Melville House on How to Market Foreign Fiction by a Dead Author

In What's the Buzz by Chip Rossetti

By Chip Rossetti

I want to thank Ed for letting me take a turn guest-editing Publishing Perspectives while he takes a well-deserved break — even if, in Ed’s case, it’s a working vacation. It’s been amazing to witness the growth of Publishing Perspectives in the last year-and-a-half: it’s hard to believe it was only at BEA 2009 that Ed first invited me to write for the site, which was still brand-new then.

Though I’m coming a bit late to this, I did want to point out an amazing series of posts that Dennis Johnson has been writing about for most of July over at the Moby Lives blog: specifically he’s just concluded an 8-part essay on Melville House’s creative marketing plan for their new publication of the novel Every Man Dies Alone, by German author Hans Fallada, who died in 1947. Basically, Johnson sets out to answer the question:

How do you market a book written in a foreign language by an author who’s now dead, that was originally published 60 years ago, and has been overlooked by mainstream publishing ever since?

Of course, it helps when the book has such a resonant theme based on a true story (a working-class couple in wartime Berlin resisting the Nazis), with effusive praise from authors like Primo Levi. But the series (“Anatomy of a Marketing Campaign”) should be mandatory reading for any small presses trying to get past what Johnson calls “the echo chamber” of American publishing. And it’s particularly heartening for anyone who is interested in seeing translated books thrive. I was particularly impressed with their coordination of their ads in the Toronto subway with the bookstores on the streets above: so that subway riders would see the ad in the train, and then see the same novel waiting for them in bookstores once they emerged at street level.

All eight parts can be found here (#1 starts at the bottom) on the Melville House Publishing blog, MobyLives.

About the Author

Chip Rossetti

Chip Rossetti is the managing editor of the Library of Arabic Literature translation series at NYU Press. He is a translator of contemporary Arabic fiction.