch in a traditional biergarten. And also a traditional north-Germany meal of pickled herring and potato salad which was… interesting! And also good! Good beer too. So much good beer.

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I ended the trip in Amsterdam to visit my Dutch publisher Karakter. I should note it was my first time in all these countries which made the trip especially exciting.

I signed a few dozen books for my publisher and then did three long interviews—again, with journalists who were very keyed into the issues in the book which made me very happy—and then… that was it! I had a lovely dinner with Isabel, my publisher, Hannah, from the marketing team, and Henk, my translator. And… that was it! I was done!

The food was incredible. And it was fascinating hearing another perspective on all of this; they changed the book to Cloud because they thought the US title (which they still added in small print) wasn’t right for the Dutch audience. But like in Italy, they kept the US cover because of the positive press, despite having worked up some concepts of their own.

It was fascinating to hear from Henk, too, both over dinner and later as we were wandered the city. Apparently at his pace he likes to translate two to three pages a day (though had to move quicker on mine because the original translator became ill during the process). He said it wasn’t a difficult translation besides that (the only example he could think of where he had some difficulty was the first facility people visit at The Warehouse, Incoming, which there wasn’t a good Dutch word for).

The next morning I had free (my flight out was at 5 p.m.) so I met with Isabel to wander the city some more (very different by night than by day). And then I flew home! Completely and utterly exhausted, physically and mentally. By the last interview in Amsterdam I was ready to crack—yes, it’s incredible to have this opportunity but there’s only so much you can talk about yourself (and really, say a lot of the same things), before it wears on you. Luckily the last journalist was a fun guy who was very much on my level, and we had a fun conversation.

Like I said, I thought this book wasn’t fit for foreign audiences, and I was very wrong about that. It was interesting to see who picked up on what. The Dutch reporters were keen to hear about my jump from the Ash books to these. The Italians were very interested in the film deal (it came up everywhere but it always came up sooner in the Italian interviews).

And in all three countries I was asked some variation of: am I an optimist, and what can we do? And I wanted to share my answer here, especially since I feel like I got that question less in the US (weird) and it gave me time to think. And it’s something I will expand on in the future, maybe here or elsewhere, but:

Yes, I am an optimist. I have to be, for my daughter, but also, I believe most people are fundamentally good, and we know the younger generation is more liberal, and for as much as the world feels like a trash fire right now, compared to how bad things used to be—see: slavery, the Holocaust—things are getting better. Sometimes not by much. Internment camps have made a big comeback and our president is literally colluding with foreign powers to sway our election and no one on his team cares because they’re winning.

But I am an optimist. Because I don’t think The Warehouse would have hit the way it did two or three years ago. I think the reason it’s resonated the way it has is because people are waking up to this shit: that we’re killing ourselves to make rich assholes a little bit richer. That some CEO is shopping for his fourth yacht while families at the company he owns are struggling just to feed themselves.

And as for an answer, or a solution: that’s a tough one too, but I think the first step is to just be a little more mindful about our economic and environmental impact. If we can do that, maybe it can lead to small steps (walking more, shopping online less) and hopefully those will lead to bigger steps.

It moves slowly, but it moves.

Anyway. There we go. It was fun. I’m very tired. I met some incredible people and was shown so much kindness and hospitality by my foreign publishers that right now my heart is full to bursting. I can’t believe I get to do this.

Here are some more photos if you care to see them!

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